Last month I wrote about a poisoned red kite that had been found dead on a grouse moor, next to a poisoned bait (a Lapwing), and how Police Scotland had deliberately withheld the details of this crime for over 18 months (see here).
Now there’s another poisoning crime where Police Scotland has deliberately withheld information from the public. This time it’s a poisoned raven, and this time Police Scotland has been nothing short of obstructive when I started to ask questions about it.
I found out about this poisoned raven after stumbling across an entry on the database published by the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS), back in November 2022. The details were as follows:
‘Ref #21094. Raven, found April 2021. Lothian. Category: Abuse. Pesticide(s) involved: Carbofuran, Isofenphos. Case information: Despite extensive enquiries and property searches the investigation carried out by Police Scotland into the illegal poisoning of this raven failed to identify a suspect for the crime and the case is now closed‘.
This incident jumped out at me given that one of the poisons used was Carbofuran – a pesticide so dangerously toxic (to both humans and wildlife) that even possessing it, let alone placing it out in the open on a bait, has been an offence in Scotland since 2005 (Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005). The combination of Carbofuran with Isofenphos has been used frequently in the illegal poisoning of birds of prey for years, notably by the game-shooting sector.
I didn’t recall seeing any media about this particular poisoning crime, and the Scottish Government’s annual wildlife crime report is so far behind the curve that we won’t see details of anything found in April 2021 until 2024(!), so I asked a couple of officers from Police Scotland what they could tell me about the case.
Both officers told me that they weren’t allowed to comment, and that I should direct my enquiries to Police Scotland’s media communications team. So I did.
I emailed the news desk and asked for details, giving them all the info that I’d read on the WIIS database.
I followed up eight days later to ask again. Here’s the response:
“Good morning Ruth, we have been trying to track this one down for you. Apologies, but I need a bit more information. Unfortunately the incident number is not one we use on our systems so that has not enabled me to find it.
Are you able to provide a date in April when this was reported to police. I am afraid it is for the media to provide us with a location rather than the other way round so if you can narrow it down for me please – Lothian is not a county in Scotland – we have East Lothian, West Lothian and Midlothian, so a more accurate location would be helpful at our end“.
Eh? How many poisoned ravens were found in Lothian in April 2021 that triggered a police search? Surely there can’t be that many? And how am I supposed to know the location of this crime when it hasn’t even been publicised?! I wrote back to this effect, and suggested that the media officer could simply ask the Lothian & Borders Wildlife Crime Officer for details, given that his ‘patch’ covers East, West and Midlothian.
Here’s the response I received:
“Hi again Ruth, sorry but I really do need to know a more accurate location. As mentioned we have East Lothian, West Lothian and Midlothian. Or if you have the name of a town nearest to where this is supposed to have happened. To speak to officers to find out more I need to know where. Please get back to me when you have that information“.
Needless to say, I was less than impressed. This is a serious wildlife crime, supposedly a national wildlife crime priority, involving the use of a highly toxic poison of which just a few granules could kill a human should they come into contact with it. It seemed to me that Police Scotland’s media team was being deliberately obstructive in releasing any information about it. Not even an appeal for information or a warning to the public that this poison had been used in the area.
I wrote back, asking the media officer where he might suggest I find a more detailed location to help him find the case, given that Police Officers had been directed not to comment about it? I also indicated that I was considering submitting a formal complaint.
Four days later, a different media officer contacted me with the following statement:
“Hi Ruth, Regarding your previous enquiry please see our statement below:
A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We received a report of a poisoned raven in the East Lothian area on Monday, 5 April, 2021. Extensive enquiries have been carried out. Any new information will be thoroughly investigated and anyone with new information should contact police on 101 quoting incident 1314 of 5 April, 2021.”
I really don’t know what’s going on with Police Scotland. They have some fantastic wildlife crime officers on the ground, many of them going above and beyond in their investigations to bring the raptor killers to justice, but they, and we, are being badly let down by the Force’s upper hierarchy who have clearly made a decision about withholding serious wildlife crime news from the public.
Why is that? Who benefits from such censorship?
As I wrote a few months ago on the withheld news of the poisoned red kite found on a Scottish grouse moor, news that Police Scotland had kept hidden for 18 months (here), I don’t understand the rationale at all. Certainly, in the early stages of an investigation it often pays for details to be withheld so as not to compromise searches etc. But 19 months (in the poisoned raven case) after the crime is discovered? It doesn’t make sense, and all it does is undermine public confidence, which really isn’t helpful when Police Scotland needs the public onside to report suspected wildlife crimes.
By the way, according to the WIIS database, a ‘suspected bait’ categorised as ‘abuse’ (name of chemical withheld) was discovered in Lothian in March 2021. The case notes say: ‘This incident is the subject of an ongoing Police Scotland investigation’.
So a poisoned bait was found one month prior to the poisoned raven. Are these crimes linked? Or is there another undisclosed location in ‘Lothian’ where deadly poisons are being laid out?
Where is the warning to both locals and visitors to the area from Police Scotland about this serious threat to public safety?
An MSP is currently in the process of asking formal questions about this ongoing censorship. Watch this space.