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News article created on 14 October 2016

Bogus bailiffs

This blog has been written by our very own Paul Breslin, who was a fully warranted Environment Agency fisheries water bailiff, before joining the Canal & River Trust’s Fisheries & Angling Team.

Operation Traverse Partnership Dec 2015

Society is starting to become more aware of online scammers, but the old fashioned blag of impersonating a person of authority is still alive and kicking. This blog aims to provide you with some information about what to expect when you are approached on the bank of a fishery.

Where can I fish for free?

Canal & River Trust own the fishing rights on the vast majority of our network and we own the fish stocks. Like most other fishery owners across the country, we rent out fishing rights to angling clubs. At locations that are currently not controlled by clubs, then the fishing rights are available to fish under our Waterway Wanderers Scheme annual permit. There is no free fishing on any of our waters.

Angling clubs can require full annual membership in order to agree to someone fishing, or they can charge for a temporary day membership through the issuing of what’s often referred to as a day ticket or permit.

Since controlling angling clubs pay for the right to fish on a commercial basis, they need to recoup as much income as possible through issuing day permits or collecting peg fees from match fishing events. Club bailiffs usually patrol their waters to ensure that anglers are not only paying, but that they are also following the clubs’ rules. When money changes hands, this is when an unscrupulous person might take the opportunity to impersonate a club bailiff.

The joys of volunteering to be a club bailiff

Anyone who has fished regularly will have met their friendly local angling club bailiff, or water keeper to give them their legally correct title. It’s not a job for the faint-hearted. Sometimes they are on the receiving end of verbal abuse and very occasionally even physical threats. This might happen when they ask people for day or annual membership money, ask a non-compliant angler then to leave the fishery or even stop an offence such as the stealing of fish.

Theft of fishing rights

If someone is fishing without permission, then in the eyes of the law, they have deprived the angling club of their fishing rights. This is theft, as defined in the Theft Act 1968. This principle is still valid even when the fish are being returned. The club bailiff has the right to get the police involved at this stage for it is the role of the police and not the Environment Agency to enforce the Theft Act.

Legal powers of the angling club bailiff

Angling club bailiffs/water keepers /angling club enforcement officers are appointed by the angling club committee. They have the powers to enforce the angling clubs’ rules, but they don’t have any special status in law. Like all anglers, they no longer have powers under SAFFA to check a fellow angler’s rod licence, unless it is a club rule. The angling club bailiff has no legal powers to demand you hand over fishing equipment either. The latter con is a favourite trick of the bogus bailiff.

When the angling club bailiff needs to move someone on or stop someone from fishing, then they can ask them to do so. However, if the angler refuses, they will have to escalate it and get the police involved. Club bailiffs may take notes and pictures that can be used later to support the production of a witness statement, with either the Environment Agency or the police to assist in the preparation of a case-file.

Environment Agency bailiff powers

Environment Agency fisheries enforcement officers – or legally speaking water bailiffs – have the powers of constable for the purposes of enforcing their legislation where they are the regulator: Salmon & Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 (as amended), Eels Regulations 2009, Salmon Act (as amended) 1986, Keeping and Introduction of Fish Regulations 2015, etc.

An Environment Agency full SAFFA warranted bailiff has a wide range of powers available to them, here are a few of them:

  • they can require an angler to produce a Rod Licence, if you are fishing, preparing to fish, or have recently fished.
  • they have the power of arrest and they can use such force as reasonable in the circumstances – they are issued with an extendable baton & a pair of handcuffs to assist with this duty.
  • the officers undertake PACE (Police & Criminal Evidence Act, 1984) interviews under caution, either contemporaneous notebook interviews on the bankside or in the PACE interview room.
  • they have access to the electoral role and do Police National Computer (PNC) identity checks.
  • they can legally seize angling equipment and angling related paraphernalia, vehicle or vessel, to assist in the investigation of the offence. The EA may ask for permanent forfeiture, but only a magistrate can make this decision.
  • they have the powers to stop and search a vehicle, vessel or a person and they can apply for a magistrates warrant to search a premises.
  • they have the same powers and privileges and be subject to the same liabilities as a duly appointed constable.
  • they can take Section 5 Public Order Offences to court if the person being questioned is being threatening or abusive towards them.
  • a quirk of the Salmon Act 1986 (as amended) means that if they see someone with a fish in unusual circumstances, they can ask them to provide an explanation of why they have a fish in their possession. If they can’t provide a satisfactory reason then they can be prosecuted for “handling fish in suspicious circumstances”. This is an unusual piece of law because it means that in effect you are guilty unless you can prove your innocence!

Bogus bailiffs

An Environment Agency bailiff will always be able to produce a valid warrant. You have the right to inspect it and you also have the right to ask what powers they are working under. Since Environment Agency water bailiffs are legally classified as constables, it is an offence to impersonate them. However if an angling club bailiff is impersonated then it is fraudulence with an intention to take money or fishing tackle. This is false representation and is an offence under the Fraud Act, 2006.

The Environment Agency bailiff will never ask to take money from you on the bank, for a rod licence must be purchased prior to commencing fishing and cannot be purchased from a patrolling EA bailiff.

The Waterway Wanderers canal sections are fishable only by obtaining an annual permit in advance. Canal & River Trust don’t issue Waterway Wanderers’ day permits so you will never be asked for day permit monies. You will be asked to leave and the Trust may pursue a Theft Act offence.

The new kids on the block are the Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS) which is being run by the Angling Trust. This great initiative involves club bailiffs supporting the Environment Agency’s own water bailiffs. In the early stages of the roll out, the volunteers are involved in gathering intelligence. In future, selected volunteers will have restricted SAFFA warrants and check rod licences for compliance.

More details on the Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS) and how to get involved, can be found on the Angling Trusts website.

Spotting bogus bailiffs. Advice for individual anglers

If you are not a club member, angling club bailiffs will ask you to purchase a day permit. This is also true if you are fishing from your kayak or boat. When day permits are not available under club rules, then you should never start fishing unless you are a full club member. This applies if fishing from your kayak or boat too. If you are not happy with the identification of the bailiff, or if they don’t have any identification on their person, then by all means ask to speak to a club official to verify what they are saying. A genuine club bailiff will happily provide you the contact details of a senior club official, the bogus one will definitely not! If in doubt, never hand over money. The bailiff may phone the police and request their attendance. However if you have reasonable doubt about the credentials of the bailiff, then the police officer will understand your position.

Guidance for clubs

Clubs should ensure their appointed bailiffs/water keeper are issued with appropriate cards with a photo ID and numbering system so that if there is doubt then it can be logged and checked with the clubs’ chairman/secretary. If this can be supported by club badged clothing then it adds credibility and authority to the bailiff, which will help to achieve compliance without conflict.

Before appointing a club bailiff/water keeper, the club should check for criminal records, DBS checks, etc. The best bailiffs aren’t always your members that are “built like a brick out-house”, but rather a person who keeps calm under pressure, manages the situation, takes details, reads the developing situation and stays safe. Whilst selecting the right candidate with the right characteristics is important, clubs also need to provide support for this demanding role. Knowledge about conflict resolution, health & safety, “the use of force” and taking notes/observations can are all essential skills.

As we discussed earlier, the powers of an angling club bailiff/water keeper are very limited. We would recommend that all clubs should read and embed the principles from The Angling Trust’s Best practice guide for angling club bailiffs.


About this blog

The fisheries & angling team

The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.

See more blogs from The fisheries & angling team