First off, the RSPCA bod says the swans were shot "over and over again at close range." No they weren't. If those are shotgun pellets, then each one fell victim to a single shot - and with that number of pellet strikes there's little doubt that the bird died instantly. So does the inspector really know that little about guns (if so he certainly isn't qualified to investigate this case)? Or is he just deliberately milking the "suffering" angle for the sake of a good story?
And the x-ray? Very graphic, but take a close look. Are those pellets inside the bird, or just spread on the table? There are plenty of pellets in that picture well outside the bird's body, and even beyond where the plumage would be.
Here's a larger version of that photo, which I requested from their press office (click on this to see the full size version):
I'm not saying they made it up, and I'm certainly not defending anyone shooting at swans. But there's clearly more to this story than they're letting on.
Unsurprisingly, the BBC has simply taken the story handed to them on a plate and repeated it verbatim. It's called churnalism.
UPDATE 15/2:Well, I asked the RSPCA press office to confirm that this is an actual x-ray of the actual swan referred to in the press release, but as yet no response. Meanwhile the server logs reveal that this blog has received multiple visits from RSPCA HQ in Southwater, near Horsham.
In the absence of a reply, I enlarged a section of the photo and enhanced the brightness settings, in an attempt to find more. I don't know enough about Photoshop work and jpeg artefacts to make sense of the resulting image, but if any readers can help please get in touch. To my untrained eye, those pellets on the left of this image don't look like they belong.
A spot of Googling reveals that Inspector Dean Astill-Dunseith, from the RSPCA's Lincoln branch, is no stranger to the media. Among others, he starred in a story in the Sun featuring a hamster attacked by yobs using a lighter, another in the Sun making use of an x-ray image, and another in the Mirror of a pensioner bitten to death by his pet rat. He knows a good story when he sees one, which I'm sure is a skill much valued by a branch which until recently was desperate for funding. I'm interested to learn how the Branch managed to boost its annual income from £74k to £243k in a single year in 2008, but as it was 59 days late filing its accounts, the info isn't available yet.
Today I had a response from Julie at the RSPCA press office, confirming that "the image is of one of the swans - that incidentally were found in Brisley, rather than Horningtoft as the release states". I have replied explaining my concerns over the image, and await developments.
Meanwhile, googling the less-than-common surname of Astill-Dunseith, I encounter one Rachel Astill-Dunseith of Branston, nr Lincoln - a somewhat militant vegan and defender of seals, badgers, puppies, whales etc. She was a vociferous supporter of the LACS/RSPCA campaign to ban hunting.
Ms Astill-Dunseith rashly handbagged The Register in Feb 08 over an anti-vegan article: "How my vegan children and I will laugh from our intellectually and compassionately superior platform as he dies a slow death as his colon struggles to expurge his over burdoned diet of meat and dairy products."
Nice. As they say in Private Eye, I wonder if perchance they are related?
Well, still no word from the RSPCA press office, despite explaining my concerns about the x-ray image, and asking very politely if I might speak to Mr Astill-Dunseith. Still, they're probably busy dealing with stuff like this.
Meanwhile, I've had a response from a reader who has plenty of experience of image manipulation - he works on record sleeves, film posters and the like. He says: "it looks kosher to me – looks like the wing is folded back, and the pellets along the edges are probably lying just under the skin as opposed to in any muscle tissue so it’s most likely that it will appear clear. Shame there are people out there doing stuff like this, it doesn’t do the legal shooting fraternity any good, and is just fuel for the antis."
Well, if the x-ray is genuine, fair enough, and I owe the RSPCA an apology, despite their stonewalling. And he's right of course - there are morons out there with shotguns taking unsuitable shots at unsuitable quarry. Which is no reason to attack legitimate shooters, but that's a distinction that's lost on the public even without the help of the antis.