About two months ago the landowners’ organisation, Scottish Land & Estates, made a series of false allegations about this blog (see here).
It seems they just can’t help themselves. Two days ago (14th June 2013) they published the following on their website, in response to our blog about the discovery of poisoned baits on Leadhills Estate (our original article here) –
“Information about police investigation leaked by anonymous website
Confidential information about an active police investigation on a grouse moor has again been leaked to the media.
This relates to an incident in March at Leadhills Estate where according to the police, some items were removed for scientific analysis and a number of people were detained, but no charges have been made. An anonymous website, allegedly with close links to the animal rights movement, found out confidential information that Government science laboratory analysis of the items had tested positive for carbofuran and published this confidential information, resulting in media coverage on 11th June.
Although there were no birds of prey involved, the whole land management and shooting industry is very concerned about a possible attempted poisoning after such a sharp drop in such incidents over the last three years. However, little is known about the detail of this case and it is vital that nothing is done or said which might risk prejudicing the legal process or cause unjustifiable damage to the reputations of anyone connected to the estate. Questions certainly need to be asked about the leaking and publication of material information about the case while this is still under active police investigation.
The media stories included a comment from Scottish Land & Estates which said: “It would be inappropriate to comment while the facts of the matter have still be established. As an organisation, we are actively involved in the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime and our membership undertakes an enormous amount of good work in this area.” The Scottish Gamekeepers Association also said “Because this appears to be subject of a live investigation, it would not be appropriate to comment other than to reiterate that the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association does not condone illegal poisoning.”
Here is the link to the article on their website.
Let’s start with their sub-header: “Confidential information about an active police investigation on a grouse moor has again been leaked to the media”. This may well be an active police investigation but in terms of reporting restrictions that is irrelevant. What is important is when the actual criminal case becomes active. Once the criminal case, not the police investigation, becomes active, this then triggers certain reporting restrictions relating to the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Under Scottish law, a criminal case becomes active once an arrest warrant has been issued, or someone has been arrested, or someone has been charged. Thus, in this instance, SL&E’s use of the phrase ‘an active police investigation’ is misleading as it suggests information has been leaked in contempt.
Now let’s look at their first paragraph, and particularly the sentence: “An anonymous website, allegedly with close links to the animal rights movement, found out confidential information that Government science laboratory analysis of the items had tested positive for carbofuran and published this confidential information, resulting in media coverage on 11th June”. They don’t name the ‘anonymous website’, but as we were the only anonymous website to publish the original article then we have to assume they are referring to us. In which case, we would like to know the basis of their claim that we allegedly have close links to the animal rights movement. In our view this is a crudely attempted slur on our credibility. The stereotypical image of the animal rights movement as portrayed in the media has traditionally focused on the illegal activities of those involved in campaigns against animal testing laboratories – the image of a black-clothed, balaclava-wearing extremist intent on breaking the law by fire-bombing business premises, vehicles and homes or digging up human remains, all in the name of ‘defending the rights of animals’, immediately springs to mind. Is that the image that Scottish Land & Estates are trying to attribute to us? If it is, it looks like they have scored another own goal. We would argue that that stereotype is no longer valid – look at the thousands of people who recently protested in London against the badger cull. They could legitimately be portrayed as being members of the animal rights movement and yet that crowd included serving Members of Parliament and even QCs. Law-breaking terrorists marauding through London causing damage & inciting fear, or concerned professionals legitimately and peacefully exercising their right to protest? We wholeheartedly support the lawful badger cull protesters and if that defines us as having ‘close links to the animal rights movement’ then so what? We are happy to have that association, although we’d argue that it doesn’t amount to anything like ‘close links’. But if SL&E are trying to suggest that we are ‘closely linked’ with criminal activities then that is a much more serious allegation that our lawyers would be most interested in examining.
Sticking with their first paragraph, let’s move on to their claim that we published “confidential information” (about the Carbofuran) “resulting in media coverage on 11th June”. This is utter bollocks. We deliberately did not name the type of poison that had been used to lace the poisoned baits in our original article. SL&E should try reading our article again and pay closer attention this time. Carbofuran was actually first mentioned in the BBC’s article, which was published several hours after ours on 10th June, and which we added as an update to our original article later that evening. We’ll be happy to accept an apology from Scottish Land & Estates in relation to their false allegation against us.
But so what if we had mentioned Carbofuran? This isn’t ‘confidential information’ – look at the quarterly poisoning stats published by SASA – they always name the poison(s) they’ve detected in the course of on-going police investigations, and quite rightly so; this is a matter of massive public interest. Look at any other area of crime involving banned substances – the police always publish the name of the banned substances that they’ve seized, e.g heroin, cocaine etc. As an example, here is a news item from just yesterday detailing the seizure of cannabis and the name of the premises where it was reportedly found. This type of reporting is very, very common – if you don’t believe us just take a look at Police Scotland’s website and look at the frequency with which these seizure stories appear. Funny isn’t it, that those investigations are publicised within a matter of days and yet those news reports don’t prejudice the outcome of any subsequent criminal case, do they? So why should the reporting of alleged raptor persecution investigations be treated any differently?
Moving on to their second paragraph and the following sentence: “However, little is known about the detail of this case and it is vital that nothing is done or said which might risk prejudicing the legal process or cause unjustifiable damage to the reputations of anyone connected to the estate”. Little is known about the detail of this case precisely because of our restraint in the publication of details! Check out the first sentence of paragraph three in our article:
“Because this is an on-going police investigation there is only limited detail that we’re prepared to publish at this stage”.
Are those the words of people intent on prejudicing the legal process? No, they’re not. They’re the words of responsible bloggers who could easily have published a mass of detail, such as the number of poisoned baits found, the specific site location, the way the baits were stored, the specifics of the meat used, and the name of the poison used to lace the baits. We could even have posted photographs from the scene. We deliberately didn’t include any of this material evidence in our article.
Their last sentence in paragraph two reads: “Questions certainly need to be asked about the leaking and publication of material information about the case while this is still under active police investigation”. Questions certainly do need to be asked, but not about the leaking and publication of material information, for all the reasons we’ve stated above. No, other more relevant questions need to be asked, such as:
- Why didn’t Police Scotland publicise this inquiry when it first started three months ago?
- What relationship does Scottish Land & Estates have with Leadhills Estate, i.e. is Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate a member of SL&E and if so, will SL&E be temporarily suspending that membership pending the outcome of the police investigation?
- Should Scottish Land & Estates be allowed to continue to participate on the PAW Scotland Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group without this level of transparency?
SL&E also published a further article two days ago, relating to media coverage (here & here) of the alleged felling of the white-tailed eagle nest tree on Invermark Estate. Read their article here. In this article, SL&E state that the estate has been ‘fully cooperating’ with the police inquiry. You wouldn’t expect anything else from a law-abiding estate. Hopefully that ‘full cooperation’ includes full and complete witness statements from everyone involved with the Estate from the top down. Anything less, such as ‘no comment’ interviews would not, in our opinion, be in the spirit of what we’d call ‘full cooperation’, even though such responses are entirely legal.
Also in this article, SL&E argue that it was inappropriate for information about the case to be released before the outcome is known. This sounds like a philosophy whereby there should be a blanket media ban on publishing any information relating to alleged raptor persecution incidents until the outcome of the police case is known. That would probably suit the game-shooting industry down to the ground: if this ridiculous philosophy was in place, none of us would be any the wiser to the hundreds of illegally-killed raptors found on shooting estates over the last 25+ years because the majority of these cases have not resulted in charges being brought and are, therefore, still technically considered to be ‘on-going’ police investigations. To put it in a broader context, if the philosophy was given a wider application we wouldn’t know anything of, for example, Operation Yewtree or the recent Woolwich murder.
Scottish Land & Estates would do well to put their influence to better use and focus their efforts on ousting the criminal element from within the game-shooting industry instead of wasting time promoting censorship of responsible reports on matters of legitimate public interest.