Delay to Dumfries and Galloway shotgun seizure criticised
- 18 October 2013
- From the section South Scotland
The police watchdog has criticised a decision by officers not to immediately seize a farmer's gun after he pointed it as a suspected poacher's chest.
The farmer had contacted police to report that poachers were on his land.
He later met three men who he believed to be the poachers, and was alleged to have pointed his shotgun at one of them.
But a sergeant assessed the risk as "low" and the farmer was not detained until the following evening.
The farmer at the centre of the case had contacted officers from Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary on the evening of 22 January 2010 to report that poachers had been seen "lamping" on his land.
Lamping is a technique used by poachers using a high powered lamp to identify and pursue rabbits, game or vermin.
Officers attended and had contact with the farmer and his wife who were searching for the poachers.
After leaving the police officers, the farmer returned to his car and retrieved his shotgun, which he loaded with two cartridges.
A short time later, he met three men, known only as Mr F, Mr G and Mr H, who he suspected of having been poaching.
During this exchange the farmer was alleged to have pointed his shotgun at the chest of Mr F.
Later than night, Mr F made a statement to police in which he reported that the farmer had pointed the shotgun at him about 6-12 inches from his chest.
A sergeant assessed the risk to the general public as "low" and instructed a constable to continue her enquiries when she returned to duty the next day.
The farmer was detained at 20:45 on 23 January, when his shotguns were also seized.
As part of a review of the case - which was prompted by a complaint from the farmer - Prof John McNeill, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, examined the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in force at that time within Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary.
It effectively required officers to exercise professional judgement when deciding whether weapons should be seized immediately in such circumstances.
In his report, the commissioner said the circumstances of the case ought to have raised a concern that the farmer might present a danger, if not to the wider public, then certainly to Mr F who lived in the general vicinity of the farmer's home.
The commissioner also found that the SOP allowed officers too wide a discretion in relation to the seizure of weapons.
Prof McNeill said: "While in this case the decision regarding the seizure of the shotgun was based on the SOP in place at that time, in my view there should be no discretion available to officers as to whether the weapons should be seized.
"I am pleased that the Police Scotland SOP addresses the deficiency which existed in the Dumfries and Galloway SOP at that time.
"It is also encouraging that another of the complaints made by the farmer in relation to the retrieval of the shotguns has been used to inform a wider debate about the involvement of untrained officers in situations of this kind and that the force has significantly revised its approach to reports involving the criminal use of firearms, whereby risk assessments would now completed by trained firearms commanders."