Ross-shire Massacre: more on that Police Scotland press release

Brian Etheridge statementA 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).

Malcolm GrahamSo, 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:

11 thoughts on “Ross-shire Massacre: more on that Police Scotland press release”

  1. So these idiots Graham and Allen are saying ‘not targeted deliberately’ does not mean ‘accidental’.
    What is the fecking difference!
    Certainly the shooting lobby has latched on to that and of course conveniently ignored the ‘ongoing investigation’ bit.
    My understanding is that in the case of the Red Kite, which is a Schedule 1 species, even to disturb nests, eggs or the birds themselves, let alone kill them, intentionally or otherwise it, is a crime. I think killing them might be included in disturbing. The result is the same intentional or not, it is a massive blow to the Black Isle population.
    ‘Not … deliberate’ which the police have used and defended in Scottish Parliament is defined in the Nature Conservation Act 2004 as ‘reckless.’ In Scotland it is a crime to recklessly disturb a schedule 1 species.So why the hell are they trying to sweeten the crime.

    Just noticed the irony in their original statement ‘Following investigation Police Scotland can now confirm that the birds, 12 red kites and four buzzards, were most likely not targeted deliberately but instead were the victims of pest control measures
    Yes, i am sure criminal gamekeepers i am sure would see no difference between raptor killing and ‘pest control measures.’

  2. But doesn’t the law state that it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill or injure a bird? Isn’t placing a banned poison on a piece of meat, then putting such a bait out into the open countryside, considered reckless?

    Or is it the case that Police Scotland will deliberately ignore the law in certain cases, particularly where raptor persecution is involved?

      1. As I suspected. The “reckless” part of the law seems to have been ignored in all of this debate, especially by Police Scotland, so one would have to question why?

        Has it been ignored to protect someone, or is it the case that the entire Police Scotland team working on this case doesn’t know the law? I’m fairly sure, that during the duration of this case, at least one officer would have been familiar with the law regarding wildlife crime, so that would bring me to believe that deliberate police corruption was/is at play, and someone is being protected.

        Whatever the situation, there are a considerable number of officers that should be facing instant dismissal.

        1. I’m sure this protection of certain privileged persons policy applies right across the wildlife persecution scene as it were. It’s obvious from the very many documented cases where the police have either not turned up at a Raptor persecution incident, turned up too late, made a cods ear of any possible evidence, lost evidence, tried to collect evidence weeks after the event, not collected any evidence at all, not questioned witnesses, not even looked for witnesses, not reported incidents in a timely fashion, put out totally erroneous reports, not reported incidents at all, failed to liaise with any wildlife protection agencies but managed to liaise with gamekeepers, gamekeeper organisations and estate owners. There are lot’s of others but you get the picture.

    1. I don’t think they are saying it wasn’t an offence, just that they beleive that it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to poison raptors. The language, especially the word ‘confirm’ was incredibly sloppy though.

      1. Despite all of the evidence indicating the deliberate targeting of birds of prey, by confirming that it was all an unfortunate accident, Police Scotland has more or less stated that no offence has been committed.

        All the talk of an on-going investigation is just waffle. If they haven’t caught anyone yet, they are either protecting someone at all costs, or they rank as the most incompetent police force the world has ever witnessed. However, in all probability, it’s both – corrupt and useless!

  3. This affair is rapidly eroding what little confidence was left in Police Scotland and their approach to serious wildlife crimes:(

  4. We need a new, specialist, Scotland-wide Wildlife crime unit, with a proper Chief Super in charge and staffed appropriately. And it needs to be operated out of Glasgow. Why Glasgow? Because, as much as it might lost local knowledge, can you see real Glaswegian cops bowing to the local Laird and Tory Toffs? I think that things might become a tad less deferential. In the meantime, I’d very much support the extra powers for the SSPCA.

  5. just a quick couple of points, the Police will not apologise full stop, that’s admitting they were wrong and that they don’t have the specialist knowledge to interpret the law correctly. there’s no chance of that happening. secondly the police have everything to gain by trying to discredit or nullify the evidence in this case, their performance is judged on results and statistics, hopefully this situation can not go on indefinitely, Wheelhouse has an opportunity to do something positive, he has the opportunity to make a difference and be remembered as someone who championed wildlife and stood up for what’s right, or then again he might just keep his head down and leave the problem for someone else

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