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Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story

Director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, Jamie Stewart writes: Celebrated author Mark Twain is attributed the saying "never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, unless you can't think of anything better." Not so celebrated journalist Peter Swindon seems to have taken inspiration from the latter part of the quote, or he has been completely duped by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS).

I am certain I have read or heard most of LACS Director Scotland Robbie Marsland's misleading statements over the last two years, or viewed the same on video throughout the evidence sessions with Lord Bonomy. Forgive me if I don't respond to each and every one, but what I will say is that with the exception of one case, the selectively edited footage with additional emotive narrative shown to Police Scotland, and indeed to Lord Bonomy, failed to show any illegal action.

Let's be honest here. Animal rights organisations such as LACS will never accept the need to manage wildlife. Moreover, they have the clear objective of trying to restrict further or to have the law prohibit entirely the use of dogs to flush foxes to be shot. They don't intend to let anything get in the way of their objective, even the truth.

The Scottish Government appointed Lord Bonomy to review the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, inviting Robbie Marsland and various other members of LACS, pest control practitioners, gamekeepers and others to give evidence to his review. Robbie Marsland was even invited to join Lord Bonomy as he observed mounted foxhounds operate pest control service in earnest.

But it would seem that despite their disingenuous welcome of Lord Bonomy's report to the Scottish Government, LACS have once more returned to the deceitful tactic of misleading the general public in an attempt to force the hand of Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to go further than the recommendations.

Mr Marsland selectively quotes Lord Bonomy out of context where it suits and then ignores his conclusions where they do not. In the most recent publication "Tally Ho" they even have the audacity to go on to question Lord Bonomy's intentions, motivation and impartiality. I am deeply concerned with the lack of respect shown to Lord Bonomy and indeed to the Cabinet Secretary.

Despite the dogged attempts of LACS to imply otherwise, in January 2016 senior officers from Police Scotland confirmed to the Parliamentary Committee that there 'was no evidence to suggest that the mounted foxhound packs are acting outwith the legislation that is in place at the moment'. However, in a bid to provide greater clarity the Scottish Mounted Foxhound association volunteered to share operational documentation with Police Scotland in order that they investigate allegations of illegal activity more efficiently. Hardly the behaviour of a body referred to as "secretive".

Lord Bonomy stated: "It is said that the camera never lies. However, the way in which film is presented does not always show the whole picture. A full account of the circumstances may provide a complete answer to any suggestion of illegal hunting".

He does go on to say that he doesn't believe that LACS are intending to mislead the general public with the footage, but I will!

Footage of saboteurs trying to disrupt legal pest control are heard shouting "There's no guns" "There is no guns". But no apology or retraction is heard when the fox was taken away from the hounds, sent for an autopsy and confirmed to have been shot. Instead LACS fellow animal rights colleagues at OneKind released an emotive statement describing a fox having experienced extensive trauma.

Even when confronted with the presence of gunmen in their own footage, employees of LACS deny their presence. When giving evidence in court, one such undercover investigator stated that he didn't know what a shotgun looked or sounded like. No wonder then he couldn't identify their presence.

They now go on to suggest that guns might be there but that they are only for show. "No guns there! well maybe for show", "Fox not shot, well maybe shot". Come on. You can only fool some of the people some of the time.

The report from Peter Swindon demonstrates a distinct lack of knowledge of the law and a healthy amount of LACS interpretation, or rather misinterpretation

The deliberate hunting of a wild mammals was banned in Scotland in 2002, and what was observed was legal pest control under the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.

I wasn't there and can't say what he did or didn't see, but what he is not saying is that he observed a fox being deliberately chased. Last time I checked huntsmen on horseback or otherwise not deliberately chasing foxes wasn't illegal.

I must admit to having seen the film of Peter Swindon and LACS undercover operatives questioning a member of the Fife Foxhounds. I viewed with some concern as they questioned him in quite an intimidating manner, including the instruction to stop filming when clearly the two of the LACS operatives and Peter Swindon were doing just that.

This person was employed in a legal activity while Peter Swindon joined LACS as they covertly skulked around the undergrowth.

Peter Swindon even goes as far to say "we observed you and there were no guns". I wonder did he call Police Scotland to report a suspected crime? Or did he remind himself of Mark Twain's quote and decided to make headlines instead?

If he had elected for the first option he would have learnt that the Fife Foxhounds, far from hiding or being secretive, had informed Police Scotland to their intentions and locations including direct contact should they require.

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 is no different from any other criminal law. When there is evidence of illegal hunting then successful prosecutions have been brought under the Act. Official statistics show that there have been over 200 charges of the deliberate hunting of wild mammals with a dog brought under the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) between 2002 and 2017. Of those charges which proceeded to trial 53% resulted in a conviction.

As for Peter Swindon. Shame on you.

Many people rely on the media as a source of information without even thinking whether it is true or not. Furthermore, the media is a very powerful weapon that can quickly change people's perspectives and beliefs. The media has a huge impact in shaping the opinion of the general public. They can form or modify public opinion in different ways depending on the objective.

Unlike LACS's disingenuous welcome of Lord Bonomy's report to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Mounted Foxhound Association have committed themselves to work with the Scottish Government and Police Scotland to, wherever possible, address any grounds for suspicion as suggested within the report.

The level of disrespect the animal rights organisations have shown to Lord Bonomy, Roseanna Cunningham MSP and the members of the general public doesn't come as a surprise, after all this is a group who wish to impose their 'ethics' or views on everyone who has a differing position from theirs. I agree that all journalists have their own views, however to deliver comprehensive and authoritative coverage of news and current affairs they must rise above their own personal perspective and report the facts, not a skewed version of events which pays scant, if any, regard for the truth.

To see Peter Swindon's article in the Herald please click here.

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