Police handling of hunting case slated

An out-of-town, off-duty policeman is being investigated for alleged unlawful hunting in Central Otago, following complaints from several farmers.

The farmers have criticised police for their role in deciding whether or not to prosecute the policeman suspected of poaching, saying they are concerned the incident is only being investigated because of media inquiries into the issue.

The farmer whose land is at the centre of the incident was initially told by two Central Otago officers that the policeman would not be charged, despite having been seen spotlighting on to the farmer's property with a firearm in his vehicle and allegedly telling the farmer he had also just been spotlighting on a Department of Conservation property.

The policeman suspected of poaching is believed to be from the North Island.

On Tuesday, the farmer was visited by a third Central Otago policeman and told the issue was still being investigated and no decision had yet been made about whether the off-duty officer would be charged.

The farmer and several others, who prefer not to be named, say they are angry, disappointed and frustrated by the police's handling of the incident.

They say any decision to not prosecute the off-duty officer for unlawful hunting would contradict police policy about poaching, publicised throughout the district.

The News reported on March 3 that Central Otago police were continuing their bid to stamp out poaching in the district, now having a greater understanding of the Wild Animal Control Act and the powers it provided for police to better respond to callouts about poaching and for the courts to deal with offenders.

Central Otago prevention officer Constable Toni Velenski said in the article that, while most charges required people to be proved guilty by a prosecutor, illegal hunting - laid under the Wild Animal Control Act - worked the other way.

‘‘If someone is found in an area where wild animals are present, and the person has something they could hunt with, they are presumed to be hunting unless the opposite can be proved.''

On Monday, The News emailed questions about the alleged poaching incident to Const Velenski, Central Otago sub-area commander Senior Sergeant Ian Kerrisk, Otago Lakes-Central area commander Inspector Olaf Jensen, and the Police National Headquarters media team.

On Tuesday morning, the national police media team responded: ‘‘Police are still looking into this matter and we'll be unable to meet your proposed deadline. We will aim to get a full response to you as soon as possible.''

The farmer (farmer one) who owns the land on to which the policeman was seen spotlighting said he was angry at the thought the police might only now be reviewing the case because media had started looking into it.

When asked by The News if any review of the decision not to prosecute was prompted by media attention, police provided this additional response on Tuesday: ‘‘Police can confirm that inquiries are still being made into this matter and a final decision has not yet been made.

‘‘It appears there may have been a misunderstanding as to where the inquiries are at and police staff will be visiting the complainant to clarify the current situation. As with any ongoing police inquiries, there is no timeline in place for its completion.''

Then, later that afternoon, farmer one was visited by another Central Otago police officer, who said investigations were still ongoing.

Farmer one said the off-duty policeman was seen by another farmer (farmer two) on January 21 spotlighting from a public road that went through farmer one's property.

Farmer two phoned farmer one and then approached the alleged poacher, who had a firearm in his vehicle, and allegedly said he had just been hunting on a Department of Conservation block and had seen deer in the area several days earlier and had ‘‘come back to look for them'', farmer two said.

Farmer one then arrived and phoned police, and two Central Otago police officers arrived, the one who first responded to the incident and then, later, a second officer who said he had also attended ‘‘seeing as a police officer was involved, to make sure everything was done correctly'', farmer one said.

The police later visited the farmer's home and took statements from several farmers, including farmer one and a third farmer, who had both been asked by the off-duty officer for permission to hunt on their properties just before the January 21 incident, this having been refused.

Six weeks later, when he had still heard nothing from police, farmer one phoned the senior Central Otago officer he had dealt with, who said the off-duty officer would not be charged with unlawful hunting because no shots were fired and there was no evidence of animal carcasses.

Farmer one complained about this to another local officer, who said he would look into it and then visited the farmer on March 13 to confirm no charges would be laid.

The farmers say they are concerned both about the perceived ‘‘double standard'' of possibly not prosecuting the police officer, and the impact the incident could have on the reputation of other Central Otago police who are doing good work.

‘‘It's not a very good look,'' one of the farmers said.

By Pam Jones 

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter