Many have received the following communication from North Yorks Police after their investigation into the cautioning of a gamekeeper employed on the Mossdale Estate near Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales National Park for an offence involving the setting of poletraps.
You wrote to us recently to complain about our decision to caution a man, after he admitted an offence contrary to section 5(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
North Yorkshire Police has now completed a review of this investigation. This involved looking again at the evidence and the decision, using the Ministry of Justice Guidelines on Adult Cautions, the Adult Gravity Factor Matrix, and the latest Director of Public Prosecutions Guidance on Charging. Specialist advice was also sought from the Crown Prosecution Service.
Our review found that we had not used the correct cautioning guidelines when dealing with this case. Police officers have a level of discretion in deciding how to deal with a case, based on the specific circumstances of the incident. However, the review concluded that if the correct guidelines had been used, it is likely that the man would have been charged, rather than cautioned.
It is important to remember that a police caution is not a “let off”. A person who has been cautioned has a criminal record, and there can be very serious consequences as a result. Depending on the circumstances, they may lose their job and income, and there may also be implications for the person’s future employment. A decision was also made to revoke this man’s firearms licence as a result of his involvement in this offence.
As a result of the review, we asked the Crown Prosecution Service to consider whether further action should be taken on this case, and provided them with other details of our activity related to the man involved. After consideration, the Crown Prosecution Service decided that, taking all matters into account, including that a decision had already been made, no further action should be taken.
I would like to reassure you that the mistake we made on the use of guidelines was isolated to this particular case. Nonetheless, we have taken the matter very seriously, and we have ensured we have done everything we can to avoid mistakes happening in the future. We have amended our policy on how wildlife crimes are dealt with by investigators and decision-makers, and advice from specially-trained officers is now sought in every case. We are also using our position as the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on rural and wildlife crime, to share what we have learned with other police services across the UK.
Thank you for raising this matter with us. On behalf of North Yorkshire Police I would like to apologise for the distress that this matter has caused you, and assure you that we will do our very best to protect our local wildlife, and deliver the police national wildlife action plan here in North Yorkshire and more widely.
Acting Assistant Chief Constable
So, a few comments from me.
First, well done North Yorks Police for a) having a review and b) publishing the result in a timely matter and c) for holding up your hands and admitting you made a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes and it’s always best to admit them quickly and fully.
This blog accepts your explanation fully and harbours no doubts about a police cover-up or corruption. It was a straightforward mistake so let’s accept that and move on. This blog would give you 9 out of 10 for facing up to your error: it would have been 10 out of 10 except there is a small element in your statement above that sounds a little as though it’s saying it’s all very complicated and we slipped up; actually, my understanding is that it is all very simple and you slipped up, by reading the wrong manual. But 9 out of 10 is a very high score and you did well.
Second, I’d only give you 6 out of 10 (hard but fair I hope) for the bit of your statement that says that a police caution is not a let-off – that is a bit of a cop-out (geddit?) and a bit wrong, in my opinion (please feel free to put me right if you have a better legal grasp than do I – there must be lots of you out there who qualify!). Yes a caution gives the recipient a criminal record and yes, it is right that this individual has lost his firearm licence, but the individual cannot be named and nor can his picture be used because a caution represents, immediately, a ‘spent’ conviction under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
Naming and shaming criminals is part of the deterrent nature of the justice system and a caution removes that element. Without knowing the identity of this individual then it would be difficult for a vigilant member of the public to report the person for carrying a shotgun if he were ever seen to do so – we are not allowed to publish his name. Likewise it would be difficult to know whether this individual is still working for the Mossdale Estate, perhaps in work closely related to gamekeeping, if that were in fact the case. And it would be difficult for others to know whether this individual were employed in the future by other shooting estates, perhaps in roles rather akin to gamekeeping. If I am right about that, then maybe it doesn’t matter very much, but if it matters at all, then a caution is a bit of a let-off compared with a criminal conviction in the courts.
It is reassuring to learn that North Yorks Police has taken steps to prevent this type of mistake happening again. Fair enough. We do all make mistakes, this was a mistake, North Yorks Police has admitted its mistake and we should all move on. This blog wishes North Yorks Police every success in its continuing fight against wildlife crime – we think you’ll have plenty of work in your beautiful part of the world over the coming years..