By Barnaby Dracup
Monday, 17 August 2009
Shooting organisations are calling for local police constabularies to be better educated about fieldsports and firearms law following two recent incidents in which legitimate pigeon shooters were wrongly targeted and their guns seized.
“The way I was treated by the police was utterly humilating,” shooter Kenneth Wilson told Shooting Times magazine.
Mr Wilson was targeted by police while he was shooting pigeon on farmland in Wiltshire on 13 July.
“The field in which we had permission to shoot has a 300ft crop circle and is regularly visited by crop circle fanatics. On that particular day, two Norwegian crop circle enthusiasts turned up and started trespassing on the field to catch a glimpse of the circle.”
“The next thing I knew, an armed response unit turned up in a helicopter followed by three police cars and they arrested me after one of the trespassers called the police stating that guns were being used in the field.”
All charges against Mr Wilson were eventually dropped and his seized guns were returned.
“The police dealt with this situation appallingly. It should have been resolved there and then in the field. There is nothing illegal about what I did that day. I have been shooting for more than 30 years and comply with firearms law and all safety practices. Maybe it is time the police set about understanding legitimate shooters’ rights.”
Dale Barnard, from Lincolnshire, has also experienced police heavy-handedness.
He said: “Six months ago, I was shooting pigeon in Humberside. The local firearms officer stopped her car as she passed the field and informed me that it is an offence to shoot within 50ft of the highway. She tried to get me to accept a caution for the incident, but I refused. She then confiscated both of my guns and my shotgun certificate.”
Mr Barnard added the police need to be better informed when it comes to dealing with legitimate shooters: “Last week, after four months of silence, I received a summons for an offence contrary to section 161 of the 1980 Highways Act. I admit that I was too close to the road, but I was not endangering anyone. My solicitor and I are confident that I have not broken the law as the Act states that someone would have to be injured, interrupted or put in danger on the highway. A simple slap on the wrist would have sufficed. Throughout this whole process, I have been made to feel like a hardened criminal.”
BASC’s head of firearms, Bill Harriman, said it’s the responsibility of the Association of Chief Police Officers to ensure the police are up to speed on fieldsports: “When dealing with incidents involving the countryside, the police need to be knowledgeable, impartial and even-handed. BASC’s experience is that police officers tend to assume that anyone with a gun in the countryside is in the wrong and BASC is working hard to change this perception.”
In April, BASC refused to endorse a controversial new scheme proposed by Leicestershire police, which asked shooters to notify them every time they go shooting. As a result, BASC is now holding a series of six workshops with the constabulary to help educate officers on fieldsports.
BASC spokesman Dave Harper explained: “BASC is very aware, given numerous members’ direct experiences, that the police do not always understand what sporting shooting is about, which can lead to misunderstandings. In this instance, BASC is working with Leicestershire police, who are keen to be proactive on this issue. BASC will be monitoring how useful these workshops are and may then offer to host them for other police forces in the future.”
The Countryside Alliance’s Jill Grieve concurred with BASC’s sentiments.
She was disappointed to hear of the two incidents and said: “To hear of hysterical reactions from the police towards those with legally held firearms is particularly unhelpful. We all know that gun ownership is a privilege rather than a right and we all take that seriously, so to see police take a heavy-handed approach is frustrating.”
“Well-briefed officers are a pleasure to deal with. We need to get to the point where all police are familiar with the legislation and do not automatically take a negative approach. Only training and the shooting community’s continued efforts to promote its sport will overcome this,” concluded Ms Grieve.
Responding to the calls, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ head of rural affairs, Richard Crompton, said: “Considering the popularity of shooting in the countryside, complaints of this nature are extremely rare, but I would be more than happy to discuss with BASC any concerns it has.”
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