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The Metropolitan Police's Wildlife Crime Unit to receive funding from World Society for the Protection of Animals
Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Dower (left) with WCU head Sergeant Ian Knox and WSPA UK director Suzi Morris in a seized bear cage.
A WILDLIFE charity is the first group to directly fund a Metropolitan police unit.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has stepped in to safeguard the Met’s Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) by donating around £100,000 a year.
The unique partnership was marked by an exhibition at City Hall of WCU-seized items which are rarely, if ever, put on display - including a rhino horn valued at £200,000, a three metre polar bear skin and a 10-day-old stuffed tiger cub.
WSPA described the capital as a ‘hub’ for international wildlife crime and said the cash will enable the WCU to work more to prevent crime and crackdown on offenders by adding another PC and civilian staff member to the team already consisting a sergeant, a PC and one civilian.
Its UK head of external affairs, Simon Pope said: “This is not some niche, illicit trade carried out by petty part-time villains. It is a major source of revenue for a global network of hardened criminals, gangs and drug lords, all growing rich from the trafficking of wildlife.”
He added: “WSPA believes that the knowledge contained in the WCU is an irreplaceable asset to London, national and international enforcement communities. We know that our supporters and Londoners want to see wildlife criminals brought to justice, so it seemed vital now more than ever to safeguard the future of this specialist unit.”
The partnership should allow the police to provide more training to borough Wildlife Crime Officers, such as PCs John Blackman in Bromley, John Horton in Bexley and Vee Goomany in Greenwich.
Head of the WCU, Sergeant Ian Knox said: “It will enable the WCU to better support the Borough Wildlife Crime Officer network in terms of practical assistance not only with enforcement, but also in training and development and in doing so reassure local people that this area of crime is being taken seriously.”
The charity decided to step in after the UK’s only other specialist wildlife team, the National WCU, was bolstered by Government funding but the London squad was potentially left in the cold.
WSPA said it will support the WCU while it to lobbies for central funding, adding that its investment is roughly the same as each of its members giving a pound.
Wildlife Officer, PC John Horton
PC John Horton became a police officer in 2002 - attracted by the wildlife officer post - after 12 years as a zoo manager in London and Jersey.
The 42-year-old said: “This could be the start of something really good. It will raise public awareness and we will have extra officers to deal with the additional wildlife crime that gets reported.”
Most of PC Horton’s time is spent in Bexley’s Safer Transport Team and he steals time away to investigate wildlife crime. He said he links up directly to the WCU and often works in partnership with other boroughs.
He said: “Most of the work I do is in Bexley - we certainly get our share of wildlife crime.
“We get a broad spectrum - everything from illegal bird trapping to possessing wild birds’ eggs, we have a lot of exotic animals in this borough and people damaging habitats.”
PC Horton said a lot of his work is advisory - phone calls and emails from colleagues asking for help - although the role sometimes requires him to set aside whole days to cases.
He said: “Last week I designated four days to investigate a case, but I haven’t had to do that for probably six months.”