Federated Farmers to pursue issue

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Federated Farmers has weighed in on the case of alleged poaching by out-of-town police officers in Central Otago, saying they will pursue the issue further and are discussing it with police and the Department of Conservation (Doc).
Federated Farmers Otago Central High Country representative and Otago executive member Andrew Paterson, who owns Matakanui Station, said the police decision not to charge the officers was ‘‘disgraceful’’ and a case of double standards and a police cover-up.
‘‘In all other cases it’s the courts that decide whether people are guilty of poaching or not. In this case the police have decided . . .they’ve become their own judge and jury and executioner. They’re very much running the law for themselves in this instance. I’ve got a real problem with that.’’
The two Christchurch officers accused of the poaching, Senior Constables Gary Donnelly, a dog handler, and Dougal Adams, a scene of crime officer, were allegedly poaching in Central Otago on January 21. They were seen spotlighting on to a private property by a farmer with guns in their vehicle, and the farmer said the officers told him they had been looking for deer and had also just been spotlighting on a Doc block.
Police initially twice told the farmer whose land was at the centre of the issue that no charges against the officers would be laid, but after media inquiries began they said there had been a ‘‘misunderstanding’’ and they would investigate the issue.
Last week they said no charges would be laid against the officers, as there was ‘‘insufficient evidence’’. A separate Doc inquiry into the allegation of poaching on the Doc block is still ongoing.
Mr Paterson said Federated Farmers was furious about the issue and would take it further, having already discussed it with police and Doc.
The Wild Animal Control Act was clear and had a ‘‘guilty until innocent’’ reasoning in contrast to other law, Mr Paterson said. The Act says if someone is caught in an area where there are wild animals, and have something they can hunt with, they are presumed to be hunting unless the opposite can be proved.
The decision by police not to charge two of their own looked like a double standard, and the farmers at the centre of the issue had felt fobbed off, Mr Paterson said.
He said Central Otago farmers had an excellent relationship with Central Otago police and charges against poachers were usually laid swiftly. In two other cases, poachers caught on his property and on the property of Central Otago farmer Steve Brown appeared in court within two weeks of the incidents.
Farmers generally gave statements at the scene at the time of the incident, but in the case of the two police officers the farmer had been ‘‘ushered away’’ by police and his statement was not taken until three days later, Mr Paterson said.
‘‘It smelt of a cover-up from the beginning.’’
He felt sorry for Central Otago police, who risked their reputation being damaged by the actions of the senior police hierarchy.
‘‘We’ve [Central Otago farmers] got a good, strong relationship with our local police, but this has the potential to undermine their work . . .I’ve spoken to a number of local police and they are really disappointed. They feel let down by the national organisation.’’
The farmer whose land is at the centre of the issue preferred not to be named but said he was partly gutted about the decision by police not to charge the officers and partly ‘‘not surprised’’.
‘‘It was taking so long, I knew something was up.’’
Mr Brown, who lives near that farmer, said farmers were incredulous the officers had not been charged.
‘‘We [farmers] caught them with a gun and they said they were trying to shoot those deer. What more evidence do you need?’’
Both farmers have laid complaints about the issue with the Independent Police Conduct Authority and another complaint has also been laid by another group of Otago people not connected to the incident.
Both farmers have also taken out trespass orders against Snr Consts Donnelly and Adams, and said they hoped a Doc prosecution would eventuate.
Southern acting district commander Superintendent Lane Todd said police had based their decision on independent legal advice from Crown Law.
‘‘It is important to note that while a prosecution may not be supported by the facts in all cases, there are also other avenues which may be considered by police or other agencies.’’
As the investigation into the Doc incident was still ongoing, police could not comment further, he said.