The revelations about the extent to which the Queen of England has used the deference accorded to her and her family to enrich themselves keep emerging. Now new revelations show that police are not even allowed onto property owned by the royals without her permission even to investigate potential crimes when speed is of the essence to prevent the destruction of evidence.
Personalised exemptions for the Queen in her private capacity have been written into more than 160 laws since 1967, granting her sweeping immunity from swathes of British law – ranging from animal welfare to workers’ rights. Dozens extend further immunity to her private property portfolio, granting her unique protections as the owner of large landed estates.
More than 30 different laws stipulate that police are barred from entering the private Balmoral and Sandringham estates without the Queen’s permission to investigate suspected crimes, including wildlife offences and environmental pollution – a legal immunity accorded to no other private landowner in the country.
Police are also required to obtain her personal agreement before they can investigate suspected offences at her privately owned salmon and trout fishing business on the River Dee at Balmoral, where anglers are charged up to £630 a day to fish.
Under the longstanding but ill-defined doctrine of sovereign immunity, criminal and civil proceedings are not brought against the monarch as head of state. But an investigation by the Guardian, drawing on official documents and analysis of legislation, reveals the extent to which laws have been written or amended to specify immunity for her conduct as a private citizen, along with her privately owned assets and estates – and even a privately owned business.
One constitutional expert warned that the carve-outs undermine the notion that everyone is equal before the law, while another recommended the monarchy review and simplify the exemptions for the sake of public transparency.
This report discusses how police were prevented from investigating a possible wildlife crime by Harry, the Queen’s grandson, after a wildlife warden was shocked to see two female hen carriers shot out of the sky. Harry and friends were out shooting ducks that day.
Within minutes, the warden had notified Natural England, which manages the reserve. Shocked officials called the police and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who scrambled to investigate.
It is a criminal offence to injure hen harriers, one of the rarest and most persecuted birds in the UK, then punishable by six months in prison or a £5,000 fine.
According to internal Natural England documents obtained by the Guardian, their urgency was in vain. To their surprise, they were told by Norfolk constabulary that no immediate action was possible: the police said they needed to ask Sandringham officials for permission to go on to the estate.
In the memo, written on 25 October 2007, the day after the two hen harriers were shot, a senior Natural England official claimed to other executives in the agency that Sandringham was, in effect, known as a wildlife crime hotspot.
When the police were finally allowed into the premises to investigate, they could not find the hen carcasses and instead found the Queen’s employees already on the site.
When two Norfolk police wildlife crime officers and two RSPB investigators arrived at Sandringham just after dawn on the morning of 25 October 2007, they found a flurry of activity at the site where the hen harrier incident was believed to have taken place the night before. People were already searching the site.
Mark Thomas, an RSPB wildlife crime investigator, wrote in a blog at the time: “A couple of people were already present: a man and a woman with a Land Rover and eight dogs which were busily working the ground. On speaking to the people, they were there on the request of the estate to retrieve ducks shot the previous evening.”
That was not the only offense against wildlife that occurred on her properties.
It should be intolerable that employees of the Queen do not enjoy the protections of rights granted to all other workers in the country.
The most controversial exemptions ban the Queen’s employees from pursuing sexual and racial discrimination complaints. Even the most modern piece of anti-discrimination law, the Equality Act 2010, is designed not to protect those employed by the Queen.
Other laws contain carve-outs exempting the Queen as a private employer from having to observe various workers’ rights, health and safety, or pensions laws. She is fully or partly exempt from at least four different laws on workers’ pensions, and is not required to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
These exemptions enable a feudal system to exist on her extensive properties long after it has been deservedly abandoned elsewhere.