A letter written by a bloke from the landowner’s group Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) has been brought to our attention and its content deserves a response.
It was written to one of our readers, identified as ‘HK’, who had written to Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse earlier this month following our report that the shot golden eagle found on a grouse moor last October had finally succumbed to its injuries (see here). HK, along with more than 100 of you, asked the Environment Minister to make good his earlier promise to introduce stronger measures to bring raptor killers to justice. (Incidentally we understand the Environment Minister has yet to respond to his bulging inbox on this subject but remember he has 21 working days in which to respond, which would be by 7th May). HK also sent a copy of the letter he wrote to the Minister, to SLE. His letter can be read here: HK letter to SLE
In response to HK, SLE wrote a letter and published it on their website. It is this letter that we’re interested in.
Written by Tim Baynes, Director of the Scottish Moorland Group (of which more later), the letter contains some interesting statements about this blog. Let’s take them each in turn:
“This is an anonymous blog which does not have to take any responsibility for the allegations it can freely make”.
This is utter rubbish. Anybody who publishes anything in the public domain, whether that be in a book, a newspaper, on Facebook, on Twitter or on an anonymous blog, has to take full responsibility for their material. There are plenty of criminal and civil sanctions that can be applied if the material is found to be unacceptable (e.g. contempt of court or defamation) and there are plenty of examples where these sanctions have been used – indeed there are several high-profile cases currently proceeding through criminal and civil courts.
We take our responsibilities very seriously indeed and we take great care when choosing the words we write. A good example of this is when we blog about the discovery of a poisoned bird. It would be careless to write ‘Golden eagle poisoned on X Estate’ because while this statement may be true it would be unfair and potentially defamatory to use it until a conviction had been secured (= never). So instead we would write ‘Golden eagle found poisoned on X Estate’. The use of the word ‘found’ is crucial – the statement is factual (a poisoned golden eagle has been found and it was discovered on X Estate) but does not explicitly implicate anyone associated with X Estate with the crime. We consider this to be fair and responsible reporting.
We also regularly make use of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and we also routinely moderate our readers’ comments prior to publication and do not allow comments that we consider to be potentially defamatory.
We are responsive to any complaints that anyone might have about the words we’ve chosen – we even provide an email address where we can be contacted – and we would be happy to discuss any text that anyone considered to be defamatory or criminally unlawful, and revise it if appropriate. We invite Mr Baynes, or anyone else for that matter, to identify any unfounded allegations that have been made on our blog. In three years we have only ever received one complaint; we were asked to make a minor edit, which we did, and the complainant was satisfied.
One complaint in three years (over 700 blog entries) does not indicate to us that we’re making wild and unfounded allegations. ‘Ah but you’re anonymous and so the lawyers can’t get you’ might be an argument Mr Baynes would use. It would be an ignorant statement to make as anonymity does not prevent legal action being taken. Anybody closely following the badger cull controversy in south-west England will be familiar with a certain anonymous campaign blog that published the personal contact details of individuals allegedly involved with the cull. Publishing these details was contrary to several pieces of legislation and within hours the bloggers had been served with a letter from the government’s Treasury Solicitor demanding that the material be immediately removed or face a potential High Court injunction. We blog a lot about powerful and influential people who have the financial resources to hire the best lawyers (some of whom subscribe to this blog so we know we’re constantly being scrutinised) – does Mr Baynes seriously think we’d get away with libelling these people? Not that it would be in our interests to libel them anyway – to do so would result in the closure of the blog.
The fact that our blog is run anonymously is clearly irritating to Tim Baynes but it is not illegal to do so. It is our right, our choice and it is legitimate, so get over it. Perhaps if Tim wants to live in a country where news and information is controlled and internet censorship reigns he should change his name to Kim and move to North Korea.
“It has a clear anti-landowner and anti-sporting agenda and seeks out any story which it can use to engender criticism – for example last week it took the issue of uncontrolled grassland fires in the West of Scotland crofting areas, and tried to infer that “landowners” of grouse moors were responsible”.
Utter rubbish again. If Kim had bothered to read our two posts on this subject carefully, he would have noticed that we didn’t use the term ‘grouse moors” anywhere in either article (see here and here). We did use the term Highland “landowners” because that’s to whom the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service had directed their warning about muir-burning in ‘clearly unsuitable conditions’. A touch of the old paranoia, Kim?
And as for us being anti-landowner and anti-[field] sports, er, sorry, wrong again. We’ve previously praised landowners who manage their estates sustainably and within the law and particularly those who encourage raptors (e.g. see here, here, here, here); sure, there aren’t that many of our posts that applaud the efforts of landowners but that sort of tells its own story, doesn’t it? Oh and by the way, two of our group go shooting, just not on intensively-managed driven grouse moors where criminal activity is rife.
“This one website has done more to undermine the efforts of PAW partners to find a final resolution this problem”.
Really? And do all the PAW partners think that or just those involved with gamebird management? We’re sure some of the PAW partners will be less than thrilled that Kim is speaking on their behalf. And let’s just look at that statement again – “undermine the efforts of PAW partners to find a final resolution to this problem”. There is only one resolution, and that’s for the gamebird-shooting community to stop illegally killing raptors. It’s quite straightforward but seemingly impossible for them to accomplish.
“It [this blog] is entirely unaccountable and risks prejudicing investigations because the information is leaked by those closely involved. In any other area of criminal justice, this would not be tolerated”.
You know what we’re going to say, Kim – utter rubbish. ‘Entirely unaccountable’ – see above. ‘Risks prejudicing investigations’ – you could say that of any media outlet reporting on crimes. We invite Kim to identify a single investigation that has been prejudiced by our blog. Kim would probably prefer that we adopt the practice of certain Police forces and not release any information for, ooh, say five months after an incident has occurred, if at all? Well, sorry Kim, that ain’t going to happen. Its in the public interest that people know what’s taking place, although you’d be surprised at just how restrained we are. For example, if we were irresponsible fools wanting to jeopardise a criminal investigation we’d already have blogged about two currently on-going investigations that would be of great interest to many people. We’ve deliberately chosen not to because of course we don’t want to put the investigations into jeopardy – that would be self-defeating. Instead we’ve decided to sit and wait to see how long it takes Police Scotland to inform the public about what’s happened. They’ve already had over a month….
The rest of Kim’s letter contains the usual misleading guff, such as inferring that we should all measure the extent of persecution by the number of successful convictions (yes, that old chestnut again) and how there is ‘a very strong set of disincentives to breaking the law’ – clearly not strong enough! But we can’t be arsed to go through each statement and counter it – you can read his letter for yourselves and make up your own minds: SLE reponse to HK letter
One final thing though, it’s worth knowing that Kim used to work for the Countryside Alliance and now directs the Scottish Moorland Group. What is the Scottish Moorland Group? It’s managed by Scottish Land and Estates and its chair is….er, Lord Hopetoun (see here). We’ve only ever mentioned Kim once before on our blog – here. Enough said.