Friday 12 February 2010

RSPCA's fishy swan press release

I'd be the first to condemn anyone shooting a swan, which is pointless, mindless vandalism. But there's something odd about this RSPCA press release.

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.

UPDATE 16/2:

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?

UPDATE 21/2:

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.


Meconopsis said...

This really has to be a fake. Yes pellets outwith the carcase, The number of pellets in a perfect pattern and no broken bones !!!

I will ask a friend who is a radiologist to have a look at this one.

Meconopsis said...

James We shoot in excess of 5000 geese each year in the Aberdeenshire area. One thing that stands out to me is the lack of broken bones. All the geese we shoot have broken wing bones etc and whilst preparing for the oven the most pellets I would expect to find would be in the low teens.

If the Swan was killed it will be in a Freezer somewhere as it will have to be produced in evidence.

If you can please find out the make of the cartridge as they produce the most perfect pattern I have ever seen !


Bill O' Rites said...

The obvious discrepancy between the pellet pixels & the surrounding ones is irrefutable proof of tampering.
I doubt the RSPCA will admit it though.
I guess "green fraud" isn't just a tool of climatologists.......

Meconopsis said...

Might this be fraud or deception ? Could the police be involved ?

vicky said...

Did the RSPCA make any comment about why they said it had been shot over and over when it looks like shotgun pellets?

Cork Graham said...

Great reportage, James...and astute obvservations!

I wait to see how much money they can make milk this doctored x-ray for...

PETA/HSUS and all their brethren...evidently learned how to make a buck or a pound (depending on which side of the pond you're on), feeding the delusions and ignorance of an increasing urban population, so removed and from an honest understanding of nature as offered prior generations having previously lived or come from living in the country...sad.