Field sports enthusiasts have complained that they are increasingly being targeted by armed police responding to panicky 999 calls from the public.
By Jasper Copping
Kenneth Wilson, who was shooting pigeons legally, was arrested when trespassers who were trying to view a crop circle called police to report a gun being used in the field Photo: M and Y Shooting groups are reporting a growing number of cases where officers in armed response vehicles and helicopters are swooping on people who are legally shooting.
In many cases, the shooters are arrested and have had their guns seized. They are sometimes locked up and have their DNA taken, before police accept their error.
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The Countryside Alliance has described as "hysterical", the "massive overreaction" by officers, while the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has warned that an incident could lead to a lawful shooter being killed by police marksmen.
The problem has become so great, that the field sports' bible, Shooting Times, has launched an initiative – called the Campaign for Common Sense – to urge police to improve their dealings with field sports enthusiasts. The publication has also submitted a dossier detailing its complaints and proposals to a recent consultation by the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) on police firearm use.
The magazine's news editor, Selena Masson, said: "The police response is completely out of sync with what is actually going on. They send helicopters and up to half a dozen police vehicles, at astronomical cost to the taxpayer. They manhandle shooters, throw them in the cells and take DNA fingerprints, despite the fact that these people have permission and all the relevant documentation."
Christopher Graffius, from the BASC, said: "It doesn't take a lot of imagination to imagine a scene where armed police are called out going horribly wrong. The shooters' lives are at risk. I don't think many police forces have developed procedures to deal with this issue. They need to do so."
He said in his wildfowling club, in the north west, that Merseyside Police had sent an armed response unit in a helicopter in pursuit of wildfowlers on a tidal marsh up to a mile from land, who were shooting legally. The gunmen were forced back to land and interviewed by the police before being released.
In another case, earlier this month, Durham Police sent a helicopter to a spot near Bishop Auckland after a member of the public had reported seeing two men shooting geese at a lake. Instructions from the helicopter ordered the men to meet officers in a nearby village.
Two dead geese and the weapons were later seized from them, although officers later realised the pair had permission to shoot in the area and licences for the firearms.
In July, Kenneth Wilson, 63, and his brother Sid, 65, a former police firearms officer, had permission to shoot pigeon on farmland near Devizes, Wiltshire, when trespassers who were trying to view a crop circle called police to report a gun being used in the field.
A helicopter arrived, along with three squad cars carrying armed police, who arrested Kenneth Wilson. All charges against him were eventually dropped and his seized guns were returned.
He said: "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. The way I was treated by the police was utterly humiliating."
In October, Graham Simmonds, a pest controller, was arrested despite notifying police in advance that he was intending to carry out a legal pigeon cull with an air gun at a shopping centre in Havant, Hampshire, in the early hours of the morning.
Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "Of course there are times when legitimate shooting might reasonably be confused with illegal shooting, especially at night, but there are many stories of unreasonable reaction to responsible shooting."
Richard Crompton, chief constable of Lincolnshire Police and lead for Rural Affairs for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "Considering the popularity of shooting in the countryside, complaints of this nature are extremely rare. We have a very good relationship with the BASC but this issue has never been raised with us. I would be more than happy to discuss any concerns they have."
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