Monday, 1 July 2019

SGA TO PETITION PARLIAMENT ON SATELLITE TAGS

GAMEKEEPERS TO PETITION PARLIAMENT ON SATELLITE TAGS
'Fred the Eagle case showed current failings'

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is to launch a Parliamentary petition calling for independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to birds of prey.
Greater accountability, they feel, could assist Police in prosecuting potential wildlife crime and provide a more transparent record of raptor persecution.
Presently, Police must obtain satellite tag data from owners or third parties before commencing investigations if a tag stops signalling.
The SGA feel the potential for bringing cases to court are currently minimal, with tag reliability, type and functionality amongst many limiting factors.
The SGA also feels the legal process can be obscured, with some tag owners publishing interpretations of events to advance campaign objectives to legislate or ban certain activities.
Ownership of tag data has enabled campaigners to present versions of evidence for publicity, even in instances where Police investigators have not been able to establish criminality.
“Accountability and transparency has to be the objective,” said SGA Chairman, Alex Hogg.
“Despite media accusation and trials, no cases of missing satellite tags have ever had the evidential rigour to go to court. If Police had the oversight on the data and the independent expertise to analyse it, there is greater potential for prosecution. Police themselves admitted in Parliament recently that establishing criminality in satellite tag cases is difficult.”
The SGA points to the case of ‘Fred the Eagle’ as evidence of a need for review.
A tag fitted to an eagle as part of a collaboration between Raptor Persecution UK and Chris Packham, lost signal in January 2018 in the Pentlands only to signal days later in the North Sea.
In presenting the collaboration’s interpretation of events, in two videos on his YouTube site, BBC naturalist Packham insinuated that the suspicious disappearance of Fred was likely to have been the work of a grouse moor.
The story generated global attention, with questions asked of the First Minister but, despite thinly veiled public accusations towards a local moor, Police Scotland have not yet established criminality.
Furthermore, SGA legal advisers have shown Police the 2 YouTube videos which, despite being released weeks apart (15th Feb and 22nd March), raise questions about the timeline of data being handed to Police for investigation.
The first film shows Packham in a wood and also features interviews with RSPB Investigator Ian Thomson and Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham.
In the second film, Packham claims ‘new evidence’, from the tag, previously unavailable, gives more information about Fred’s disappearance.
In that film, although released weeks later, the same snow patterns are clearly visible on the ground as well as clothing, background and papers.
According to the SGA, this indicates the second video was likely to have been filmed on the same day (before the 15th Feb release date of the first film) and weeks before Dr Ruth Tingay of Raptor Persecution UK and Packham had delivered Police Scotland the new tag information.
An FOI from Police, obtained by the SGA, showed that Police did not receive that new information until 1st March.
“Although the second video was not released until 22nd March, this is an indication of how this data can be held for publicity," added Mr Hogg. "During a live investigation, campaigners were making films, referring to new information, yet that tag data was not- at that point- in the hands of Police. 
“What it looks like is a strategy to gather footage in order to drip-feed a narrative interpretation which Police have, even now, not been able to substantiate. It is highly worrying that a Holyrood Environment Minister was drawn into this, too.
“If tags were independently monitored, scenarios like this would simply not occur. Evidence would replace speculation.”

FURTHER NOTES:


  • The Scottish Gamekeepers Association lodged the Petition wording with Petitions clerks at Holyrood on Monday June 24th 2019.
  • Police Scotland have themselves admitted that investigating crimes where satellite tags are involved is problematic. Addressing members of the ECCLR Committee on March 12th 2019, Detective Chief Superintendent David McLaren (Police Scotland), said, in answer to a question from member John Scott who asked if the tags were 100 percent reliable: “There is still a margin of failure. Some tags are out in the extremes for a long time, they have issues and they fail…From an investigator’s point of view, it is often difficult to hang your hat on a tag’s disappearance definitely being the result of persecution. There is no doubt that that will be the case on some occasions, but differentiating between tag failure and persecution is a real challenge.” He added: “In the past six months to a year, there have been instances of birds seeming to disappear then to reappear due to issues with the tags. That is always a challenge for us.”
  • Some groups/individuals owning tags and interpreting the data from them, have clear campaigning objectives. At the launch of the group, Revive, The Coalition for Grouse Moor Reform in Edinburgh in November 2018, Chris Packham told attendees: “One can only hope, when the Werritty report comes in (Scottish Government’s independent review of grouse shooting) that we will be moving towards licensing or a ban. You see, Mark Avery (former RSPB Director) and I, and others, have been asking for a ban for some time…”
  • When the tag fitted to Fred the Golden Eagle stopped signalling, Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham could have gone first to Police Scotland. Instead they went to RSPB Head of Investigations Ian Thomson. RSPB also want grouse moors licensed and officially supported the parliamentary petition for the introduction of game shoot licensing. See: https://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01615 If tags were independently monitored for the Police, the influence of campaigners would no longer be a factor. All data would be in the hands of Police instantly and they could then choose when, or if, to release public information during the course of a live investigation. RSPB currently have a dual role of investigation and campaigning which raises questions about conflict of interest.
Image 1: Screenshot from the first Fred the Eagle film, released on Feb 15th 2018. See film, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blncTG68qs0


Image 2: Screenshot from the second Fred the Eagle film, released on March 22nd 2018. See film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cz7sqe-QuTU
Note the same snow patterns on ground and frost on fallen timber, same jacket worn by presenter. If the second film, claiming ‘new evidence’ from the satellite tag, was made on the same day (pre-Feb 15th, as these images would suggest), Police Scotland had not received that satellite tag data from Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham, as the SGA Freedom of Information request shows.


Image 3: Freedom of Information response showing Police received the new satellite tag data from Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham on 1st March 2018, weeks after the second video talking about ‘new evidence’ was made. 








Image 4 (above) Screenshot of Police Scotland statement regarding Fred the Eagle. The Police had not established criminality at the time of the release of the first film in which insinuations were made that the bird’s disappearance was likely to have been the responsibility of a grouse moor. Police Scotland is still to establish criminality in the case of Fred the Eagle.



Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham was interviewed as part of the first film. If those interviewing the Minister knew about 'new data' at that time, they had not given that data to Police Scotland and the investigation was still 'live'.