Monday, September 18, 2006

Top UK police official angered by illegal wildlife trade

The chief constable of North Wales Police has blamed UK government departments for hampering the fight against the "obscene" wildlife trade.

Richard Brunstrom said ministers seemed powerless to stop "in-fighting" between Whitehall departments.

Mr Brunstrom, who has courted controversy on issues like road safety, chairs the group managing the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit.

But Defra and the Home Office denied their priorities were "dysfunctional".

Mr Brunstrom made his comments in his blog - or web diary - as he returned from a meeting in London.

He railed against "iconic species such as tigers and rhinos being literally driven to extinction by poachers [who] supply an illegal trade to Western countries, including the UK".

He added: "This is a national and international disgrace for which our children will never forgive us."

Mr Brunstrom bemoaned a lack of "joined-up government" in the UK's efforts to tackle the organised trade in threatened species.

He said 90 game wardens in Kenya had been murdered, and wrote: "Wildlife crime has now just about come in from the cold, and is increasingly recognised as 'real' crime at last.

"It is often quoted (correctly) as a multi-million dollar illegal trade at international level - but it's much more important than that.

'Vote winner'

"This whole business is an obscenity, and we in the UK are not yet doing enough about it."

He adds: "Our task is made harder, as is so often the case, by the failure of Whitehall to provide joined-up government - while of course requiring it from us at the same time."

He lists the departments involved as the Treasury, representing Revenue and Customs, and the Home Office and Defra, the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs.

He said: "Unfortunately despite a clear and public whole-government commitment to tackle wildlife crime, the individual departments refuse to work together in the common interest.

"Departmental priorities are inconsistent to the point of being dysfunctional at operational level and ministers seem either powerless or in denial.

"Ironically, this is a real sure-fire vote winner (hands up those in favour of driving tigers to extinction?), but they just don't seem to be able to grasp it."

Mr Brunstrom described the situation as an "ongoing slow-motion tragedy of Shakespearean proportions," although staff at the wildlife unit were "pulling things together" and there was some "real hope".

David Cowdrey, director of WWF's wildlife trade campaign, said there needed to be "better joined-up thinking and working between all the government departments" handling wildlife crime.

He said: "We are dealing with joined-up criminals who are making money from driving endangered species to the brink of extinction.

"We also think there needs to be greater government funding put into tacking wildlife crime so the police are better placed to actively enforce the laws we currently have."

A Defra spokesperson said: "The unit has supported many international initiatives and has been commended by many organisations in many countries, including India, where it is working with national partners in the fight against illegal trade that is threatening the survival of the tiger."

The Home Office said: "In July 2005, the government increased the penalties for certain endangered species trade offences from two to five years' imprisonment.

"This sends a clear message to wildlife offenders that their activities will not be tolerated."

Published: 2006/09/17 10:10:27 GMT wales/5352092.stm

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