Subtle editing of Angus gamekeeper poison article: at whose request?

Courier originalOn Wednesday we blogged about an article that had appeared in the Courier that morning. The article was all about a retired Angus gamekeeper, Colin Gair, who claimed that gamekeepers were being put under pressure to use poison baits to protect grouse stocks. Here is what we wrote in that blog.

The Courier article seemed to cause quite a stir and was soon being cited all over social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. That’s not surprising – it’s not very often that you get a gamekeeper willing to admit that illegal practices such as poisoning are still taking place so of course, people would be interested in reading about that.

We didn’t think anything more of it until Thursday morning. After reading one of the comments left on our blog it became apparent that the original article in the Courier appeared to have been edited with some material removed and some new material added.

That’s not so unusual – many on-line news articles are edited, often adding new quotes from different sources when they become available; we even do that on our own lowly blog. However, not many news articles are edited in such a radical way as to change the original information into something completely different. Bizarrely, that is exactly what looks like has happened with the Courier article.

After some digging, we have been able to find a cached version of the original Courier article, which was published on-line at 9.07 am on Weds 8th Jan 2014. Here is the text:

Gamekeepers are being put under pressure to use illegal poison to protect grouse stocks, a retired keeper has claimed.

Colin Gair, who worked across a variety of Angus estates during a 50-year career, has hit out at the use of poisoned baits, which claimed the life of a golden eagle in Angus in November.

Fearnan’s death is the latest in a series of incidents — several other eagles and other raptors having been shot, poisoned or trapped on sporting estates.

Mr Gair, 66, claimed the situation in Angus had deteriorated in the past two years and is urging gamekeepers to speak out if they are being asked to use poison.

He said: “Grouse have to be reared naturally on the heather moors, therefore vermin must be controlled, but legally all the keeper can do is trap and shoot.

“If you are a gamekeeper who is a married man with wife and family and the very nature of the job entails living in a tied house, pressure can be applied to you.

“If you are asked by a landowner or the tenant to use poison it is not easy for a keeper to say ‘I refuse to do this’ when his house, job and future might be at risk.”

The Tayside division of Police Scotland said their inquiries into the death of Fearnan are continuing.

Fearnan Angus Glens Dec 2013Now, compare the original version of the Courier article with the edited version that appeared on-line five hours later at 2.07 pm on Weds 8th Jan 2014. Here is the text:

Gamekeepers are being urged to contact police if they are asked by landowners or tenants to use illegal poisons to protect grouse stocks.

Retired keeper Colin Gair made the plea in the wake of the death of the golden eagle Fearnan, which died after being poisoned in Angus in November.

The type of poison used has not been revealed by police, but website Raptor Persecution Scotland, which has been tracking the series of killings in Angus, claim the poison was the illegal pesticide carbofuran.

In the past five and a half years, four eagles, a red kite and seven buzzards have been shot, poisoned or trapped on sporting estates in the Angus glens.

Mr Gair said he didn’t have pressure applied to him to use poison during his career, but was aware of the practice taking place.

He claimed young keepers who are fearful of losing their job could easily be coerced into using poison by unscrupulous tenants.

“I am certain many moors do not use poison, but some do and there are areas of Angus which are regarded as raptor black holes,” he claimed.

“If you are a young keeper with a wife and kids you dare not stick your head above the parapet, but I hope that someone will come forward and report that they have been asked to use poison to police.”

Mr Gair, 66, said the agricultural poisons used would be very difficult to obtain by gamekeepers and speculated that they were more likely to be supplied by corrupt traders to one or two shoot managers before being passed down to keepers.

He added: “Who is the real criminal in the poisoning cases? Is it the keeper who knowingly uses the chemical or is it another person who deliberately buys the chemical and passes it on to keepers with instructions to use it for vermin control?

“With most of these concentrated agricultural chemicals you would just need a few drops on an animal’s carcase and it would be deadly for anything that eats it.”

Tayside Raptor Study Group expert and wildlife artist Keith Brockie has called on the Scottish Government to licence shooting estates, a move Mr Gair said he would not oppose.

However, if licensing did come in, he said there would have to be some “give and take” and that the killing of certain raptors be allowed.

He added: “If gamekeeping and shooting interests are to face a licencing system, then we should be given something in return.”

Anyone with information that could assist police inquiries regarding the death of Fearnan is asked to contact 101, or speak to any officer.

That’s quite a different story being told in the edited version. What struck us the most was the change in the opening paragraph. In the original version, Mr Gair’s claim is crystal clear:

Gamekeepers ARE BEING put under pressure to use illegal poison to protect grouse stocks“.

In the edited version, this claim has been considerably diluted to this:

Gamekeepers are being urged to contact police IF they are asked by landowners or tenants to use illegal poisons to protect grouse stocks“.

Suddenly the article has gone from ‘they are being put under pressure’ to ‘if they are being asked’.

Another  significant change is the removal of Mr Gair’s claim that ‘the situation in Angus has deteriorated in the past two years‘. That statement does not appear in the edited version.

New material in the edited version includes: a reference to this blog, Mr Gair’s claims that he was never asked to poison anything throughout his career, his claim that ‘young keepers could easily be coerced’ [into poisoning], his view that ‘many moors do not use poison’, his view on the ‘difficulty’ of obtaining poisons, the reference to Keith Brockie and Keith Brockie’s view that estate licensing should be on the cards, and Mr Gair’s view of estate licensing.

We are intrigued by the scale of the editing that took place on the original article, and we’re particularly interested in who or what might have prompted such fundamental changes to the original article. Who might not have been happy with the claims made in the original article, that gamekeepers were being pressurised by landowners to use poison to protect grouse stocks? And who might have the power and influence to instruct those editorial changes? Hmmm….

Meanwhile, the landowners’ organisation Scottish Land & Estates has written a letter to the Courier to complain about the [edited] version of the article. Here’s what they had to say:


The article by Rob McLaren “Gamekeepers urged to report unscrupulous owners” (January 8) repeats some very dangerous assumptions.  The death of the golden eagle “Fearnan” has been subject to police investigation for over a month and there has been no indication that it resulted from the actions of a gamekeeper or that it was related to grouse moor management. Anything more than was included in the police press release of 19th December is speculation.

The gamekeeper Colin Mair [sic], whose purely personal comments are repeated in the article, admits that he “didn’t have pressure applied to him to use poison during his career” and merely speculates that others might have done. To be quite clear, landowners do not put pressure on gamekeepers to use poison or break the law, indeed any gamekeeper would have full protection of employment legislation if that should happen. In the few cases where gamekeepers have been convicted for using poison to control predators, there has been no indication that they were told by their employers to do so and particularly no evidence that poisons were supplied by shoot managers, as the article alleges.  Since 2011, the already strong laws on employer liability have been tightened further by a “vicarious liability” offence whereby a land owner, manager or employer can be held liable for wild bird offences carried out by another person even if he was not aware of them.  Any estate employing gamekeepers now has to make it doubly clear that no illegal activity can be condoned.

If anyone, including a gamekeeper, has specific evidence as to who was responsible for the death of the golden eagle, it should be reported to the police immediately.  This case needs to be resolved as soon as possible, not least to put an end to speculative comment of the kind repeated in this article.

Tim Baynes

Director, Scottish Land & Estates Moorland Group 

16 Responses to “Subtle editing of Angus gamekeeper poison article: at whose request?”

  1. 1 Paul
    January 10, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    A man who spent his entire life as a game keepers knows exactly whats going on… He’s an insider who regularly talks to other game keepers and has to guard himself against prosecution… He wouldn’t admit to being asked even if he participated in poisoning…
    Game keepers learn from each other and teach each other the best methods for killing birds of prey…
    It should the owners and operators of these hunting estates who should be prosecuted for poisoning done on their behalf… they are the principle beneficiaries…
    If they cannot pursue their hobby without wiping out the local wildlife their hobby should be banned…
    If they want to pursue this non-essential pursuit they should breed and release more birds and protect more land to compensate for the local wildlife… That’s the price they should pay…

  2. 2 Paul
    January 10, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Their mindset is just ludicrous… Its like having a bird table in your garden and the only birds you’ll allow to eat the peanuts are the Blue Tit’s.. and you kill every single other species of bird which goes near them.. Its stupidity.. its the wild..

  3. January 10, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    I wrote this in a previous blog, but I’ll add it here again.

    Lewis Whitham was a game keeper who I observed setting out bait laced with Carbofuran on top of a hill at Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire. A huge amount of this illegal poison was found on the bait, enough to kill dozens of birds as well as potentially being fatal to any human touching the blue black granules. In mitigation, the court was told that Whitham was trying to “impress his employers……….”

    I’ll leave it up to the reader to take what they will from that.

  4. January 10, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    I put some photos and comments regarding the last 25 years on my Facebook site, feel free to use them to keep up pressure regarding the poisoning of Fearnan!

  5. January 10, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Sorry, you have it wrong. The published story in the Courier on January 8th 2014 has two articles with different pages. The front page article is the one you quote at the start and the page 10 article is the one you quote last. Both were published online at different times without editing, sometimes the Courier will update its web site with different page articles.

    • January 10, 2014 at 2:14 pm

      Interesting Dave, thanks.

      Are you looking at the hard copy of the newspaper?

      We are only going by the on-line edition, and the original article (as published at 9.07 am) was no longer available once the edited version was published (at 2.07). If you try and google the article now, all you get is the revised edition.

      • January 10, 2014 at 2:21 pm

        You are still wrong in your assumptions and should admit it, quite frankly.

        • January 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm

          Admit what? We’ve blogged about an on-line article that was originally posted at 09.07, and was then superceded by another on-line version that states at the top of the page: “Updated 2.07”.

          • 9 nirofo
            January 10, 2014 at 4:29 pm

            Can you post the web link to the cached version so we can all re-blog it, that should help to nail it.

            Somebody with enough power to influence the editor of a news rag has obviously been scared into making this rapid alteration to the original article happen so quickly. I wonder who’s toes this has dropped on to to make them move so obviously and so fast, especially in the light of the publicity given to latest Golden Eagle and Buzzard poisoning incidents. “HMMM ?”

            • January 14, 2014 at 8:52 am

              You really are losing credibility on this one, there is no editing. Why don’t you ask the journalist who actually wrote the complete article, Rob McLaren.

              The Courier should be praised for bringing this to the public’s attention on the front page of an edition and not criticised in such a blinkered way.

  6. 12 Merlin
    January 10, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    An unbelievable response from Tim Baynes the director of Scottish Land and Estates Moorland group.
    6 Gamekeepers in court last month charged with various wildlife offences, A Golden Eagle found dead on a Grouse Moor poisoned with a banned substance used commonly by Gamekeepers to poison Raptors, see annual poisoning reports and he states there is no indication it was the work of a Gamekeeper or related to grouse moor management. He may be technically correct but I think it’s a shame he and his group refuse to believe what other people are thinking and saying about this shameful act. I can either take the opinion of a retired keeper who is saying enough is enough or the director of SLE whom in my opinion seems to be in total denial

  7. 13 Amanda
    January 12, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    I’m sure the owners of said newspaper have a lot of land up the angus glens.

  8. 14 Colin David Gair
    February 19, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Well being the retired keeper in question, I’m sorry I didn’t find this earlier. I stand by what I said and as far as Tim Baynes letter to the Courier goes, it reads like ‘ Timothy Adventures in Wonderland.’ Not all moorland owners and keepers are involved in what is happening, only a small minority. They do not give a damn for the long term interests of Scottish keepers or Field sports. Scottish moorlands to these men are a means to an end, for their financial benefit and the self gratification of some wealthy people.
    Oh! Amanda, I’m afraid your wrong.

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