Body worn camera footage captured by Environment Agency officers on patrol has been used to support a conviction for the first time.
Callum Bell, 26, of Lyndsey Street in Houghton-Le-Spring, was fined for obstructing Fisheries Enforcement officers during an incident at Ouston near Chester-le-Street in June last year.
The footage shows Bell using insulting and threatening behaviour towards the two officers as they investigated an illegal fishing offence.
He appeared at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, 31 January, where he pleaded guilty to two offences of wilfully obstructing the officers in the execution of their duty, and two offences of using threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour towards the two officers. He was fined £534 and ordered to pay costs of £530.
In a separate offence from the same incident, David Daniel Bilverstone, 23, of Northlands in Chester-le-Street was charged with fishing without a licence. He failed to appear and the case was proved in his absence. He was fined £110 and ordered to pay costs of £180.
Threatening towards officers
Acting on behalf of the Environment Agency, Chris Bunting told the court that on 18 June last year, the enforcement officers were carrying out a patrol of the freshwater lake Ouston Springs. They saw Bilverstone fishing with a rod and Bell seemingly asleep on the bankside.
One of the enforcement officers took Bilverstone aside to fill in an offence report form. He said he goes sea fishing and claimed he didn’t know he needed a licence.
At this point Bell awoke and walked towards where the officers were standing by the lake side. It was apparent he was affected by alcohol. He quickly became aggressive and threatening towards the two officers.
He tried to grab the offence report book, threatened to push them in the lake and twice lunged towards one of the officers, trying to grab the officer’s baton from its holster. Over the course of several minutes he continued to be verbally abusive, repeatedly swearing and making threats.
Even after the officers had finished dealing with the illegal fishing offence, he continued to shout abuse towards them from across the lake.
When interviewed, Bell said he was drunk and hadn’t meant to obstruct the officers. In court, he offered an unreserved apology for his actions.
‘Safety of staff is paramount’
Rachael Caldwell, Environment Agency Enforcement Team Leader for the north east, said:
Bell was told on more than one occasion that he was being recorded by the cameras but he continued to be threatening and abusive.
Our officers are doing an important job to ensure people are fishing legally and taking action against those that aren’t. The safety of our staff is paramount and they shouldn’t have to put up with any kind of abusive or threatening behaviour.
This is the first time cameras worn by our officers have been used to support a conviction. Our preference is to prevent hostility in the first place and I hope this serves as a warning to others that their actions are being recorded and will be used in future court proceedings. Hopefully people will think twice before acting in such a way.
Environment Agency enforcement officers in the north east first trialled the use of body worn cameras last year to help reduce incidents of anti-social behaviour, assaults and threats against staff. It’s expected they will be rolled out to teams elsewhere in the country in the coming months.
The cameras – which are the norm among many enforcement agencies – can be used in a variety of ways, including at visits to poor performing waste sites, illegal waste sites, during fisheries and navigation patrols and even during incident response.
Officers must follow clear guidelines on use of the cameras, including telling people they are being filmed, and deleting any footage after a month unless it is used for evidential purposes.
Fishing is free for children under 16, although those aged between 12 and 16 still need a junior licence. For anyone over 16, a full annual licence costs from just £30, with some short term and concessionary licences also available. You can buy your rod licence online