Sep 132015
 

Embattled Northfield Animal Haven is using photographs to fundraise. There is nothing wrong with that – except that the photos of animals purportedly in dire straits were taken from other organisations without permission – and most animals shown were already saved. Aberdeen Voice reveals another deception. By Suzanne Kelly.

GooseberryNFAHIt’s a case of the old ‘Spot the Difference’ game: only there is no difference in the photos.

Pictured right is the GoFundMe page for Northfield Animal Haven that currently has many people worried for the future of six Shetland ponies. Generous people chipped in what they could.

What hard-hearted person could resist this fluffy white pony?

Now meet Gooseberry – pictured April 14 at at Lluest Horse and Pony Trust in Wales.

Gooseberry 2 LluestGooseberry was a colt; perhaps he’s had a sex change and a few foals before needing a Northfield rescue.

Under the misappropriated photo of Gooseberry, Cable has written:

“Have spoke [sic] with the lady today who has the Shetland Ponies safe for us until they come here. Weather permitting it should be this week, cant wait to meet them and give them a new home when they are ready. Thank you to all who has [sic] donated towards getting them here. Hopefully once they are here, people will see that there is no scam going on.”

As far as a ‘scam’ goes, it will be interesting to see which Shetlands, if any, turn up rescued at Northfield.

As for Gooseberry? According to Lluest Horse and Pony Trust website, as recently as July 14:

“Gooseberry has now been successfully re-homed with his best friend Santa.”

Aberdeen Voice confirmed with Lluest Horse and Pony trust the photo was their rescue, it is safely homed, and no permission had been sought to use their image to fundraise for Northfield. It is clear that the photo Northfield used is that of a colt rescued by others, and as such is misleading.

There is nothing on the Northfield GoFundMe page to suggest that this photo is used for illustration purposes only.

Any animal lover would look at this GoFundMe appeal and have no idea that this pony illustrated is not one of the animals allegedly to be.

Any animal lover who saw the initial Northfield appeal post might have been confused or misled on a few other points as well. Kelly Cable refers to the rescues happening on a working farm. A working farm could be any kind of venture – arable crops, herbs, flowers. No one would automatically know that this meant some animals were raised to be sold to fund rescuing others – a moral dilemma if ever there were one.

Lambs to the Slaughter:

Perhaps Northfield should start by rescuing their own sheep, as they do indicate they rescue ‘all farm animals’.

While selling its own animals at Aberdeenshire’s Thainstone market, Northfield wanted to save the ponies which it claimed were:

“under threat of being shot and used over winter as dog food.” 

When their non-rescues end up as meat, this dire warning rings a bit hollow.

Aberdeen Voice published the revelation about the sale of animals at market. Following the article, Cable issued a number of entries on the GoFundMe page which admit the marketing of some animals. These posts by Cable represent that millions of sheep are slaughtered. None of what she says satisfactorily explains why Northfield shows pictures of sheep on its sign and other fundraising sites if they don’t normally save sheep.

Their answer when questioned on this point was that ‘people like to see pictures of all the animals’.

Photo Finish:

Aberdeen Voice spoke to another animal owner whose pony was depicted as needing a rescue. The owner had no idea this photo had been copied and used for fundraising.

The owner confirms that the photo was taken from the internet and reused by Cable without any permission or prior contact. The owner is happy to advise Aberdeen Voice readers the animal in question is in fine health, and is pregnant in fact. The animal’s owner is contemplating a variety of actions, and is less than happy to find her photo misappropriated by Cable.

Cow Rescue is Bull:

While Cable may be happy to sell some cows for meat, she’s into rescuing other cattle.

Cows1twitNFAHTake these for instance. According to Northfield Animal Haven’s twitter page, they only had 17 hours (for some reason).

Northfield Animal Haven also wrote:

“They dumped them in a shed I’ve been feeding them since Friday”

“Thank you if I can raise about a £1000 at least that will get them here food for a few weeks and vet care”

Cowlycos1The truth was just a bit different back in 2011 when Lycospca (based in Lycoming County, USA) wrote about the same animals:

“Thank goodness someone saw these poor animals and called us to check up on them. The owner had grain in the barn and they were ordered to get a round bale. Dr. Hocker took fecal samples to determine if the cows also need wormed. 

“With our intervention, the cows should soon put weight back on. Officer Woltz will be filing charges.” 

However, according to Northfield Animal Haven, these cows are dead. The now closed campaign was continued after the reported death of the animals, and the funds raised put towards the horses.

“RIP to the cows dumped in a shed, I couldn’t save them I tried to get more time and raise enough f… ” – NfieldAnimalHaven – Dec 8, 2014 

“We will continue to share this campaign for anyone to donate to any donations will goto the horses… – NfieldAnimalHaven – Dec 9, 2014 

Aberdeen Voice will be interested to know whether the Scottish SPCA were contacted about these cows.

Coupled with misleading and contradictory statements as to the fundraising activities and 100% dependence on the public (which if they are selling animals to help save others is not quite accurate), these photographs could easily mislead potential donors – some of which were ‘disappointed’ when they learned their money was going to people who send some animals to slaughter. When questioned in detail about whether or not the sold animals are killed she replied:

“I don’t send them [sheep] for slaughter the people who buy them after me probably do but I don’t personally so what I stated was fact….”

There are other instances of this photo ‘borrowing’. In this instance the appeal is to save 6 ponies and their babies.

Pony1twitNFAHA pony with a weeping eye and green halter is shown. In association with the picture, and that of Gooseberry, Northfield Animal Haven wrote:

“Please help to save 6 horses from being killed by donating to our plea”

“make it a Good raise enough to get the transport booked to get these babies  2392 followers £5 each would do”

Again, the photo is from the internet; in this case from a December 2011 rescue in Ireland.

Donkey3

What’s the problem?

There are many genuine animals needing urgent rescue. There are finite funds available in these financially challenging times for people to donate to good causes. When a person donates to one charity, that means another charity is going to go without.

Appeals must reflect facts. When someone is soliciting for funds, the kind-hearted people who make donations are trusting that they are going to help genuine animals, that they are being told the truth, and they are literally being given the full picture. It is essential that we find out what animals have been rescued by Northfield, and how much they have collected in goods and funds.

If a single person has been misled, that is a person too much.

Kelly vs Kelly:

Kelly Cable has indicated on Facebook and elsewhere that she is receiving threatening phone calls which she reported to the police, and that her lawyers are advising her not to answer questions on Aberdeen Voice. She has also represented that she has a brain tumour.

She has written:

“Right this stops now, I am sick to the back teeth of this, we have been a rescue now for three years and have never had such hassle since march when Suzanne Kelly first came at us for selling our lambs not rescue animals since then it has been continual from her. I am not registering as a charity but I have done something else which will put all of our supporters at ease, which as soon as it is through it will be posted.

“I don’t know about anyone else but this really is getting beyond a joke now, all the good that we have done is ignored and to goto [sic] to a previous partner from 15 years ago where you will get one side of a story is scraping the barrel.

“I should not have to discuss my personal life or what happened to me in this relationship ie being threatened to be locked away from my family is just one thing so from now on whatever is written in the voice people can believe it or not. I will continue to go down the legal route with regards to the voice.”

The reference to the ‘previous relationship’ refers to the revelations that she promised to repay her ex-partner’s parents and his grand parents a loan the couple were made. Her share was £5,000. She made representations at the time that it was not her signature on the loan agreement. A forensic handwriting expert was called in who concluded that Kelly Cable had in fact signed for the loan.

Aberdeen Voice is not interested in the details of the personal relationship, but a picture is emerging which throws doubt on the trustworthiness and honesty of the woman behind Northfield Animal Sanctuary.

This is a woman who signed for a loan from a partner’s parents and pensioner grandparents and tried to deny she had signed for it, and was shown to be untruthful in that assertion. People have the right to know whether or not those operating a fundraising organisation are trustworthy. An article addressing the issue of how trustworthy Kelly Cable is – or otherwise – is forthcoming.

A dossier of all information collected by Aberdeen Voice to date will be passed to the police. This will include information from a number of people who came forward with anecdotes alleging financial improprieties after the first article was published.

Elsewhere a Northfield administrator is asserting that I, Suzanne Kelly, am an alcoholic and a liar; they refuse to retract these allegations which appear on Twitter and on Northfield’s Facebook page, where Fiona Manclark, acting as a Northfield Animal Haven Facebook page administrator, repeats these allegations – which of course are denied categorically.

Northfield has the right of reply to this article. Aberdeen Voice has the following questions for Kelly Cable:

*  Where are the six Shetland ponies your current GoFundMe appeal is for?

*  Do the six Shetlands even exist – can we have some actual proof and actual photos?

*  Who is/was their owner – is it someone you know?

*  How do we contact the owner of the Shetlands?

*  Do you accept that the photographs you used in the examples above do not represent the animals you purport to rescue?

*  How many times have you shown photos not of the animals you sought funds to rescue, but of other animals?

* In one case said you ‘managed to get a pic today’ of some cattle to be rescued by you. The picture matches a photograph taken from the internet. How did you manage to get this photograph and were or were you not involved in the rescue?

*  Do you accept that people could have been misled as to what animals they were being asked to donate money towards rescuing?

Aberdeen Voice will continue to watch developments on this story and report.

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

Jun 212013
 

Suzanne Kelly met with George Copland, the resident of an Aberdeen house which was the scene of an armed police siege – when no one was in it – who was arrested and held for approximately 13 hours.

The 7th June siege, called a ‘blunder’ in mainstream media, was a massive police operation launched on the say-so of an anonymous tipster.
A 29 year-old-man, was subsequently detained for questioning on suspicion of wasting police time the same day of the siege.
Why then, was George Copland arrested and his property searched, on account of a hoax, days later?

Copland’s arrest and subsequent treatment unfolded like this:

Copland was arrested at his girlfriend’s home in the early hours of Sunday 9th June.   Police apparently shouted ‘Jo – we need to see you and make sure you are all right’ before breaking in.

It must be borne in mind that at this point in time, it was known to the police and the public that the siege was a hoax.  His own home was trashed by police looking for weaponry; his possessions broken and scattered.

Upon his arrest, Copland informed police he needed medication, and despite being told a doctor was coming, no one ever saw him.

He was told ‘specialists’ wanted to question him about a suspicious item found at his home (which Copland demonstrated to be no more than a broken remote controlled toy ) and was questioned repeatedly about a fluffy dusting brush – the police insinuated during questioning that these could be seen as ‘weapons;’

Copland feels police were trying to get him to say these items may have resembled guns/weapons.

There is apparently an acknowledgement that he was not in his home at the time of the siege.

No lawyer was present at this questioning. Police, with no warrant, wished to search his girlfriend’s flat.  He was held for approximately 13 hours.

There is no talk of compensation for the destruction; there is no apology.   There is no proper explanation as to how someone could be arrested for a hoax perpetrated on their home when they were not in it.

In an extraordinary move, police tell Copland the name of the person arrested for placing the hoax call.  This information still has not been released to the media.

Copland tells Aberdeen Voice:

 “I will be talking to a lawyer about this incident.  I want an acknowledgement this arrest and my treatment were totally wrong and unacceptable.  I want my flat put right, and I want compensation for the destruction of my property – but also for the damage to my reputation.  People are giving me a wide berth after the siege and my arrest.”

Copland openly tells Aberdeen Voice he has had problems in the past and is known to the police.  He has been treated for mental health issues in the past, which may be related to his Crohn’s disease, a debilitating digestive condition.
His mental state improved after surgery for his medical condition.

That the police knew of his issues but did not either allow him his medication or send for a doctor as promised is another unacceptable dimension of this case.

If Copland had a past record with the police, it is nothing compared to the record of the person police named to Copland as the alleged hoax caller, who has serious charges and convictions against his name.

Aberdeen Voice have sent police a contact form from the Police Scotland website, and have sent them questions concerning this story for comment.  Their response will be published once received.

This may be a UK first – arresting the owner of a property where a hoax was perpetrated which caused the police to launch a massive armed response.  An innocent man was subjected to a police ordeal, loss of reputation, property damage, medical neglect, potential violation of rights – all for an incident that never was.

No one is suggesting that the police should not respond to genuine threats – but did the police behave correctly at the 7th June siege or when arresting George Copland?  It hardly seems so.

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Jun 102013
 

How the unelected quango that is Scottish Enterprise, with ACSEF’s blessing, put business before our environment and won the day for Trump is the question. However, getting information about what happened is a bit like pulling teeth.  Suzanne Kelly reports on her recent bids to obtain information from Scottish Enterprise about its engagement with Trump.

Scotland is well and truly open for business.  We will wine and dine with you, fly you round our protected environment in helicopters, create feasibility studies at taxpayer expense, and give support recommending existing environmental protection is overlooked.

Well, we’ll do that if you are a foreign billionaire.

Much has been written about the relationships between Scotland’s First Ministers McConnell and Salmond, Scottish Enterprise and Donald Trump.  There have been dinners both sides of the Atlantic with these key players.

The Ministerial Code prohibiting such blatant support for pending planning applications was certainly bent if not broken.

New information has come to light through Freedom of Information requests.  A letter from Scottish Enterprise’s Jack Perry to Trump following their dinner is the sort of love letter that would have made Dame Barbara Cartland blush. The new FOI requests have also raised some important questions.

Anomalies between the disclosed information and the facts do not always seem to add up.

Love-letters Straight from the Heart

Scottish Enterprise – an unelected, taxpayer funded quango provided support to the Trump organisation.   It is clear the organisation should deal with foreign investors.  Why, however, it should have recommended – and successfully so – overriding environmental protection status to create a golf club is a mystery.

Another mystery is why the taxpayer should have spent over £30,000 on a feasibility study, or provided £40,000 helicopter flights over Menie to a billionaire.

After meeting in New York for dinner with Trump, this is what then head of Scottish Enterprise, Jack Perry wrote a letter to the Donald, which can be found here:  http://menie-estate-report.yolasite.com/

The letter raises a few points as well as raising the bar in obsequiousness. In order of appearance, these include the following.

1.  Perry put pressure on the head of the Shire council in the form of a letter ‘registering his profound dismay’.  Scottish Enterprise could either have suggested new potential, less contentious locations for a course.  It could have stayed out of the political side of things. It chose to write to the head of regional government to ‘register dismay’.

2.   More importantly, Perry puts it on the table:  The Scottish Government favoured the plans.

“We concur with the Scottish Government’s contention that this is genuinely a project of national importance to Scotland.” 

The rejected planning application was called in by the Government, who had let its support of the plan be known in December of 2007.  With this predisposition noted by close government quango head Perry, how could there have been any chance of a fair outcome?  What exactly was this partiality based on?  Was it the extremely favourable business projections – which now seem rather unrealistic to say the least?

3.  Perry lobbies the other parties’ shadow ministers.  As he put it:-

“I have tried to make it clear in these discussions that the impact of Aberdeenshire Council’s decision goes far beyond the immediate issues of the Trump development but has much wider implications for Scotland’s International image and reputation as a country which welcomes investment.”

Is it really part of the remit of Scottish Enterprise to not only lobby, but to lodge a veiled threat that saying no to this project would have ‘wider implications’?

The head of a multi-million pound quango and the influence of ACSEF, Scottish Enterprise’s Regional Advisory Board – itself unelected but taxpayer funded – could be very intimidating indeed.  Indeed, Patrick Machray, then head of ACSEF, was singled out for praise in the support he lent to the Trump project, and was copied on this letter.

Perry closes his letter:-

As Scotland’s principal economic development agency, we at Scottish Enterprise wish to see your development proceed. We will continue to do what we can to help.”

And indeed they did.

Do we really want to be funding unelected bodies, Scottish Enterprise and ACSEF, to act in a manner that sidesteps or pressurises our elected officials?  It seems we do.

Freedom of Information Conundrums

Getting information should be easy, and responses to FOI requests accurate and complete.  The recent replies received from Scottish Enterprise raise as many questions as they answer.  Here are some issues arising.

1.  Hospitality

A fairly comprehensive question was posed as to any hospitality/gifts that might have been received from the Trump organisation:-

“3.  Details of any hospitality (event, gift, accommodation, etc.) offered to any member of Scottish Enterprise or Visit Scotland  from Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) which pertains to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland).”

The answer sounded reasonable enough at first:-

“In accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, I can confirm that Scottish Enterprise holds no information relating to any gifts or money received from Trump International, or the other related parties listed.    To comply with Scottish Enterprise’s Code of Conduct, the organisation maintains a register of gifts and hospitality received by employees from companies.   I confirm that a search of the register has been undertaken and no entries relating to gifts or hospitality from Trump have been registered.”

However, Jack Perry’s letter to Donald Trump opens as follows:-

“You may or may not recall that I had the pleasure in October 2005 of joining you for lunch in the Trump Tower with the then First Minister, Mr Jack McConnell….”

Who exactly paid for this lunch?  While much has been written about the subject, it is not at present clear whether the taxpayer paid for the lavish meal (steaks and shrimp in Trump Tower are not exactly inexpensive), or whether Trump did.  If it was the taxpayer, how extremely generous of us, particularly when McConnell should not have been there anyway.

If it was Trump, then the cost should have appeared on Jack Perry’s hospitality details:  Scottish Enterprise are saying no hospitality had been registered.

2.  Funding

An excellent article on this meeting can be found in the Scotsman at http://www.scotsman.com/news/scottish-news/top-stories/how-jack-of-clubs-came-up-trumps-for-donald-1-1411884

It mentions two helicopter flights paid for by Scottish Enterprise– the Scottish taxpayer picked up the tab.  The Scotsman article reports:-

“The billionaire’s golf company was lavished with attention. Two memos released by SE show that – at a cost of £4,800 to the public purse – the agency paid for two helicopter tours of Scotland, taking in the golf course site, as they showed off the country to their deep-pocketed American friends.

“A further e-mail shows they offered to meet the £40,000-50,000 cost of a feasibility study into the Menie Links site. Trump’s people were impressed, “raving” in August last year about the way enterprise agency officials were courting them. All was set fair for a deal.”

However, when asked a fairly clear question about funding:-

 “2. Details of any funding applied for, granted, or rejected for Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) which pertains to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland) by Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise.”

The reply ignored these flights:-

“I can confirm, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, that Scottish Enterprise holds no information within the scope of your request.   SE has not received any applications for funding, and has not granted, or rejected any applications for funding for Trump International, or the other related parties listed.”

It seems fairly evident that supplying flights worth c. £40,000 would have constituted funding granted.  Money was spent in connection to the Menie Estate.

3.  Time Warp

A FOI question pertained to the quote from Jack Perry appearing on the Trump website.  This quote reads:-

“As Head of Scottish Enterprise, Scotland’s main economic, enterprise innovation and investment agency, I welcome the progress on Trump International Golf Links’ development in Aberdeenshire. The overall aim of Scottish Enterprise’s Tourism strategy is to achieve higher value add through the development of such premium resorts and experiences for visitors.

“We value the commitment which the Trump organisation is demonstrating by commencing work on the site at Menie, as this type of new resort development, will deliver modern, high quality accommodation and facilities to Scotland. This is critical to our ambition to help Scotland realise more value from our tourism assets. The development will attract higher spending visitors from across the UK and overseas and will further support Scotland’s position in the global market as the Home of Golf.”

“Jack Perry, Chief Executive, Scottish Enterprise”

The website did not pre-exist the course.  The quote refers to work commencing on the site.

Scottish Enterprise would have us believe, however, that no correspondence took place between it and Trump. The FOI had specified that correspondence from 2008 onward was being requested.  Bearing in mind the pre-approval letter from Perry to Trump was from December 2007.  This was the FOI question:-

“1.  Copies of correspondence to and from Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise on the one part and Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) on the other part, pertaining to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland).”

In February this was the answer to that question:-

“We have carried out a search of our files and can advise, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, that Scottish Enterprise holds no information within the scope of your request.”

As it seemed unlikely that a quotation from Perry got onto the Trump website with no correspondence taking place; a new FOI was launched.  The question SE was now asked included the quotation taken from Trump’s website.  This simply could not have been made before 2008 – not with the reference to work commencing.

The December 2007 letter to Trump from Perry was before the subsequent government approval of the scheme.  It was time to ask Scottish Enterprise to explain, and the following questions were sent;-

“2.1 Given the answer supplied below, that no correspondence took place between Scottish Enterprise and the Trump Organisation, please explain how the above text was sent to the Trump organisation, under what circumstances, and at whose instigation.

“2.2 Please also explain the apparent inconsistency with your previous reply that there had been no correspondence between the two entities.

“2.3 If it now seems that there was correspondence between the two entities, please now submit such correspondence.”

When thus virtually cornered, SE replied:-

“Following an extensive search of files, I can confirm, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA that SE does not hold any information to respond to your question.  Any communication officers that could have dealt directly with the Trump Organisation have since left Scottish Enterprise and, in accordance with our retention policy, we would no longer hold files which would allow us to confirm how the quote referred to above was provided to the Trump Organisation.

“Your previous FOI requested information held from 2008 onwards.   The response provided was therefore accurate within the scope of your request.

“Please find attached a letter from Mr Perry, former CEO of SE, to Donald Trump dated 7 December 2007.    I confirm that this is all of the information held within the scope of your request.”

The correspondence ends with the statutory advice that an investigation of how the FOI request was handled can be requested.  It is a fair bet to assume it will be.

If an organisation like this quango doesn’t keep correspondence – including that sent on behalf of its CEO – then accountability simply doesn’t exist.

Does Scottish Enterprise have carte blanche and a blank chequebook?  We could be forgiven for thinking so.

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Mar 262013
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Aberdeeenshire Council’s Formartine Area Committee met today, Tuesday 26 March, and decided not to grant retrospective planning permission to Trump International Golf Links for works at the Menie Estate which had gone against the approved plan.

A Council spokesperson advised that:-

“the application was deferred to allow a site visit and a public hearing. (there was no vote – the action was agreed by committee). The date and time of both will be arranged in due course.”

The Planning Officer had recommended granting retrospective permission, which would have seen a giant mound of earth block the Munro home’s access to light approved.  The bund had already caused problems for the family when first constructed; dirt and sand from it blew into their property including their home, and damaged cars.

Campaigners also celebrated today as the Government gave the go-ahead to the offshore windfarms Trump so desperately vowed to fight.  Area resident David Milne commented:-

“It came as no surprise, but it was still pleasing to hear that the Scottish Government had decided to retain control over their own energy policy and not hand it over to a non resident, self interested developer.

“It was, however, more surprising and even more pleasing that Aberdeenshire Council decided not to issue retrospective permission for unlawfully constructed bunds surrounding the Munros home at Menie and instead delay their decision until a site visit has taken place; they have after all only had since the spring of last year to consider this.

“Whilst the 17800 signatories to the call for a public inquiry into their behaviour may have had some effect, we can but hope that common sense has finally reared its head with the council, I shall wait and see if this logical and honest decision is the start of a trend or an aberration.”

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Mar 252012
 

Aberdeen City Council has been warned today that its staff could face criminal prosecution for its activities on Tullos Hill.  Animal Concern’s John Robins issued a press release explaining all, and Aberdeen Voice brings you this latest development in the ongoing Tullos Hill saga.

 

Aberdeen City Council (ACC) has been warned that staff and volunteers involved in the controversial Tree for Every Citizen project could face prosecution under wildlife crime laws.

It is believed workers have started clearing gorse and shrubs on Tullos Hill in preparation for the planting of saplings which is due to start next month.

Gorse is a favoured nesting habitat for a variety of birds including members of the finch family. It is a criminal offence to disturb or destroy active nests or to harm eggs or chicks.

John Robins of Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL) has asked the Wildlife Crime Officer at Grampian Police to investigate the situation with a view to arresting anyone found to have broken wildlife protection laws. The SSPCA and RSPB have also been asked to intervene. ACAL have warned ACC that their staff and volunteers could be prosecuted for destroying birds’ nests and they have asked the Council to suspend all work on Tullos Hill until September.

John Robins states:

“This tree planting scheme has gone from insane to criminally insane. Who in their right mind orders clearance of nest sites just at the time when song birds are nesting and then sends in an army of tree planters when ground nesting birds are trying to raise their young?

“This latest development suggests that the people behind this project really do not have a clue about what they are doing.  ACC claim their Tree for Every Citizen project will provide wildlife habitat. All I can see is habitat destruction and disruption at the very worst time of year for that to happen. Will it take a criminal prosecution before ACC see sense?”

Gavin Lindsay, Wildlife Crime Officer at Grampian Police, has agreed to speak to Aberdeen City Council about possible breaches in wildlife protection laws.  The SSPCA have asked their Aberdeen inspectorate to look into the matter. We await a response from RSPB Scotland.

The Council have put up temporary fencing around and on Tullos Hill. These have yellow hazard warning signs stating “Warning Forestry Operations. Please obey all signs and restrictions.”

A copy of the warning sent to the ACC Chief Exec and the Councillor behind the tree planting project is as follows:-

 

Dear Ms Watts and Councillor Malone,

I note that Aberdeen City Council has announced its intention to commence ground preparation work and the planting of saplings on Tullos Hill. I understand that this work will involve the removal of bracken and gorse and that clearance of these plants may already have started.

Given the long period of unseasonably mild weather you’ve had in the Aberdeen area over the last few weeks it is highly likely that birds will be nesting early and there will be nests with eggs and chicks in the gorse and on the ground at Tullos Hill. Gorse, which provides prickly protection for nesting birds, is a favoured nesting habitat for finches such as Twite, Chaffinch, Linnet, Redpoll and others.  From photographs and descriptions of the terrain on Tullos Hill I expect there are also a fair number of native ground nesting birds such as Lapwing, Curlew, Skylark and perhaps Ring Ouzel nesting in the area.

Yesterday we had a report that someone has heard grouse calling on the hill so it is likely that grouse will be nesting there too. There will no doubt be many pheasant breeding on the hill as well.

As you are probably aware it is a criminal offence to disturb or destroy birds’ nests containing eggs or chicks. It is likely that it would be individual employees or volunteers who would be prosecuted should wildlife protection laws be breached while the gorse and bracken is removed or while saplings are being planted.

I ask Aberdeen City Council to suspend all activities on Tullos Hill until September to avoid disturbing or destroying any active nests. I have notified the Grampian Police Wildlife Crime Unit, RSPB and the SSPCA of the situation.

Yours sincerely,

John F. Robins, Secretary to ACAL

 

Jan 272012
 

Aberdeen Youth Council’s former head Sean Press resigned because of ‘a conflict of interest’, citing his involvement with ACSEF the ‘pro-business and development body [which] is fully supportive of the City Garden Project’ per the Press & Journal.  Now Aberdeen City Youth Council, the official voice of young people in the city, has spoken out against the proposed development of Union Terrace Gardens, describing the plans as “unwanted” and “potentially devastating to young people”.

17 year-old office-bearer, Kenneth Watt, comments on the decision:
“It’s not normal for the Youth Council to speak out against the Council like we are doing. However, the decisions made have the potential to be devastating to our generation, and generations to come and we are genuinely worried about the prospect of the City Gardens Project going ahead.”

As a result, the group has registered to submit 300 words in the voter registration pack.

The group also criticised the City Council in its involvement of young people in the decision-making process, after they discovered that only 113 young people from just two schools were consulted with. In the Youth Council’s own consultation 98% of 14-25 year-olds were in favour of retaining the Gardens.

The financial security of the City Gardens Project (CGP) concerns the Youth Council. The Aberdeen City Youth Council (ACYC) are worried by the lack of a plan to cover the possible failure of the risky Tax Increment Funding scheme. After multiple requests for detailed financial information from councillors on the monitoring board were ignored, the group became very apprehensive over the CGP’s feasibility.

Kenneth Watt, an office-bearer in the ACYC says that:

“Young People have been hit hard by spending cuts to key services already; the prospect of facing more in the future is a risk the Council can’t afford to take.”

“Young people need to be listened to and have their questions answered. We’re the ones that will have to foot the bill when the £96million loan can’t be repaid.”

One of the main sufferers of cuts to public services is Aberdeen’s youth. Northfield has the highest rate of child poverty in the north-east of Scotland and the Council cannot commit to such a financially unstable project when they are closing key services to the youth in many areas.

“It is ridiculous for the Council to commit to a £96million loan when vital community services – such as the Mastrick Young People’s Project – are being cut left, right and centre.”

It was claimed that the CGP would reduce crime rates in the city, which young people are frequently blamed for. Both final designs for the CGP have direct access from Belmont Street and Union Street, home to many pubs and clubs. A £170million project of this nature will not cure the violence and crime that Aberdeen faces.

“Voters need to think seriously about the long-term aspect of the City Gardens Project and the financial burden it could easily leave for generations of Aberdonians to come.”

“Union Terrace Gardens is a space that is unique to our city. Our parents have loved the Gardens, we love the Gardens, and – if retained – our children will love the Gardens too.”

 

Jan 072012
 

Aberdeen’s contentious Tullos Hill  deer cull / tree-planting scheme takes a particularly strong blow as a Freedom of Information request shows that the financial picture is not as ‘cost-neutral’ as its (few) supporters would have us think.  Suzanne Kelly examines the newly-released figures for Phase 1 of the planting and questions the logic of proceeding with Phase 2.

Aileen Malone, Aberdeen City Councillor and Convener of the Housing & Environment Committee has been silent on the subject of her pet project and Liberal Democrat election manifesto pledge lately; she’s not answered emails on the subject, nor has she appeared in the media to defend the scheme.
The Liberal Democrat party headquarters likewise have not replied to any emails on the matter of the deer cull to date.

Malone is the de facto figurehead for the plan to cull the roe deer (which have happily lived in the area for decades without the need for a cull) in order to plant a staggering 89,000 trees on Tullos Hill. 

When full details broke as to what this Phase 2 planting entails emerged, individuals, community councils and animal welfare charities expressed dismay and disbelief.

One of the main arguments offered by its proponents is that planting the trees and shooting the deer is ‘cost-neutral’, or in the words of Councillor Neil Fletcher in an email concerning the cull:-

“… this project is at practically no cost to the tax-payer”.

But is the scheme as cost-neutral as its City Council proponents claim?  The answer is most definitely NO.

The attached spread sheet excerpt was obtained in mid-December following months of requests  (note that a line has been added to show a refund the City had to make – this was somehow omitted).  Aileen Malone wrote in early October to advise an officer would get back on the matter shortly.   When no information was forthcoming , a Freedom of Information request was lodged (and answered slightly later than was meant to be the deadline).

The City’s (incomplete) spread sheet

The spread sheet from the city shows incoming money as negative and outgoings as positive figures.

There is an outgoing sum of £3,000 at Line 18 with no explanatory text.  There is likewise a line for £142 – this may relate to an advertising supplement extolling the virtues of the scheme, but this is not certain.  The city also forgot to take off the £43,800 it had to return for the failure of phase 1 on Tullos.  Combining all of the figures together, I get an indication that Aberdeen may be £20,600 in the red at this point – and yet may look to go ahead with a bigger plantation.

See: Tree-for-every-citizen-finances/

Looking at the list of money going in and out of the account, it seems that the scheme was not the simple, cheap, well thought-out plan promised.   When the finances are considered in conjunction with a soil report issued by the Forestry Commission, it is possible to conclude the plan is deeply flawed and expensive.

The the soil report indicates that Tullos Hill’s soil quality  means the trees would be subject to ‘wind throw.’  This means that winds (such as the extremely strong winds frequently experienced this winter) will more than likely topple trees growing on the hill.

The report also points to the possibility that trees simply will not thrive on Tullos for a variety of reasons– but what is the financial impact of failure?

The costly Phase 1 failure- £43,800 in grant money repaid

The City was forced to repay £43,800 of grant money (after months of being chased for payment, it should be noted) to the Forestry Commission.  Presumably this money was generated from the taxpayer in the first place – therefore the taxpayer may well have wound up paying both for the trees to be planted as well as for their failure to thrive.

While the City has chosen largely to put the blame for the failure on some 29 roe deer in Loirston County Park, the failure belongs  in no small part to those who selected the site, who decided to buy smaller tree guards than had been recommended, who ignored the historic wind, weather and soil data, and who did little about weeds.  Perhaps an investigation is called for into the selection of Tullos in the first place, and into any possible negligence on the part of those involved.

Will Aberdeen be taking another grant from the Forestry Commission – which arguably we were led to believe was already arranged?

If so – why?  What are the implications of a failure of 89,000 trees financially speaking?  Unfortunately, according to the Freedom of Information response, thereares as yet no financial plans, budgets or projections available.

Considering the proponents originally gave a deadline of May 2011 for private individuals to stump up £225,000 to save the deer (a figure which exceeds the £200,000 Phase 1 grant!), it is highly worrying that projections for the future phase 2 scheme cannot be supplied as ‘the information is not held’.  Had the scheme’s supporters come clean in these respects months ago, this scheme may not have gone so far down the road as it has been allowed to.

Paying for Experts

Animal charities offered the services of other forestry experts to the City free of charge with a view to finding a way to plant trees without killing the deer – something which is quite possible to do.  Deer will apparently be culled for several years (there are thought to be 29 deer in the area which roam from site to site; these creatures usually live 6-7 years, and in some instances are fed by local people).

The city denigrated the experts, and advised it already has an expert.

The identity of the City’s expert has never been made known.  At one stage it was suggested that they were being paid for their services in connection with ‘A Tree for Every Citizen.’

Looking at the companies listed on the spread sheet involved and the people who serve on these companies, a number of forestry experts seem to be involved as paid consultants. As such, these people might be seen to have a vested interest in a Phase 2 planting going ahead; it would be human nature to protect one’s source of income.

One of the people whose names crops up in a list of company directors has many directorships to their credit – including charcoal and sawmill director/company officer roles.  Some of the twenty or so companies on this person’s list of directorships have been dissolved, including a boomerang company or two.

Further research into the companies and individuals mentioned on the Council’s spread sheet is under way.

Aberdeen officials have issued conflicting statements on the nature of the forest to be created – some say it will bring in revenue which will help pay for the scheme; others say no such plans are in place.  If a sawmill plant, lumber jacking or charcoal works  (and these types of business interests are reflected in the company activities of people involved with the scheme per the spread sheet) are envisaged for Tullos, then the public should be told.

If one or more persons with vested interests in making profit from lumber are refusing the advice / peer review from animal welfare experts with forestry experience, then the entire scheme should be examined in a public, transparent forum and reviewed by a number of recognised experts.

Surely an impartial, scientific professional would normally welcome experienced, free advice even if they chose not to heed it.  The claims of expert advice seem hollow when in one document tree guards are discarded as deer control devices because they have ‘visual impact.’

Can complete impartiality of someone who may stand to gain from the Phase 2 planting going ahead be guaranteed?  How can there be an objection to wider scrutiny?

Sponsors and ‘Educational’ use of children to plant trees:  I wouldn’t count on it

Companies which donated to the first phase of the ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ scheme are understandably reluctant to use their budgets for controversial Phase 2.

weed protection of some sort will be required which may impact other wildlife, and yet the wind may make it all in vain.

Two major companies have indicated that they will not sponsor this next phase.  Will any business want to put their brand’s value at risk by association with an unpopular scheme and deer cull?  It is highly unlikely, but some in the council seem to think sponsors will be found.  Again, there seems to be nothing budgeted, just nebulous talk of seeking business sponsors.

Schoolchildren are being relied on to make the plan look more affordable; they will be asked to help plant the trees on Tullos.

It seems doubtful that local parents will willingly give consent; thousands have signed a petition against the scheme, and over three thousand people are on a Facebook group opposing the scheme.  Clearly if the scheme will have to pay for planting all 89,000 trees when it had hoped to use children in part, then the scheme becomes even less financially sound.

The educational benefits of planting saplings should also be delivered alongside the fact a cull is being implemented not for animal welfare reasons (the Scottish SPCA condemns this particular scheme) as it is (allegedly) the cheapest way to protect the trees,  that weed protection of some sort will be required which may impact other wildlife, and yet the wind may make it all in vain.

Other costs; environmental costs

Weeds were largely to blame according to a Forestry report for the Phase 1 failure.

The Aberdeen taxpayer will be paying for several years of ‘weed control’ for Phase 2 – this may mean spraying pesticides which will damage other plants, insects, birds and other wildlife.  Using pesticides in an area near factories, homes and schools will also lead to further citizen protests.   Aberdeen paid £7,125 for Bryan Massie specifically for weed control in Phase 1 (as well as another £22,800). If the weed control was inadequate then, then how much more will we spend annually?

It is important to remember that Tullos already has its own wildlife and is a thriving ecosystem in its own right.   Gorse clearance is also recommended, although many environmentalists state that gorse is a food and habitat haven for much wildlife.  How much money will the taxpayer spend ripping up gorse?

The winners

According to the City’s information, the following companies have made money on the scheme:

CJ Piper & Co                     £42,000

Bryan Massie                     £30,000

Dulnain Bridge                   £77,800

Scottish Woodlands        £11,700

TM Forestry                       £44,400

(unspecified)                     £  3,000

TOTAL:                                                                  £208,900

(Note – while over the months there have been different figures mentioned and unofficially given, it is assumed that the most accurate set of figures is the one supplied by the Freedom of Information request received mid December which is used in this article).

The future:  No tangible financial projections – and no funding application lodged

The Freedom of Information request seems to be admitting that no budget for the future phase is held by the City.

An earlier FOI request shows that despite everything the proponents have said and done, there is as yet no formalised application lodged for a second phase.  This means that for nearly a year the claims of proponents such as Malone that the scheme was going to go ahead and was going to be cost neutral were inaccurate.  It is possible that some of the members of the Housing Committee voted in favour of this plan based on its being cost neutral; if so, the matter should be examined by that Committee and the relevant Audit Committee.

It is safe to assume that not every single grant application gets approved.  We seem to have a situation for  Phase 2 where there was no final, formal application for funds lodged, no approved funding in place, and no budget in place.

When the £43,800 repayment is subtracted from the accounts it certainly looks as if some £22,000 more than was granted was spent on Phase 1, leaving a budget deficit for Phase 2 before it even starts.

In the absence of information to the contrary the evidence speaks for itself.

Conclusion

Parents of school-age children might wish to check with their schools as to any planting plans involving their children.

Voters might want to ask their City Councillors how they stand on the issue now, and if they were in a position to vote on the matter in May 2011, did they then believe the scheme was cost-neutral.  Private sector companies might wish to think twice before entering any sponsorship/funding deals for Phase 2 as well – it does not look like a public relations win any longer.

The whole point of the cull was to make the tree planting possible, yet some council officers and elected officials want to backtrack on that point now. They now claim it is for animal welfare reasons and not the trees. However, the entire unfolding history of the City’s claims are a matter of record.

What may have started out as a great-sounding greenwash election plank has irrevocably turned into an unpopular, controversial, seemingly disorganised non-starter.  It is time to leave Tullos alone for now – or to consider enhancing its status as meadowland.  Anything else just does not add up.

Dec 122011
 

Aberdeen Voice  has learned that the Scottish Information Commissioner has upheld Voice reporter Suzanne Kelly’s Freedom of Information request with regard to land and property sold by Aberdeen City Council to Stewart Milne and associated companies.

Less than a week having passed since Stewart Milne’s appeal to the Supreme Court failed, the Scottish Information Commissioner has decided that the Council must provide Kelly with information on land transactions between Aberdeen City and Stewart Milne companies.

The Supreme Court had been asked to review the details of a land purchase Milne Group made from Aberdeen City Council. The Supreme Court found that Milne must pay the City £1.7 million over the land deal.

The cost of the legal action is at this point unknown.

Kelly had followed the case, and had heard from several sources that there may have been other deals regarding the property developer and the City.

In a Freedom of Information Request made to the City, Kelly asked for a list of property sold to Milne and/or associated companies and the selling price, as well as a list of contracts the Milne companies had won from Aberdeen (there are several companies connected to Stewart Milne). Kelly wanted to analyse the contracts won and land purchased. The City initially refused her request.

An appeal was lodged, and the Information Commissioner was asked to look at the history of the freedom of information request and the grounds for refusal. The Commissioner issued its findings on 9 December 2011. The Commission decided that Aberdeen City Council and its Freedom of Information officers failed to act properly on a number of issues.

Key points include:-

  • The City did not always respond to correspondence and requests in a timely manner.
  • The City said it did not have a comprehensive record keeping system and finding the information would be very difficult. Kelly proved to the Information Commissioner that the City keeps much of its property portfolio details on spreadsheets.
  • The City said it would cost over a thousand pounds to find this information.
  • Kelly received some of the requested information during the course of the investigation including details of c. £10 million worth of construction contracts won by Milne and associated companies. No information has as yet been released by Aberdeen to show what property it sold to Milne.

The property dealings of Aberdeen City council had come to the attention of Audit Scotland some time ago. In its findings Audit Scotland found:-

  • evidence of procedural and administrative deficiencies and poor record keeping,
  • cases where accurate and relevant information was not reported to elected members,
  • a lack of evidence to support the valuation at which properties were sold, and
  • cases where the Council may have achieved a better price. Overall, it appears that there is a potential loss of capital receipts which may be more than £5 million.

The City is considering a number of budget and service cuts, and this spurred Kelly on. Kelly states.

If the city is awarding contracts based even in part on low bids, then I question the wisdom and prudence of selling land at a fraction of its potential market value to a successful bidder. The City has a massive property portfolio, and if must keep detailed and accurate records of its transactions. In light of the Supreme Court decision last week, the decision from the Information Commissioner is extremely timely and most welcome. I look forward to receiving the information I have sought for so many months.”

Milne is also a director of Aberdeen Football Club. It is slated to sell its existing Pittodrie Stadium ( the UK’s first all-seater stadium ) and use the proceeds to build a stadium in greenbelt land near Loirston Loch. Planning permission was hotly contested, with local community councils objecting to the plans. The area is home to a variety of wildlife. The club’s income is thought to be in steady decline, as attendances have fallen and the team struggle to climb the league.

Says Kelly,

“I shall contact Aberdeen Council if I have not heard from them shortly, and as soon as the information is made available to me, I will report back. The Commissioner agrees that the public have a right to have the information I have fought long and hard to obtain.”

Oct 152011
 

Aberdeen Voice reporter Suzanne Kelly attempts photography around Union Terrace Gardens Design Exhibition, only to be threatened with police and forced to delete some photos from phone. 

Last week a news story showed just how far security had over-ridden basic civil rights, as a father from Glasgow was apparently cautioned by both private shopping mall security and police. He had taken a photo of his daughter atop a child’s seat within the confines of the mall in question. It seems signs warned shoppers against taking photos, and this otherwise perfectly harmless photo wound up being a cause celebre.

A Facebook campaign to boycott the mall was organised, and the suddenly contrite shopping mall seemed to have changed its colours.

Perhaps Apardion Security (motto: “job done”) which work Aberdeen’s Academy Shopping mall and Aberdeen City Council didn’t get wind of this story. 

Despite absolutely no signs prohibiting photography being visible in the mall itself – despite my taking a photo while standing on a public street of a poster – I was followed by security from one mall to the next, cornered, threatened with police and legal action being implied –  and forced to delete some (but not all) photos from my phone:  from a guard who refused to say who he was or who had given him this instruction to stop photographers.

I had spent a pleasant morning at an event in town – Prince Charles had arrived to unveil and dedicate a statue erected to commemorate the Gordon Highlanders.  It was a great  morning, a well-attended event, and provided a good opportunity to talk to Gordon Highlanders, who were all happy to talk about this now legendary unit, sadly resigned to history in 1994.

At the end of the event, I bumped into two separate people who had been taken aback by the over-enthusiasm of security guards at the Academy Shopping Mall. 

The mall, with several vacant shops, is to be the home of the public exhibition of the six designs shortlisted to win a competition to replace the city’s Victorian Union Terrace Gardens with some form of design centre/parking/shopping/’cultural’ space. 

The actual competition shop is not within the Mall itself but in the old ‘Pier’ outlet on Belmont Street, formerly a Presbyterian Church which houses a tribute to Mary Slessor. Aberdeen’s other memorial to Mary Slessor lies in Union Terrace Gardens and would be obliterated by any new design. 

Many journalists have written to reflect the public’s dismay at the proposal to change the gardens.  They are the remains of the Denburn Valley as landscaped in Victorian times.  They are the only city-centre green park and contain listed, ancient trees – some of the few trees in the City Centre, seen as vital against air pollution. 

The City it should be rememembered is nearly £500 million in debt, and does not have money for this project, estimated to cost upwards of £140 million. 

A local millionaire has offered £50 million to change the gardens into something else, an anonymous donor wants to give another £5 million, and the rest will come from Tax Incremental Funding if the City succeeds in a bid to be one of the pilots of the TIF scheme.  If TIF is secured, local retailers will pay increased rates if the area is commercially successful (so trees are not exactly what’s wanted).  And as is suspected, such increased taxes on the retailer will be passed onto the consumer in the final analysis.

With the tales of the two people being harassed, I went to Belmont Street where the space for the exhibitions has a large glass front. 

I took a photograph of a long, thin poster advising that the public display of the shortlisted designs would be forthcoming.  I also stood on the  steps of the shop front (where absolutely no signage warned me against taking photos), and took a single shot of the poorly draped glass window and the paltry displays that were being set up.   Then I left.   

I went inside the Academy shopping centre itself, and noticed a poster saying what shops were in the Academy.  This poster, on a round pillar, advised that several of the shops were vacant.

I thought that would be a good photo.

The premise of those who want to build in Union Terrace Gardens is that shops will revitalise Aberdeen. Aberdeen’s problem, as any first-year economic student would confirm, is not a lack of shop spaces.

Vacant shops are found all across the city centre, as large multinationals offering cheap goods (often made abroad) are taking customers who in more stable economic times would probably have preferred to buy from local shops.

As I was considering this shot I had my mobile in my hand, and was suddenly very aware of a security guard eyeing me as if I were a criminal.  I made a quick call to a friend to say I was going to Marks & Spencer, and I left.

you took photos of an exhibition which isn’t even open to the public yet

I had by now taken three photos – one of the poster visible to all the world on Belmont Street; one standing on the steps of the shop where the exhibition would be, and one inside the academy showing the rear of the exhibition area.

Upon entering the Bon Accord & St Nicholas Mall, I was immediately stopped by a security guard.  The
dialogue was along these lines, but this is not verbatim (text in blue is the writer):

“Are you the woman who took photos inside the Academy shopping centre?”

“I was on my phone”

“You were seen taking photos and you are not allowed to”

“I didn’t see any signs – who says photos aren’t allowed?”

“you took photos of an exhibition which isn’t even open to the public yet”

“I took a photo of a poster when standing on Belmont Street”

“you also took photos through a window”

“Yes I did – where does it say I can’t do this?”

“If you don’t delete those photos right now I am going to call the police”

“I might call the police myself”

“There is no sign telling me I can’t take pictures”

“we can’t have a sign up telling you everything that’s not allowed”

(at this point the guard, in a deep blue t-shirt with photo ID spoke into his radio)

“This lady is being difficult” he told the person on the other end

“Look- I’ll show you my photos, and you can tell me which ones to delete, OK”

We then looked at my photos.  There were only three.

“Look at this one” I said “you can’t even tell what’s behind the window at all”

The guard didn’t make me delete this.

“And here’s another photo – do I need to delete this?”

The guard did not reply, and I did not delete these photos.  We then came to the photo of the poster

“You have taken a photo of an exhibition which is not even open yet”

“I took this photo while standing on Belmont Street in public – why do I have to delete that?”

“We will call the police”

“What is your name – let me see your ID”

(at this point the man in his 40s, balding, slightly chubby and about 5’5 or so turned his photo ID  badge around so I could not see it)

“I think  your surname started with ‘E’”  “My name is Suzanne”

“I don’t need to know who you are and you don’t need to know who I am” he cut across me.

I deleted the phone photo he told me to.

I had moved – deliberately – outside the shopping centre and stood by the very clear, permanent sign which had symbols of prohibited activities.  In the heat of the moment I noted ‘no radios’ ‘no eating’ ‘no skateboarding’ – but no ‘no photography’ sign.  I mentioned this to the guard.

“We are in a public place now, arent’ we?” I asked “yes”

“Well, then I think I’d better take your picture as you aren’t going to tell me your name”

At this point I took a photo of his back as he scurried away, and another of the prohibited activities poster.

The public are largely against borrowing money to build in Union Terrace Gardens, this was reflected in a public consultation.

Those who are determined that something should go there now have no fewer than 9 entities – either specific vehicles invented for the project, private companies, the quango Scottish Enterprise, and the local economic forum ACSEF promoting the project.  There is also a public relations company (which also apparently represents the Wood Family Trust, involved in the project), the Big Partnership.

It seems as if one or some of these entities are very keen that no one should get any press on the exhibition, certainly no photographs.

Perhaps they will be pleased with the public relations the heavy-handed security measures have provoked.  Perhaps not.

But if those behind the Union Terrace Gardens ‘design’ project do not want the poster  advertising the event photographed, may I kindly and gently suggest it not be posted on a public street?

______________________________

At the time of publishing, the shopping mall’s staff are unable to comment, and suggest I contact the manager on Monday.  Two security guards are apparently standing in front of the storefront on Belmont Street this afternoon, and are reportedly stopping anyone taking any photos.

 

Oct 072011
 

“There are people playing guitar who don’t even realise they’ve been influenced by him”, Johnny Marr observed of Bert Jansch who has died of cancer, aged 67. Jansch was a Zelig-like figure in modern British music. Like Woody Allen’s eponymous social chameleon, Jansch’s eclectic, groundbreaking presence and influence over more than 40 years was subtle but pervasive. Neil McLeod gives a fan’s view of a huge talent who straddled generations and genres.

From the mid-60s folk boom, through the blues-rock melting pot, via the cult of the introspective singer/songwriter and latterly in indie and Britpop, Jansch was there, a significant but frequently-unseen presence in the background of almost all modern British musical movements.
Born in Glasgow and raised in Edinburgh, Jansch was initially schooled in those cities’ folk clubs before moving to London in the early 1960s and honing his skills during incessant tours of UK folk clubs.

His reinterpretations of classic folk songs didn’t sound fey or singalong, but muscular, passionate and virtuosic.

A mix of standards and original compositions were recorded to mesmerising effect on his early LPs, particularly Jack Orion which featured his first recording of Blackwaterside, later taken up by Jimmy Page and recorded by Led Zeppelin as Black Mountain Side.

Jansch’s songs were beasts of such raw, genre-defying power that they could not be contained by the boundaries of the folk club. By the late 1960s his solo work and as a member of the now legendary Pentangle saw him achieve recognition and exert influence which took no account of musical barriers. Formed in 1967, Pentangle toured and recorded extensively until 1972 and reunited intermittently with Jansch’s participation right up to his final public appearance in August this year.

Jansch’s songs were beasts of  raw, genre-defying power

In the mid 70s, Jansch recorded further career highlights including LA Turnaround and Santa Barbara Honeymoon. These were expansive, lush efforts which tackled the mellow rock produced by the Laurel Canyon crowd, but kept a distinctively British voice both in Jansch’s delicate vocal phrasing and guitar playing.

Introverted and shy on stage, he was nonetheless a riveting performer. He was the archetypal non-conformist who cared little for personal possessions and who often had no fixed address. Like many artists he also succumbed to alcohol excess and this had a detrimental impact on his health and his output by the 1980s.

Thankfully, he recovered his health and his productivity by the 1990s and was by that stage benefitting from the patronage of younger generation giants such as Johnny Marr and Bernard Butler, who played with him on Crimson Moon in 2000. That long, late period of acclaim continued until his final days, with everyone from Neil Young to new folk darlings Fleet Foxes singing his praises.

With all this muso respect it would be easy to think of Jansch as being a bit too worthy and considered in his playing, appreciated reflectively by beard-stroking guitar bores. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jansch played his songs for the love of music and never let craftsmanship become over-elaborate or get in the way of the tune.

Bert Jansch was that rarity – a musician who legitimately deserved recognition and who retained that status throughout his career.