John Finnie is investigating the way the Scottish authorities seek and carry out court warrants to confiscate property on behalf of foreign governments, after a boat belonging to the conservation organisation Sea Shepherd was seized by police and handed over to the Danish Navy.
Sea Shepherd, like Greenpeace, use ships and boats to take to investigate and take direct action to prevent the slaughter of whales and dolphins. The rigid inflatable boat Echo that was seized by police on Tuesday 1 September belonged to the Sea Shepherd ship MY Sam Simon, which was refuelling in Lerwick harbour as part of their campaign against the “grind” in the Faeroe Islands, where pilot whales are herded onto a beach to be killed with knives. The grinds kill around 800 pilot whales per year.
In response to a letter from the Faroese chief of police, the Crown Office sought and was granted a warrant to seize the Echo. On Friday 4 September, police told Sea Shepherd’s lawyers that the boat would be held in Scotland for a week, allowing time for an appeal. Sea Shepherd did appeal and the High Court suspended the warrant at 3.43pm on Friday afternoon, but contrary to the police’s assurances, the boat was already on board the Danish Navy warship HMDS Knud Rasmussen on its way to the Faroes, having been handed over less than an hour before.
John raised the issue at last week’s First Minister’s Questions, asking:
What assessment will be made of procedures that were employed in relation to the seizure and non-return of a Sea Shepherd UK boat from Lerwick harbour?
Nicola Sturgeon replied:
Obviously, it would be inappropriate for me to comment in detail on the matter because it is under criminal investigation. The Crown Office received a letter of request from the Faroese authorities and subsequently sought a warrant in the matter, which was then executed, on the basis of allegations of criminal activity. Given the circumstances, it is not appropriate for me to say any more on the issue.
John then pursued the issue with the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, who heads the Crown Office, with two letters.
In his first letter, John asked about how exactly another country goes about seeking a seizure of property, in the way Denmark (which controls Faeroe and is responsible for policing and justice on the islands) did over the Echo. Given that once the boat was in the possession of Denmark there seemed to be no way to get it back, he asked what timeframe there is to ensure the opportunity for an appeal. Finally he asked about whether the Crown Office’s response takes account of whether the property was being used to prevent acts which would be illegal in Scotland, as the Faroese whale hunt certainly would.
In a second letter, sent today, John has asked about the Crown Office’s actions when they are aware that the court is considering an appeal to suspend a warrant, and when they learn that a suspension has been granted. In the Lerwick case, police handed the Sea Shepherd boat over to the Danish Navy even though the Crown Office knew that a decision on suspending the warrant to do so was imminent, and once the warrant was granted there doesn’t seem to have been any attempt by the Scottish authorities to return the Echo to its owners.
John is still waiting for a response to his questions to the Lord Advocate. In the meantime, pilot whale grinds continue in the Faroes, and Sea Shepherd’s Captain Alex Cornelissen says “if the Danish government thinks that by confiscating the Echo they will stop Sea Shepherd, they are very sadly mistaken.” If you’d like to support Sea Shepherd’s work in the Faroes, you can donate here.