A week ago, Police Scotland issued a ludicrous press statement concerning the illegal poisoning of 22 raptors in Ross-shire. They said that they could CONFIRM that the birds “were most likely not targeted deliberately but instead were the victims of pest control measures“.
We’ve blogged quite a bit on that press statement already (see here, here, here, here). Our main issue with it is that the police appear to have ruled out intent (i.e. inferring the birds were accidental victims) before they’ve even identified a suspect. How could they possibly know what the intent was without first having a confession from the poisoner? We also take issue with them citing ’16’ victims instead of 22 victims. It may well be that they only have confirmed poisoning results from 16 of the 22, but to completely ignore the other six birds merely diminishes the scale of this crime.
We are not alone in this view. An article in the North Star quotes the RSPB’s Brian Etheridge (he’s the guy who has worked with the Black Isle red kite population for 19 years and was heavily involved in the discovery of the poisoned birds) as folllows:
“It’s a very stupid statement. That’s almost justifying the killing. It’s like saying that a drunk driver who kills somebody didn’t go out with the intention of killing anyone. He was just drunk and it was an accidental death“.
Last week, we invited blog readers to contact two of the partner agencies involved in this investigation (RSPB Scotland & SSPCA) to formally ask whether they agreed with the content of the Police Scotland statement. The SSPCA is yet to respond, but Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland has issued the following statement:
“The use of poisoned bait, deliberately placed in the open countryside, is an indiscriminate and criminal act, whatever the intention of the perpetrator, and is aggravated in this case by the fact that an illegal chemical was used.
Whether these birds were killed deliberately or otherwise is irrelevant. Someone placed a fast-acting and very toxic poison out in the open, in an area well-known as being frequented by protected birds of prey, including a significant part of the north of Scotland red kite population. The resulting deaths were an entirely predictable result. It is very fortunate that the members of the local community who discovered poisoned birds did not become victims themselves.
The placing of poisoned bait, just a few miles from the popular Tollie red kite feeding station, was not only a reckless attack on local wildlife but also on the local tourist economy.
I hope this provides clarification of our position”.
Now, while Mr Thomson’s statement doesn’t really answer directly the question he was asked (and to be fair, we’d have been surprised if he had, given that the RSPB has to work in partnership with the police), it is nevertheless very revealing. He specifically mentions poisoned bait – something Police Scotland has so far failed to do, but more importantly, if you read between the lines, it’s pretty obvious that RSPB Scotland isn’t too happy about the Police Scotland statement: “Whether these birds were killed deliberately or otherwise is irrelevant” and “The resulting deaths were entirely predictable“. Indeed.
The Police Scotland statement came in for further scrutiny at the Scottish Government’s Rural Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday. The session was all about wildlife crime and two senior police officers, as well as a rep from COPFS, gave evidence to what turned out to be an impressively well-informed Committee. We’ll be blogging more on what was said at that hearing in due course, but suffice to say it was extremely illuminating. The official transcript apparently won’t be available until Monday, but in the meantime we thoroughly recommend you watch the video of the hearing (available here).
So, what was said about the Police Scotland press statement during that hearing? Quite a lot! The discussion on this specific item lasted for 18 minutes (see video 01.20-01.30 and then 01.34-01.42) and those well-informed Committee members clearly expressed their concern about the Police Scotland statement.
The police officers (ACC Malcom Graham, pictured left, and DCS Robbie Allan) tried to defend their position – notably, they didn’t apologise for any of the confusion their statement had caused – but their defence wasn’t very impressive. They did state, clearly, that they hadn’t intended to infer the poisonings were accidental, and they did confirm a criminal investigation was on-going. That was good, but they couldn’t justify why they thought the birds “were most likely not targeted deliberately” and quite surprisingly, they claimed that their partner agencies had been in support of the press release! Here’s part of what Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham had to say:
“We put out information into the public domain that we thought was going to clarify what we thought our best assessment was, lay behind the intent of the acts that we’re investigating, and from everything that we have done, in combination with a number of other agencies who are active in this field AND WHO SUPPORTED THE PRESS RELEASE THAT WE PUT OUT [Emphasis by RPS], we wanted to say that it didn’t appear that the activity had sought to deliberately target the birds that had been killed“.
We find it very hard to believe, given the formal press statement issued by RSPB Scotland, that they were in any way supportive of the Police Scotland statement. So who were these “other agencies who are active in this field” who “supported the press release“? We’re very interested in this and perhaps Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham would like to be given the opportunity to explain, given how keen on public accountability Police Scotland claim to be. Perhaps he wouldn’t like to explain, but we’ll never know unless we ask. Emails to: ACC.CrimeMCPP@scotland.pnn.police.uk