Police silent on previous poaching prosecutions
POLICE have refused to say whether some historic poaching prosecutions have been made incorrectly or unfairly, following comments in an Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) report that seem to indicate that has occurred.
The IPCA report into alleged illegal hunting by two offduty Christchurch police officers, Senior Constables Gary Donnelly and Dougal Adams, in Central Otago last year, found there were multiple shortcomings in the police handling of the case, and there was a ‘‘strong public belief’’ that police handling of unlawful hunting in Central Otago was inconsistent, ‘‘which leaves police vulnerable to allegations of unfairness and partiality’’.
The report found there was sufficient evidence to prosecute the Christchurch officers, but said the decision not to prosecute them was ‘‘reasonable and justifiable on public interest grounds’’.
It was greeted with disbelief by two of those who complained to the IPCA about the case.
Shannon Parker, whose watchdog group the New Zealand Police Conduct Association represented a group of hunters who complained about the case, said she was further concerned by a suggestion in the IPCA report that some historic illegal hunting prosecutions had been made by police incorrectly.
The report says the IPCA asked for the area commander’s opinion about whether the decision not to prosecute the Christchurch officers was in line with other incidents in Central Otago.
‘‘He agreed that there were probably inconsistencies in the way police have dealt with alleged unlawful hunting incidents because the offence is broad, and the seriousness of the circumstances vary’’, the report said.
The report then stated these comments from the Area Commander:
‘‘At times I think that we have not helped ourselves . . . and I’ve had some files across my desk where we’ve actually prosecuted someone under the [Wild Animal Control] Act here and when you looked at their level of offending and their previous we probably should’ve, those people should’ve actually got a warning and we may have created [an expectation] with the local community . . . when we look at the graduated response and looking at the Solicitorgeneral’s guidelines around prosecution some of these people potentially shouldn’t have been prosecuted.’’
The Otago Daily Times emailed police to ask if some previous prosecutions had been made incorrectly or unfairly and if there would be any review of previous cases of alleged illegal hunting but police said they would not make any further comment about the IPCA report.
Ms Parker said police were still handling illegal hunting inconsistently, and more police training was needed.
One of the reasons police gave for not prosecuting the Christchurch officers was that no shots had been fired or animals killed, but police had prosecuted other people when no shots had been fired or animals killed, she said.
‘‘Police claim to have trained staff in March. I have recently dealt with a string of issues in the same [Southern] district that related to illegal hunting matters — the result was police issuing apologies, withdrawing trespass notices and in one case withdrawing a formal warning for illegal hunting. I would suggest they need more training.’’
Steve Brown, an Omakau farmer who complained to the IPCA about the case of the Christchurch officers, said his main concern now was that the IPCA’s defence of the decision not to prosecute the offduty officers had set a precedent.
‘‘The problem with this is that if someone catches a poacher now they can probably get off because they can say in court ‘well those two police officers didn’t get prosecuted’.
‘‘It sets a precedent and new case law. And it’s made it difficult for our local officers who have been trying hard to sort out poaching. This IPCA report has made a mess for our local cops to clean up. I feel sorry for them, as this has made their job a lot harder.’’