Animal charities raise concerns over wildlife crime prosecutions

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Conservation charities have “serious concerns” about how wildlife crime is handled by prosecutors.

Scottish Environment Link said too many cases were being dropped with little explanation.

The organisation, which represents 35 voluntary groups, was responding to an inquiry into the work of the Crown Office by the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee.

It cited a lack of communication and engagement by prosecutors with organisations which had played key roles in wildlife crime investigations as problematic.

And it highlighted figures from a report published last year which showed just 13.5 per cent of wildlife crimes between 2008-13 resulted in a successful prosecution.

The submission, which is supported by the RSPB and the Scottish Raptor Study Group, said: “Significant concerns were raised by Link members in relation to a number of wildlife crime cases.

“A significant issue of concern is, on occasion, a complete lack of transparency and clarity by the Crown Office regarding the decision-making process in the consideration of cases.

“There have been a number of cases where organisations have invested a considerable amount of time and resource into investigations, only for decisions to be made with no subsequent rationale provided.

“While in no way wishing to influence the independence of the Crown Office in making such decisions, a failure to communicate this and thus facilitate partnership-working, creates a damaging legacy from which partner agencies are unable to learn and understand.”

A report published last year by Link claimed wildlife crime is vastly under-reported, with police often experiencing a “wall of silence” while investigating offences.

A Crown Office spokesman said: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal service [COPFS] operates a specialist unit of prosecutors for wildlife crime, and crimes will be prosecuted where there is sufficient admissible evidence and it is in the public interest to do so.

“COPFS is a member of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime in Scotland. This includes partners from a wide range of bodies committed to tackling wildlife crime including conservation, land management, shooting and law enforcement organisations.”