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Body cams and the Law

Body cameras (or body cams) are portable surveillance units typically used to document personal interactions and protect the wearers should they need to defend themselves if arrested as they allow officials to look back at the captured footage for a highly accurate account of the events in question. Once almost the sole preserve of the the ‘blue light services’ (ambulance, police, fire and rescue) they offer peace of mind and are now widely worn by monitors and sabs.

Common features of even relatively inexpensive body cams include HD audio and video recording, video encryption, time and date stamping and password protection. Most are water- and dust-proof. Higher end body cams that use infrared LEDs can capture footage in very low light and are often used by activists opposing the badger cull.

  • Currently, in the UK, there are no laws regarding the use of body cameras in a public space, however recording on private property requires consent from the property owner.

 

While there are no laws in the UK specifically regarding the use of body cameras in a public space (other jurisdictions may differ), users should note that recording on private property requires consent from the property owner and persistent filming of the same individual might be considered harassment (see > Harassment and the Law)

  • Users should (wherever possible or practical) announce to the subject(s) of an encounter that video and audio recording is taking place using a body worn camera.
  • To be useful as evidence recordings should commence at the start of an incident and should continue uninterrupted until the incident is concluded.
  • All recordings must be securely held. Access to recordings should be controlled and only persons having the ‘operational need’ to view specific incidents may view them.
  • All footage recorded with a body worn camera must be retained in accordance with personal data guidelines. 

No, a CCTV Licence is not needed to to wear a body camera. However, if using the body camera to monitor or record people in a public place, it may be necessary to comply with applicable data protection laws.

The statutory definition of “public place” contained within the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 at section 1(4) is not very helpful but states it ‘includes any highway and any other premises of place to which at the material time the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise’.

Institutions to which the public have access such as churches and museums, however, may own the land, making these a ‘private’ setting which has a significant effect on the need for permission to take photographs.

Note that a vehicle is also considered as a public place, unless it was parked on private property at the time. This presumably means that photographs and video can be taken of or inside a vehicle, and may be relevant in terms of photographing unsecured firearms or offensive weapons as “Possessing an offensive weapon in a public place is an offence contrary to s 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953”.

Activists may find themselves in situations where they are speaking with police wearing body cameras.

  • The camera may not be swiched on. Typically a flashing red light in the middle of the device shows when it’s being used.
  • An officer must notify anybody present that they are being recorded.

 

The College of Policing says that “deployment and use differs across forces” but guidelines will be similar to those issued by the Metroplitan Police and published in an FOI in 2016.

“Body Worn Video (BWV) is an overt system and should not be used for covert recording other than in exceptional circumstances and where the necessary authorities have been granted.

As BWV is overt recording, officers must declare wherever possible when they are commencing audio and video recording during each and every encounter.

  • The use of BWV must be proportionate and necessary to the situation.
  • BWV use should be ‘incident specific.’
 
  • The MPS expectation is that Body Worn Video should be used in any circumstance outlined below:
    1. Where it may assist in providing a record of evidence in respect of the investigation of any offence or suspected offence.
    2. When the use of BWV would provide transparency of an encounter (for example Stop & Search, Use of force)
    3. When users would have been expected or required to have completed a written record or report of an encounter or incident.
    4. Any other occasion when the user thinks a recording may be of evidential value in the future and to make a recording is proportionate and lawful in the circumstances.
 
 

There are a variety of circumstances where the use of BWV is mandatory – these are:

  1. When a user decides to use statutory powers to stop a motor vehicle in order to engage with one or more of the occupants.
  2. When users attend premises in order to effect an arrest.
  3. Prior to entering any land, premises, vehicle, vessel or aircraft in pursuance of any legal power in order to search those premises and for the duration of the search.
  4. When a user stops a person in a public place in order to ask them to account for their actions in order to establish their possible involvement or otherwise in an offence.
  5. When a user decides to conduct a search of a person, premises, land, vehicle, vessel or aircraft in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) code A or any other statutory search power.
  6. When attending Critical Incidents.
  7. Where a user exercises the use of force against persons or property.
  8. Where a user gives a direction to an individual or group under any statutory power.
  9. When attending Domestic Abuse or suspected Domestic Abuse incidents.

 

All footage will only be retained for a maximum of 31 days unless a user decides it is to be retained for evidence, disclosure or other policing purpose.

The need for retention must be justifiable and clear.

Simply retaining footage ‘just in case’ is not a strong enough test and the investigator or Officer in the case (OIC) in each instance must be capable of justifying why on a case by case basis.

All footage, whether ‘used’ or ‘unused’ material, must be disclosed in criminal proceedings.

BWV footage is subject to the principles outlined in the Data Protection Act. This prohibits the random dip-sampling of retained footage other than for supervision and/or investigation purposes as outlined above.

Open access to any database or server containing BWV footage for reasons other than this will not normally be granted unless exceptional circumstances exist and authority is given by the Director of Professional Standards.”

Whether what you are recorded saying (or what you record someone else saying) on a body cam is useable as evidence in court or is not allowed as ‘hearsay’ might have an important bearing on a case.

An interesting (but complex) argument is made in an online article assessing whether audio captured by body cams constitues ‘hearsay’ and is therefore unadmissible in court.

While the article is lengthy the authors state that “The classic hearsay dangers are accepted to be ambiguity, insincerity, misperception and faulty memory” and that “Where the hearsay statements that a party seeks to adduce are video recorded these risks are clearly reduced. The jury viewing the recording see and hear an account given closer in time to the occurrence of the relevant events when the witness’s memory would have been more complete. Consequently, the account is likely to contain a greater amount of accurate detail and fewer errors“.

They conclude that “There is no doubt as to the value that body worn video recorded evidence might serve in the criminal trial. We consider that a strong case can be made for more widespread use, subject to necessary safeguards, to take witness accounts instead of the current
process of producing written statements. Section 137 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 should be brought into force to facilitate this.”

 

  • Always bear in mind that any statement you make to someone wearing a body cam may end up being used as evidence in court.
 

Wildlife crime is defined as any action which contravenes current legislation governing the protection of the UK’s wild flora and fauna, including species traded in the UK.

Note that wildlife crime does NOT include:

  • Incidents involving domestic or companion animals such as dogs (other than dogs being used to hunt mammals), cats, rabbits, domesticated birds, etc.
  • Wild animals that have been involved (killed or injured etc) in road traffic accidents.

Road accidents with wild animals do not need to be reported to the police, but note that domestic animals (as well as goats, horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep and pigs) come within the remit of the Road Traffic Act.
If you have a road accident involving these animals you are required by law to report it to the police. If the wild animal is so badly injured in a road accident that there is no chance of recovery or the animal can not be returned to the wild then he or she may be euthanised, providing there is no appropriate long-term captive or semi-captive accommodation or when treatment would involve undue suffering or distress.

If we come across a wildlife crime scene or a dead bird/object that may be related to a wildlife crime every piece of information is – or might be – important, but it needs to be recorded properly and accurately for the authorities to have a chance of prosecuting an offender.

  • Before we do anything else it is very important that we do NOT approach anyone we suspect of committing a crime – they may be violent and/or aggressive. This is especially true of badger baiters and hare coursers who are typically extremely violent. This must be a first priority!
 
What do we need to record?
  • What we can see happening – what sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved, could we or the public be in danger?
  • The exact location. Most smartphones have map apps or download the free What3Words app. If in open countryside look for obvious landmarks or fence lines, a tall or isolated tree, a wind turbine, any streams or brooks etc. Think about what would you need to re find a remote location.
  • It is important to record if at all possible whether we are on or near public land as this will determine the type of police response.
  • Never put ourselves in danger, but can we see who is involved and what they look like (e.g. number of people, their gender(s), age(s), the clothing worn, tools being carried)? Can we hear them – if so what are they saying, are they using any names etc?
  • If any dogs are involved how many are there, what colour are they, do we know what breed they are (even information like ‘terriers’ or ‘lurcher-types’ can be very useful).
  • The make, colour and registration number of any vehicle (we can take photos of a car if we think it is being used or might be used to commit a crime). Does it have any obvious dents, branding or markings, spotlights, bullbars etc.

 

DO and DO NOT

  • Do NOT disturb the scene by walking around unnecessarily – small pieces of evidence (cigarette ends, footprints, the marks left by a spade etc) may be lost or trampled into the mud or grass.
  • If photographing an object do try to use eg a coin or a notebook/field guide for scale – providing it won’t disturb the crime scene.
  • If in the countryside take wide angle photographs of any landmarks (a tree, a distinctive fenceline, a hill) that might help officers relocate the crime scene. DO NOT mark a site with eg a white plastic bag though. Being able to see a marker from a distance might sound like a good idea, but it will also alert an offender that someone has been at the site: they may go back and remove the evidence
  • Do NOT move any items at the scene – the exception being if they are likely to disappear before the police arrive when we can collect them as evidence.
  • Do NOT touch any dead birds or animals with bare hands. They may be poisoned baits or victims of poisoning. Many poisons (eg Carbofuran) are extremely dangerous in even very small amounts and can be absorbed through the skin.
  • Do NOT do anything illegal ourselves – that might mean our evidence is not admissible.
If we see a wildlife crime taking place (or someone is at risk of getting injured or is being threatened) call 999 immediately.
They will want to know what we can see happening:
  • What sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved
  • Could we or the public be in danger
  • Do we have photos or video footage which may be used as evidence
  • Tell whoever you REPORT the crime to exactly what you have RECORDED as described in the section above.
 
To report a historic crime – that is, a crime that is no longer taking place – use 101 or a local organisation instead.
  • If calling the police ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer and make sure to get an Incident Report number.
  • Please always follow any advice given and – if they are not available – insist that a Wildlife Crime Officer is made aware of your report.
  •  Our options are wider if the event is over, and it may be preferable to talk first to a charity or NGO to get advice. Crimestoppers (an independent charity) can be contacted in complete confidence on 0800 555 111
  • When thinking about reporting a crime it’s worth noting that only the police have statutory powers to make an arrest. RSPCA and RSPB investigation officers work with the police for successful prosecutions.
 
Reporting a wildlife crime (or even a suspected wildlife crime) is important for two reasons.
  • If the event is still happening it may enable the authorities to catch the criminals ‘in the act’ (which means a higher chance of prosecution),
  • and if the event is over a report can still help to build up a more accurate picture of what might be happening in a specific location or across the country as a whole.
Our help is always welcomed
  • Whoever we decide to contact we have been assured that our help is welcomed and that if we’re in any doubt that what we’re seeing is a crime we should report it anyway. Remember, if what we see ‘feels’ wrong, it probably is!
  • Even if we’re not sure about what we’re seeing, we can take a photograph and email it to the police or an investigations officer – they are trained to quickly recognise for example when a snare is illegally placed, whether a trap is being used illegally, or whether a crime is being committed or not.
  • We may help stop or solve future crimes by helping build up a pattern of behaviour in an area.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault, or what we should do if we’re arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in over thirty simple, mobile-friendly pages just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault or harassment, or what we should do if we’re stopped and searched or even arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in forty-one simple, mobile-friendly pages and over 500 FAQs just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource with two aims: to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution; and to provide a ‘quick guide’ to anyone interacting with hunts, hunt supporters, or the police.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to, and the more we know our rights the better we can protect ourselves.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit currently has seven priority offences for wildlife crime.

Badger persecution

It is illegal to interfere with or block a badger’s home or ‘sett’. Badger baiting is a centuries-old now illegal blood sport, where small dogs such as terriers or lurchers seek badgers out of their setts before fighting and killing them.

Bat persecution

Bats and their homes are legally protected, so disturbing or removing them is an offence. If bats roost in your roof, you need to obtain a special ‘bat mitigation licence’ from Natural England to be allowed to disturb them. They are hugely important to our ecosystem.

Trade of endangered species

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) sets out which endangered animals and plants have protected status. It is illegal to remove any of them from their natural habitat, possess, or sell them. Currently, the top priorities are European eels, birds of prey, ivory, medicinal and health products, reptiles, rhino horns, and timber.

Freshwater pearl mussel offences

These Endangered mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera) are only found in rivers in Scotland and small parts of England. They can live for more than 130 years but are extremely sensitive to water pollution and have been illegally farmed for years. It is illegal to damage or destroy their habitat or to take, injure or kill them.

Poaching

Fox, deer, and hare hunting are all illegal under the Hunting Act 2004. Poaching offences also cover illegal fishing – when anglers do not obtain a licence or remove protected fish from lakes and rivers without returning them.

Raptor persecution

Birds of prey are often targeted on shooting estates. Their eggs are also traded illegally. It is an offence to target, poison, or kill them, with a particular focus on Golden Sagles, Goshawks, Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Red Kites, and White-tailed Eagles. Disturbing or taking their eggs or chicks is also illegal.

Cyber-enabled wildlife crime

Social media is often used to promote wildlife crime and recruit people to take part in it. Endangered plants and animals are also traded illegally online.

  • Punishment must fit the crime. Conditional discharges and paltry fines are not a disincentive for criminals.

A common complaint is that even if wildlife criminals are brought to court the fines or sentences they get are pathetic and not a disincentive. In most cases judges are giving out the penalties they are allowed to under the law. Changes can be made though. In 2022 the maximum sentence for ‘causing uneccesary suffering’ went from six months to five years. That was the result of targeted public pressure and campaigning. We need to identify where changes should be made and push hard for them.

 

  • Wildlife crime must be notifiable and statistics accurately compiled so that resources can be properly targeted.

Police forces are required by law to inform the Home Office of any notifiable offences, which then uses the reports to compile the crime statistics known as ‘recorded crime’. Currently, wildlife crimes are not ‘notifiable’ though (and wildlife crime involving firearms are also not recorded as firearms offences by the Police).  Without them being notifiable, no one knows how many wildlife crimes are being committed across the UK and where the hotspots are (though ‘grouse moors’ is one obvious response). As we have stated many times on this website, law and legislative enforcement is hugely underfunded and under-resourced. Some of this has undoubtedly been through political choice, but if we at least know which crimes are being committed and where, the resources that are available can be placed where they are needed most.

 

  • There must be changes to make it far easier for all of us to play our part in ‘Recognising, Reporting, Recording’ wildlife cime.

As even a quick glance at the Protectors pages makes clear, laws protecting wildlife are hard to understand. Major pieces of legislation like the Hunting Act 2004  and other laws are riddled with exemptions which strongly favour the hunting, shooting, and agricultural industries. Some date from a century or more ago and don’t reflect the modern world. These need to be updated. While there has undoubtedly been efforts made by successive governmants to use ‘plain english’ to explain legislation, any government wanting to tackle wildlife crime needs to make understanding what is and what isn’t a crime far more easily understood and put resources into a reporting system that the public feel confident using. Crucially, the public need to be sure that if they do report a crime it will be acted upon.

 

  • We have to protect the environment and wildlife properly.

Laws protecting wildlife and the environment need to be revised to reflect the 21st century and the biodiversity and climate crises we are in. Animals (and plants) are not an add-on or a ‘nice to have’ – they have shaped the systems that life depends on, and our laws need to reflect how critically important they are.

 

If you’d like to support just one legislative change, Protect the Wild has launched ‘The Hunting of Mammals Bill: A Proper Ban on Hunting‘ – please sign our petition calling for a proper ban on hunting with dogs.

We would like Protectors of the Wild to be the ‘go to’ free resource, packed with the kind of information that really does help all of us become ‘eyes in the field. But we can’t possibly think of every question that might need answering or every situation someone might find themselves in! And while the information in these pages is largely taken from Government online advice and was compiled in 2023 (and constantlyy updated), perhaps we’ve missed something out.

If you could provide us with legal advice get in touch. Or if you find a mistake or a gap please let us know. That way we can continually improve Protectors of the Wild – for the benefit of animals and all of us. Thanks.

‘Protectors of the Wild’ is a project of Protect the Wild. We have a dedicated email address for anyone wishing to get in touch with a specific Protectors query or with additional information etc. Please use the form on our Contact Protectors page or email protectors@protectthewild.org.uk. Thank you.

Much of the information we give in these pages is very technical or to do with legislation which can be revised without much notice. While we have worked very hard on these pages and we take keeping our information accurate and up-to-date very seriously, Protect the Wild are not legal professionals. Just to make sure no-one thinks we’re offering professional legal advice, we feel obliged to include the following disclaimer on every page.

  • Please think of the ‘Protectors of the Wild’ pages as a ‘first stop’ before seeking legal advice. We provide detailed information but not professional advice. The information provided by Protect the Wild should NOT be considered or relied on as legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Any of the material on our website may be out of date at any given time, and we are under no legal obligation to update such material. While we update and revise as often as we can, Protect the Wild assumes no responsibility for the accuracy and correctness of any information, or for any consequences of relying on it. Please do not act or refrain from acting upon this information without seeking professional legal advice.