The 'police dog' with a tale to tell

WRITING a book is a daunting enough task for most people, but to write one from a dog's point of view must be twice as difficult.But Barry Kaufmann-Wright has tackled the challenge head on, propelling his beloved Jack Russell into the spotlight.

WRITING a book is a daunting enough task for most people, but to write one from a dog's point of view must be twice as difficult.

But Barry Kaufmann-Wright has tackled the challenge head on, propelling his beloved Jack Russell into the spotlight. Cassie it was who spent many hours with her master out on the beat in Essex - enjoying the kind of James Herriot-esque existence that now seems to belong to a long-lost era.

She particularly used to join him when he was working a “half-night” shift, up until about one or two o'clock in the morning. “She used to sit on the front seat and look out of the window,” smiles Barry. “She was quite a character - a typical Jack Russell: full of life, great company and a great pal.

“When I finished at 1am, I used to spend the last half-hour walking around town with her, just making sure everything was quiet. She used to get excited if she saw me in uniform on a half-night; she knew she'd be coming out.”


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His book, named after the companion who died about six years ago, is full of anecdotes about Cassie's escapes in and around pretty Thaxted, between Braintree and Saffron Walden.

“We used to go to Saffron Walden at midnight for a cup of tea with the nightshift, which was usually two officers. She used to just run round the station; all the offices were shut. We got in one night and she disappeared, as she did normally, but when I called her she didn't come back. Strange.

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“I could hear this whining coming from downstairs, from the cell section. What had happened was she had squeezed through the bars of the cell area.

“One of the cell doors was open, because the prisoner had claustrophobia. He was asleep on his bed and hadn't eaten his dinner. It was on the floor, on a plastic plate. And, of course, Cassie ate the lot. She swelled up so much that she couldn't get back through the bars. She's made a right pig of herself.

I suspect she'd been doing this on a regular basis but had never had a full meal: she'd just nicked something off a plate, usually.”

There was another incident when Cambridgeshire police were chasing a stolen car that was finally abandoned at the church at Great Chesterford.

“They called up Essex and I was on that night. We belted out there and, as we got there, two Cambridgeshire dog-handlers arrived and these huge great German Shepherd dogs leapt out the car. And Cassie got out, on her lead. One of the Cambridgeshire lads was heard to say 'Well, we knew Essex was making cutbacks, but that's ridiculous!'”

It's Barry's third book, following two published last year. The Wildlife Man was his autobiography, highlighting his passion for wildlife and how it dovetailed for a long time with his work as a police officer. Later in 2005 came Running Wild: a tale whose seeds were sown about 30 years ago. It's the story of a fox living on Barry's farm in the 1950s.

Said farm belong to Barry's grandfather, and was where he was brought up. It was near Cheddington: a village between Dunstable and Aylesbury that would later become immortalised as the scene of The Great Train Robbery in 1963. Barry went to school with the daughter of the signalman on duty that night: one of the men badly hurt by the gang.

The mixed farm had about 3,000 free-range chickens - largely wiped out by foul pest in 1958 or '59. “The Ministry wouldn't let them restock for five years, so Grandfather sold up.”

By that time, though, nature had worked its way into his soul.

“I had a dog then, a Labrador, and I just used to wander off. We had the Grand Union Canal running through the middle of the farm, so that attracted quite a lot of waterfowl, and then we had the LMS (London, Midland and Scottish) railway - steam trains - and there was a lot of wildlife up on the embankments. Our farm was actually dissected into four.”

He helped out on the farm as a lad. There was no combine but a threshing machine, and folk then did things that would today give health and safety inspectors kittens.

“I used to collect harvest mice as they fell through the machine and put them in jars, where they'd happily eat grain. By the end of the afternoon I'd have 40 or 50 jars full of harvest mice, and then I'd let them go. My grandfather could never understand why I'd caught them in the first place.”

Barry left school at 15, without qualifications, and got job at Jersey Zoo after seeing a newspaper ad. The zoo was still being built up by Gerald Durrell. The work was hard, the days long, but life was fun.

The zoo was absorbing, the island lovely, and there was very little crime. There were discos and beach parties to go to.

Barry stayed five years: beginning, as the newest keeper on the “outside birds” section, before moving on to “outside mammals” - tapirs, wild boars and the like.

Durrell, he says, helped bring conservation to the public's attention.

“He had a great sense of humour - a bit of a wicked sense of humour sometimes. The Jersey police once arrested a man for shooting a curlew and needed an expert to stand up in court and hold this frozen curlew, which had been preserved in a freezer, so they contacted the zoo and Gerry said 'I've got just the man for you.'

“Of course, it was me. I was 17 at the time. I had to go and hire a suit. The curlew is quite a long bird, with a long beak, and they'd frozen it in this bag. Its feet were sticking out one end and the beak sticking out the other end. I stood there holding it up, and it turned into a bit of a farce. But the gentleman was convicted, anyway. That was my first appearance in court.”

Then there was the time the Dr Dolittle film opened on the island in 1967. One of the stars of the film was a blue and gold macaw.

“We had one, so the manager of the Odeon cinema asked if they could borrow him for a week. Gerry said 'Yes, but we'll have to send a keeper down.' I got the job, because I was still on the outside birds. They hired this old Victorian suit for me, like he wore, and a big top hat. And this was in August! I'll never forget. The temperature was about 35C, and I lost pounds that week.”

Barry left the zoo when he was 21, and spent about a year in France with a friend on a sort of working holiday. They were both 6ft and took turns to sleep in the front of their Mini so they could poke their feet out of the window - great in the warm south of France, not so good when toes were covered by snowflakes up in the French Alps.

His holiday companion had agricultural qualifications under his belt and it dawned on Barry that he had nothing to go back to once he'd got the travelling bug out of his system.

There was no real future at the zoo - traditionally lowly paid and with little prospect of career advancement. “You did it for the love of it, not for the money.” So he went to college in Jersey to study agriculture and animal husbandry, before starting his association with East Anglia by moving on to Writtle agricultural college near Chelmsford.

He'd thought about going into farming, but realised the sector was in the doldrums. “If you owned a farm - were a farmer's son and had something to go and take over - it was fine. But I hadn't.” Other students at Writtle could see which way the wind was blowing, and changed course: one joined the Met police in London, and two others, including Barry, signed up with Essex.

That was in 1973. While at Writtle, he married his first wife, Lynda, and their son, Phillip, was born a few weeks after Barry joined the force.

He was at Ongar for two years, then came to Thaxted in 1976. It was a “detached beat” - an old-style village bobby, in layman's terms - and the family lived in the heart of the patch.

His passion for wildlife soon became apparent to one and all. Then, in the late 1980s, the assistant chief constable explained he'd been assigned to set up a system of wildlife liaison officers across the Essex police divisions. The job involved dealing with wildlife-related incidents and liaising with authorities such as RSPCA and RSPB. It would run alongside his normal duties, but was Barry interested? “Of course, I nearly bit his hand off!”

There was a lot to occupy him, such as badger-baiting, badger-digging, bat disturbance, great crested newt issues, and illegal hare-coursing.

“We've always had trouble with wild bird-trapping, although the bird 'flu threat is an ill wind. The Government has banned bird trade, so there are no birds being sold into and out of the country.

“But when it was legal to sell British finches abroad - and these birds must be bred in captivity, of course, so they had a solid ring on their leg - what the illegal trappers were doing was catching wild birds, putting false rings on their legs, and selling them abroad as captive-bred birds.”

It could be a multi-million-pound business, illegally selling bullfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches and so on. It was particularly a problem in the spring, when the birds were in their full breeding plumage and looking very attractive.

He also dealt with a lot of cruelty cases, working closely with the RSPCA. A major one involved 39 horses, most of which had to be put down. There was a crown court case at Chelmsford that resulted in a woman being jailed.

There was a case of a barn owl kept in budgie cage where it couldn't open its wings. Illegal hare-coursing led to a major campaign, named Operation Tortoise, that ran for many years north of Saffron Walden. Extra officers worked on Sundays, and liaised closely with gamekeepers.

Indeed, the work developed over the years and Barry took on the role of force wildlife crime officer. In 2003, due to retire, he was asked if he'd like to stay on as a uniformed Pc, doing the wildlife job full-time, though he opted for 20 hours a week.

That same year he won a major international award when he was named WWF Wildlife Law Enforcer of the Year.

Unfortunately, the job with the police came to an end in the summer of 2005 when the post was axed. But anyone who suspects that brought can end to Barry's involvement with wildlife should think again. In fact, it's hard to imagine how he could be busier.

For 15 years he's been a wildlife inspector for Defra: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Usually, his main role is to check the registration of birds that can be legally held, such as peregrine falcons, golden eagles and greenfinches.

More recently, however, there's been work connected with the risks of bird 'flu entering this country. Barry collects dead wildfowl - or other types of birds that have died in high numbers for unexplained reasons - and takes them to a laboratory at Bury St Edmunds. There, tests are carried out to check the birds have not been killed by avian 'flu.

There are his books, of course, and then there are the numerous talks he gives on wildlife: a mammoth 221 planned for this year. Engagements take him around the country. He's got a dozen subjects in his repertoire, including talks on Jersey zoo, his police wildlife role, and wildlife photography - he has 40,000 slides, can you believe? There's also an exhibition that tours the country.

Barry and wife Pat also run days when groups of enthusiasts can enjoy nature walks and visits to a reserve near the couple's home, near Thaxted, and have lunch at the house.

And just to make sure there's never a dull moment, Barry is closing in on a master's degree with the University of Birmingham.

He initially gained an Open University honours degree in natural sciences - with a leaning towards ecology - while a police officer. In fact, the force sponsored him. Then, with Birmingham, he studied for an HNC in ornithology, followed by an HND. Thanks to the distance learning approach, he has to make the 280-mile round trip to the Midlands only once a month or so.

The focus of his dissertation - still awaiting formal approval from the university senate when he spoke to the EADT - is about the effect of the development of Stansted Airport on local birdlife and, conversely, the effect of local birdlife on the airport, which is not far from his home.

Barry aims to finish that major piece of work and then produce another book. He gives a wry smile as he explains the dissertation limit is a maximum 15,000 words.

“I've always liked writing, but even at school I would always do more than they asked for. If they wanted two sides, I would do four. I always have trouble keeping to the word limits!”

Barry's books can be obtained from Upfront Publishing Ltd: www.upfrontpublishing.com

Cassie, his latest publication (ISBN 978-184426-395-0), is £9.99.

For more details about Barry, go to www.thewildlifeman.com

BEING a village bobby in the 1970s and '80s was a lovely life, says Barry Kaufmann-Wright.

“You are part of the community. My office was attached to the house and I never closed the office. I always felt that as part of the community I should be seen to be there. In a way I created my own problem, because basically I was on call 24 hours a day; but I felt that was part of the role of being a village bobby.

“But I enjoyed it. Coming from a rural background anyway, I could relate to the local farmers. So I fitted in well - or I thought I did, anyway!”

His patch, stretching northwards to Hempstead and Steeple Bumpstead, covered about 45 square miles he thinks. He had a vehicle - and the use of a bike, too, though it wasn't very practical with a beat of that size.

“My nickname was Barry the Helmet. I always wore my helmet, you see. There was a chap with an exhaust business called Barry the Exhaust and we had a tyre company, and that was Barry the Tyre. My other nickname was The Sheriff.

“I got to know the villains and they got to know me. That was the way it worked.”

Today, he says, the area does have a dedicated officer, but that residential link with a beat has gone.

We all have a rose-tinted view of rural policing - no doubt encouraged by nostalgic programmes like ITV's Heartbeat. It's not surprising to find Barry's a champion of the grass roots approach.

“I know a lot of senior officers used to say that detached police are a luxury the force can't afford. I would tend to disagree with that, because I felt that they used to get policing on the cheap.

“Again, I'm not blowing my own trumpet but I used to do a lot of work in that police office that I didn't get paid for: people producing their driving documents; people coming in and reporting a domestic (incident). I wouldn't get somebody over to deal with it; I would deal with it myself. I would turn out if I had an accident reported.

“But I'm old-fashioned. A senior officer once said to me 'Barry, you're a dinosaur.' I turned round and said 'Guv'nor, I'll take that as a compliment.' 'What do you mean?' 'Well, dinosaurs were the most successful animal that ever lived on the planet. They were around for 175million years.' 'Yes, all right!' he said.”

BARRY Kaufmann-Wright told the EADT that wildlife crime warranted a higher profile, and it looks as if his wish is coming true.

A police-led national unit dedicated to tackling wildlife offences was launched this week. The National Wildlife Crime Unit will focus on protecting birds of prey as well as freshwater pearls and other under-threat species native to the UK.

It will also tackle the problem on a regional level and work with international agencies to tackle the importation of rare birds, illegal caviar and the increasing problem of internet trade in endangered species.

The unit has 16 full-time staff at its new base in Scotland after moving from the National Criminal Intelligence Service's headquarters in London.

Biodiversity Minister Barry Gardiner MP said of the criminal fraternity: “We are talking about people who think it is acceptable to kill endangered animals because their fur is a fashion statement, or steal a rare bird's egg because it's one that they don't yet have in their collection, or root out a threatened plant because they know it will fetch a fortune on the black market.”

Barry Kaufmann-Wright told the EADT: “The sad fact is that, internationally, wildlife crime is now the second-biggest earner next to drugs. It has an international turnover of £16billion a year. Drugs is £20billion.”

Web link: www.nwcu.police.uk

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