Sheriff takes aim at bid to boost SSPCA powers

Sheriff Kevin Drummond at Peebles Sheriff Court before retiring.
Sheriff Kevin Drummond at Peebles Sheriff Court before retiring.

A Borders sheriff has launched a blistering attack on plans to extend the powers of SSPCA inspectors to investigate wildlife crime.

In so doing, Kevin Drummond, who stood down from full-time work in 2013 after 13 years on the local bench, has set himself on a collision course with animal welfare campaigners.

Against a backdrop of disquiet among wildlife protection groups over the low number of police prosecutions and claims that courts are “soft” on wildlife crime, the Scottish Government launched a public consultation earlier this year on proposals to give the self-funding SSPCA, which has 63 inspectors, additional legal powers.

At present these inspectors can only probe crimes involving an animal “in distress”.

The new powers would allow the SSPCA to fully investigate crimes and to search and seize evidence where an animal has been killed or where it has “not been illegally killed, but is likely to be”.

In his submission, Mr Drummond describes the SSPCA as “a private campaigning organisation with a provable conflict of interest” and urges the status quo, with the police as the principal investigating authority.

“The courts are already only too familiar with instances of the improper use, if not the abuse, of existing powers by campaigning organisations in connection with the prosecution of crime,” he states.

“What is contemplated is the granting of powers of search and seizure to a private campaigning organisation which is not answerable to any public authority for the application of its policy.

“Snaring and badger culls are current examples of where an activity authorised by law is opposed by the organisation to which parliament proposes to give power of seizure of materials in the investigation of wildlife crime.

“Contamination of evidence … is a familiar and routine problem for investigating police officers who are required to take well-recognised and regulated steps for the proper preservation of evidence.

“Where stands the evidential value when a member of a campaigning organisation with a provable conflict of interest simply removes a vital piece of evidence from a crime scene and hands it over to a favoured ‘expert’ for examination and reporting?”

Mr Drummond’s views, shared by the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, will come as no surprise to those wildlife protection bodies pressing for change.

The Raptor Persecution Scotland (RPS) group cited an historic case when Mr Drummond chose not to jail a gamekeeper in a crime described by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) investigator as “the worst I have seen in 20 years”.

In his book Wildlife Crime, the RSPB’s retired senior investigator Dave Dick said Mr Drummond was “an excellent advocate for the shooting community in Scotland”.