On July 30th 2015, five people walking on a public road in the Forest of Bowland heard the cries of a distressed cat. Looking into the undergrowth, onto the Bleasdale estate, they saw a cat hanging by its back leg from a Fenn trap which was illegally set over a beck. They were able to release the cat and take it to a vet for treatment, but this led to a shocking series of events which revealed just how involved the local ‘wildlife’ police are with the shooting estates.
On August 11th 2015, three houses belonging to the five people who rescued the cat were raided by around 25 officers from Lancashire Constabulary, led by ‘wildlife crime officers’ Lorraine Elwood, PC Gary Cross and PC Andrew Massingham, all bloodsports enthusiasts. A further home was raided, this time by counter-terrorism officers, led by DS Peter Denson, whose family are heavily involved in big game hunting. All have links to a notorious ex-police wildlife officer, now BASC employee and fanatical animal killer.
It was alleged that ‘legal traps and snares’ had been damaged, and 6 people (including one child) were charged with conspiracy to cause criminal damage on the Abbeystead and Bleasdale Estates in the Forest of Bowland. Although the extent of the alleged damage was estimated to be less that £350, a three week Crown Court trial was booked, at the taxpayer’s expense. A CPS prosecutor told one of the barristers that the CPS were ‘under pressure from the landowners’. None of the officers involved appeared to have any knowledge of trapping or snaring, or the surrounding legislation.
The defendants were accused of conspiring with each other during a period 6 months before they had even met and one officer threatened to arrest a primary school aged child if his father did not admit to being someone else. Another officer made several visits to the home of two of the younger female defendants, seemingly attempting to intimidate them into pleading guilty. At the initial hearing, a notorious ex-police wildlife officer, now BASC employee was present. He attempted to photograph the defendants in the waiting room, and was admonished by the magistrate for this.
A report by an independent expert ascertained that the trap which had injured the cat was not legally set, therefore it seemed highly likely that other traps and snares on the estate would be similar. Following the death of the Duke of Westminster, owner of the Abbeystead estate, the CPS seemed to be less pressured, and after seeing the independent expert’s report, they decided not to offer evidence on the first day of the trial. Two youngsters had already admitted to damaging some snares and they received small fines. The Judge seemed to be very insightful, and persistently questioned the prosecutor about the trap, who eventually admitted that it was ‘not set correctly’, (and was therefore illegal). No-one from the shooting estate was prosecuted for causing unnecessary suffering to the cat, nor did they make any contribution to the large veterinary bill.
This case has cost thousands and thousands of pounds, paid for by the taxpayer, to protect game shooting estates which receive hundreds of thousands of pounds in subsidies from the taxpayer, via Natural England and the Forestry Commission. The police, also paid by the taxpayer, were proficient at moving the goalposts whenever it transpired that the gamekeepers were in the wrong, changing times and dates to suit. The statements given by the gamekeepers only proved that the gamekeepers were not checking their traps according to statutory timescales, and had broken the law. Animals are regularly left to suffer unchecked in snares and traps for periods of up to two weeks, with those snares and traps being set by keepers with no formal qualifications.
Further information revealed an insidious relationship between the police and the estates whereby the police appear to overlook illegality, and in return they get to shoot, beat, pick up and get areas of land to ‘manage’ (ie they shoot deer etc) they get to ‘tour’ the estates, and they get to tug their forelocks in deference to their masters. On discovering that the cat had been found in the trap, the gamekeepers had immediately called officers Ellwood and Massingham on their personal mobile phones whilst both were off duty. Wildlife officers also attended private functions when invited by gamekeepers. FOI requests revealed that Bowland wildlife officers have not secured any prosecutions for wildlife crime in the last 2.5 years, although wildlife crime is rife in the Bowland area. The disappearance of our Hen Harriers in Bowland is no mystery – the only conspiracy that exists is the one between the police and the estates.
The injured cat, who was suffering from shock and dehydration, had to have several toes amputated. A vet who is also a cat expert has stated that the cat must have been in the trap for at least three days. The cat has now been adopted by one of the defendants, but it would have ended very differently for him if those five people had ignored his cries.
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