Investigators set up covert cameras on Widdale Fell. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Investigators set up covert cameras on Widdale Fell. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Police have said they made a mistake in only issuing a caution to a man who admitted setting three illegal traps for birds of prey in the Yorkshire Dales.

But the North Yorkshire force said the junior gamekeeper will not face further action, despite criticism of the original decision by a conservation group.

North Yorkshire Police said it had reviewed the decision by officers not to pursue the case in court and admitted it had not followed guidelines. However, the Crown Prosecution Service decided it would not take any further action.

The 23-year-old man from the Hawes area was covertly filmed by Royal Society for the Protection of Birds investigators, resetting pole traps on the Mossdale Estate on the flanks of Widdale Fell.

The RSPB was critical of the police decision to issue a simple caution for the offence. The traps, which snap shut on a bird’s legs, have been outlawed for more than 100 years. A hen harrier was spotted in the area where the traps had been placed.

Bob Elliot, head of RSPB investigations, said the traps were dreadful barbaric devices and called for the police to explain its decision. He said: “Yet again, we have seen that there appears to be little sign that birds of prey will be tolerated in our uplands.

“These crimes are extremely difficult to investigate. While we are grateful for the excellent police response in attending this incident, we simply do not understand the decision to issue a caution for such a serious case.”

North Yorkshire Police said in a statement issued on Wednesday: “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 said it had examined 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.

The police said: “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.

“We would like to offer reassurance 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.

“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.”

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority said the area’s unenviable reputation for raptor persecution was damaging its reputation. Chairman Peter Charlesworth said: “We abhor the illegal persecution of birds of prey and we will continue to support the police and Natural England in any way we can to help bring the perpetrators of these sorts of crimes to justice.

“The pole trap incident happened on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales national park. This land, like the vast majority of the national park, is in private ownership.

“At a time when the Yorkshire Dales is receiving such widespread recognition as a wonderful place to visit, it’s incredibly disappointing that the criminal persecution of birds of prey continues to damage the reputation of the area.”

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