Oct 172014

In Part 4 of the series on issues with UK policing, Suzanne Kelly looks at the recent decision taken by Police Scotland to award itself the power to have armed personnel on duty as a matter of routine. The use of stun guns / tasers is said to be an effective, safe alternative – but is it? Do we really need to start arming police in Scotland routinely? We and our elected officials should have been asked, not told.

PoliceLinePicfeatUnder The Gun

Perhaps the most controversial issue in Scottish policing today was the unilateral, non-legislative supported police decisions to award themselves the power to routinely carry firearms on routine patrols.

Local councillors and other elected representatives were dismayed throughout Scotland; Kenny MacAskill is being asked to resign (over several issues including this

Highlands Police were showing up to incidents in low crime areas equipped to maim or to kill. A suggestion was made that the guns should be made ‘less visible’ – hardly a suggestion that respects the rights (or intelligence) of the electorate which is demonstrably against routine armed patrols.

The police had implemented this escalation instead of asking for permission to do so. They were instead attempting to reassure officials, judges, experts and Holyrood that all was well.

This unilateral action is on a par with the clearly illegal activities of those men deep undercover who slept with and impregnated women they were spying on as per the previous article in this series. This disregard for law, procedure and basic human rights shows us how badly skewed the system is. Thankfully, the gun policy has been changed. There are calls for MacAskill to stand down.

In August, Lord McCluskey, one of Scotland’s most senior former judges, called for the resignation of Mr MacAskill over a range of issues including the routine arming of officers.

He described the policy change by Sir Stephen as an example of “secretive decision-making”, and said Mr MacAskill knew about the move but did not share the information or hold a public consultation.

“In the US, we have seen the dangers of police with guns: put simply, if police have guns, there is a greater risk of someone being shot, unintentionally or otherwise.”
– http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Police-Scotland-arming-of-officers

We do know from recent polls that the public did not want regular armed police on the beat. A recent Scotsman article reports:-

“The nature of policing in this country is very important, and there is a danger that would change if we routinely equipped officers with firearms. We showed during the G8 (summit) how important it is that we don’t come out heavily armed taking a heavily defensive position” – Peter Wilson, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland”

Police are still carrying handguns to serious crimes; many are carrying ‘taser’ type weapons as well. A taser surely must offer safety to the suspect and the police; it can be fired from a distance, and causes no lasting effects – or so we are told.

What is a taser?

A taser is a machine that delivers in the area of 5000 volts into a human body, causing temporary neurological incapacity. Tasers are for sale in the United States, where they come in a range of colours (yes really). One manufacturer/seller offers a video showing the superiority of the taser over other weapons or gas. In the video, a man is meant to be being shot by a taser.

Barbs shoot from the hand-held device into the man’s body, and he falls backwards, caught by colleagues. And all for upward of about $900. Surely this is a safe alternative to guns?

Taser dangers

We have been told that tasers are harmless, won’t cause cardiac problems, and are just temporarily debilitating. We are still being told this is the case, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

A Guardian article warns that tasers fired at the chest can cause injury – and death. The article quotes the manufacturer’s guidance which says shooting into the chest can cause serious problems, and that a huge proportion of police taser shots are to the chest. This article followed the death in Manchester of Jordan Begley who was said to be carrying a knife. Apparently the cause of death of this young man could not be established. What is established is that he was tasered.

Tasers simply are not safe. They are not being used as the manufacturer recommends; and if any deaths are related to their use at all, a re-think is needed. They are also not being used lawfully in some instances.


Here is a West Midlands Police video showing ‘how tasers keep our communities safe’. It explains how the police and public are safer with taser deployment. In a simulation, a (badly acted) drunk is tasered, and seconds later says he will do whatever the police say.

Supposedly this acquiescence is reassuring; it is also very frightening.  If the police can inflict a brief torture – and this is an extremely painful weapon even if briefly so – and it makes people compliant, then what safeguard of rights will we have left? The video explains that a taser is used ‘only in situations of violence or threats of violence.’ A taser will not damage a pacemaker or the heart. We are also reassured that officers are intensively and rigorously trained.

They say that everything that happens in the US comes to the UK ten years later. Here is a video of a man being tasered – for a disputed driving offence – and ‘not obeying the traffic policeman’s instructions’. It is believed the man was later awarded a settlement. It is harrowing. The man asks for his rights and is threatened with another taser shot.

As well as demonstrating that tasering is painful and being used as a means for social control, it demonstrates the mental state of the people we are handing dangerous weapons – tasers and uniforms – to.

Perhaps not all UK police forces are as responsible and rigorous as the West Midlands Police claim to be. Here is a video clearly showing Nottingham police repeatedly tasering a man on the ground, and beating him.

Parting Shots

Peelian Principles (named after Sir Robert Peel, the originator of the UK’s police forces) have been virtually overlooked when it came to this recent arms escalation. Theoretically, the police cannot work without the mandate of the citizenry. But they are doing just that, as well as breaking laws, subverting human rights, and discriminating, as previous articles in this series have demonstrated.

Thankfully there was a climb down with regard to regular arming of routine police, and those responsible are being called to account (although whether any sanctions will be issued is another matter).

Perhaps rather than creating an arms race and/or using the threat of painful tasering torture to subjugate, the police might instead want to listen to experts who admit there are dangers, and take tasering-related deaths as a reason to treat tasering more seriously, and to halt repeated tasering as happened in Nottingham.

Increased gun crime is evident in England and Wales, where gang warfare is implicated in this increase. The culture in Scotland is different, and if the police used their investigative powers not to spy on and sleep with women environmentalist protestors but to try and counter gun proliferation, perhaps that might be a more constructive use of undercover operatives.

Among the many problems with weapons are lethal results, weapons being taken from civilians or officers and used against them, attempts at the use of weapons enraging suspects, and the fact that there will always be those who panic and pull the trigger first, and ask questions later. Or rather than asking questions, seek to cover up information about force incorrectly used.

Sadly, the family of Charles de Menezes, shot on a London tube train for no legal reason, can attest to the truth of this.

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Oct 032014

In Part 1 of this series, excessive, expensive security measures and their implications for civil rights were examined. The second part of  the series looked at the problems of racism in the UK’s police forces as experienced by suspects, victims of crime (and victims of police actions), and even police officers.

This third article in the series, deals with the outrageous exploits of the so-called ‘Special Demonstration  Squad’ and how it sanctioned its undercover operatives to sleep with and impregnate innocent women. What has happened to democracy, basic human rights and an accountable, law-abiding police force?  Suzanne Kelly reports, concluding that the police are out of the control of the top brass, and undercover police have ruined lives when using  deceit to trick women into sex and into bearing children.

Police line pic2Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity (?)

Police Scotland has as their motto ‘Always Vigilant’. The Metropolitan Police claim their motto is ‘Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity. None of these words seem to apply to the majority of the police these days. None of these words remotely apply to the activities of the Special Demonstration Squad.

Imagine you are a woman, interested in the environment, and involved in a protest group.  Over the course of 7 long years you have met a like-minded man in your group.

You sleep with him, believing you have found someone with similar interests. You have his child. You have shared your thoughts and your body with this man you care for.

He is actually a policeman sent to spy on you, for seven long years.

You are not a criminal, but all of your rights, your privacy and your dignity have been taken away. And all the while, he has a wife and family.  What is the response of the Metropolitan Police? That the two of you had a mutually agreed relationship.

You find that the police, meant to  protect you and your rights have used your body as a tool and for gratification; your rights are gone, and they say you wanted it. This is not fidelity, bravery or integrity by any possible definition.

The right to protest has been escorted from the building

The Guardian’s Rob Evans reported in August of this year:

“Boyling had sexual relationships with at least three women while posing as an environmental activist, under the false name of Jim Sutton, between 1995 and 2000. He later married one of them and had two children with her before they divorced in 2008.

“Both were members of Scotland Yard’s controversial undercover unit, the Special Demonstration Squad, that infiltrated hundreds of political groups between 1968 and 2008. Last month, the Met was criticised after it was revealed that the unit had collected information on 18 grieving families who were campaigning against police.

“In a legal filing at the high court, the Met denied that Lambert and Boyling were authorised by their supervisors to form the relationships with the women or that “intimate and sexual relationships were started as a deliberate tactic” to gather intelligence about campaigners.

“The Met said that the pair “violated explicit guidance” from their managers that undercover officers should not have long-term, or “emotionally committed” relationships during their deployments.

“The Met said that the two men started the relationships “because of mutual attraction and genuine personal feelings”.

“Harvey said she was “very upset” by the Met’s stance, adding that her relationship with Lambert was “a total violation of me and my life”.

“She said: “How can a relationship be genuine when it is based on a massive web of lies? He pretended to be a man with noble ideals and political commitments, when in reality he was a police officer spying on our friendship network.

“He pretended he was committed to the future when he always knew he would go back to his real job and wife and kids. That doesn’t show genuine feelings; it is abuse and I would never have consented to such a relationship had I known.” 

Public outrage continues to grow, and undoubtedly will not abate – further details are expected to emerge as the legal proceedings commence.  The judiciary have insisted that the identity of these two particular policemen and their photos should be released; a photo of Boyling can be found in Evan’s article.

The police top brass seem to believe they can plead ignorance:  they say they had no idea what their deep undercover police were doing.

This is as implausible as it is damning – it is as if those in charge of The Met believe they can disavow the actions of their own operatives.  However, this is real life and not  ‘Mission Impossible’ wherein the operatives are told that if they are captured or killed, those in power will disavow knowledge of their activities.

The police will eventually have to explain in a court what kind of logic they used which trumped basic human rights, law and the integrity they claim to uphold. For now, they are doing what they do when cornered:  they have gone on a public relations offensive.

The best defence is a good PR offensive

The Daily Mail have interviewed an undercover officer recently; he was keen to paint himself as a selfless, life-risking hero, not someone subverting democracy to illegally gather intelligence and evidence, which when all is said and done is the base line of any undercover work.

This rather florid article paints ‘John’ the undercover operative as some form of saint; its description of him is hardly hard news:

“His own eyes are clever and often amused. But they also have an opaque, poker-player quality which you might associate with an assassin who sees the moment of death as business rather than pleasure.”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article

Remarkably this ‘John’ has suddenly been authorised by the Met to spill the beans to the world about how tough it is being an undercover police operative dealing with paedophiles, underworld figures and drug dealers. John steers well clear of admitting that women such as Harvey, an environmental activist, are the sorts of people being spied on, seduced and tricked.

John advises:

“‘At the same time you are treading that very thin line, showing enthusiasm for what they are doing but not inciting it. To show that — dare I say it — we are catching them fairly.”

“And catch them they do. Over the past 12 months, undercover operations in the Met have resulted in 1,400 charges against individuals for the full range of serious criminality. Many will go to jail.” IBID

This Mail piece asks no hard questions; it swallows the tales ‘John’ tells the Mail reporters unquestioningly – yet ‘John’s main skill in this life is to deceive. There is not any analysis of ‘John’s potential motivations for leaking these details to the press (keeping his job, making the force look better – as if that were currently possible, pleasing his superiors who while claiming ignorance of Harvey’s situation have sanctioned this interview).

Also lacking is any in-depth question as to why the Met, heading to court to explain itself over its Special Demonstration Squad, would find this piece a good piece of PR.

What’s the Problem? A Government Minister insists police should sleep with women they investigate

You might think that any person interested in upholding democracy, freedom and the most basic of human rights would be appalled at what has happened (and might still be happening). You would be wrong.

As reported in the Telegraph as concerns another sexually active undercover officer, Mark Kennedy, Nick Herbert justifies this behaviour:-

“Nick Herbert told MPs that if there was an outright ban on officers carrying out secret missions from starting relationships with those they had under surveillance, it would create a simple way for their loyalties to be tested.

“He said he did not think there needed to be set rules governing sexual relationships involving police, but that instead officers infiltrating groups and gangs needed to be managed closely.

“The police minister said in a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday: “I am not persuaded that it would be appropriate to issue specific statutory guidance under Ripa [the law that governs undercover operations] about sexual relationships.”

If the police minister thinks the policy of impregnating duped women is fine, he has given the nod to the department to carry on. It will be interesting to see what his constituents think of his stance at the next elections.

Not for Women Only – the cases of Barry George and Colin Stagg.

Police work should be based on physical evidence, motive, and verifiable facts. But if that fails, you can always send in a woman police constable to have sex with your suspect. The ‘honey trap’ method of crime detection has put men in prison after they were led to brag in response to leading questions while being sexually and mentally manipulated by women ‘law enforcement’ personnel.

In the case of Colin Stagg, the presiding judge who quashed his unsound conviction called the use of honey traps ‘reprehensible’. Further information on this and other such cases can be found here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Jill-Dando-Miscarriages-of-justice

Never Again – well, so we can hope.

Perhaps 1400 people are being charged for offensives in ‘the full range of serious criminality’ – the reporters have no interest in finding out how many people were spied on without any crime being brought to light. How many innocent people had their rights removed by a squad which we are meant to believe acted unilaterally? How many other factions within the Met are acting unilaterally that we have no idea about?

If efficient, legal policing cannot prove a crime is / will take place, then is covert evidence-gathering really legal or ethical? If the activities of Boying and crew against environmental activists are upheld as being acceptable policing, then are any of us safe to protest? We need to talk about the police, but we need to ensure that nothing like this happens again.

The court cases will be crucial in shaping the UK’s future human rights policy.  Whatever the outcome, there are women who have been treated like chattel by the Met, and this can’t be undone. Imagine bringing up the child of the man who has a wife and child elsewhere, who tricked you into bed.

There is a group supporting these women; it is Police Spies Out Of Lives; and it provides details on many such cases http://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/  and donations are welcome.

But at least these women are alive. The next article in this series will look at the increasing use of guns and lethal force by the police.

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Sep 192014

In the second article of an ongoing series, the racism permeating the UK’s police forces is examined. By Suzanne Kelly.

Police line pic2 Justice is often depicted as blindfolded as she weighs the evidence in her scales, her sword clutched to dispense an impartial, fair sentence.

The evidence suggests a different reality, one wherein suspects, victims, even police officers who are not white males still have the cards stacked against them.

Perhaps there is a clue to race relations in the mix of police officers? If we are meant to believe that police forces in the UK have worked on their well documented ‘institutionalised racism’ over the years, there is absolutely no sign of this in the 2013 Scottish police equality mainstreaming report:


“The percentage of minority ethnic police officers was 1% at 31/03/2010 and remains static at 28/02/2013.

“The percentage of minority ethnic police staff was 1% at 31/03/2010 and remains static at 28/02/2013.

“The percentage of minority ethnic special constables was 2% in 2010 decreasing to 1% in 2013.

“Note: Minority Ethnic figures throughout the document include those who have self-classified their ethnic origin as Mixed Ethnic Group, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Other Asian Background, African, Other African Background, Caribbean, Black, Other Caribbean or Black Background, Arab, Other Ethnic Group.” 

The same document reports that in 2013 there were 17,830 police officers, 7,411 police staff and 1,371 special constables. Therefore, there were 1,783 minority police officers, 741 minority background police staff and a mere 137 special constables were from minority backgrounds.

If there is reticence in certain communities to joining the police forces, perhaps the tale of former police officer Gurpal Virdi has some bearing. Virdi was accused of sending racist hate mail to himself. The police claimed that he was disgruntled at being passed over for promotion. It was demonstrated he was not around when some of this mail was sent.

This historic case in England is an interesting contrast to today’s Aberdeen story of DC Duthie, cleared of breaching data protection. Someone used his user name and his personal password, illegally looked at personal data pertaining to Duthie’s ex partner and her family. But he’s been found innocent this week; it was apparently too difficult to prove who else had his password who would have had a motive for this breach.

As the Scottish Police Federation’s website reported on 17th July of this year:

“Police Scotland is under ­scrutiny over how it investigates its own officers after it emerged that out of hundreds of complaints of racism against the force, fewer than 10 had been upheld. New figures reveal that, of almost 300 formal complaints of racist behaviour against police officers in the past five-and-a-half years, nine were upheld, two of which led to misconduct procedures. Since Police Scotland was ­established in April last year, one of 78 complaints of racist behaviour has been upheld, with the matter “concluded by explanation”. In the same period, 47 of the complaints were not upheld, with the remainder abandoned, withdrawn or still being investigated.”

This is a damning indictment of the system.

Since the UK police forces demonstrably tolerate internal racism (and certainly seem keen to cover it up, as the SPF’s website reports), then how are the police behaving towards citizens?

Stop and Search operations – a Black and White situation.

If you are not white, you are more likely to be stopped and searched by police in the UK than if you’re white. In some parts of the UK, the figures are staggering:

“Black and Asian people are still far more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by police in England and Wales, a report has said.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said in some areas black people were 29 times more likely to be stopped and searched.

Overall, black people were six times as likely as white people to be stopped.

The commission said the disproportion between different ethnic groups remained “stubbornly high.   … The figure for these searches fell to 1,137,551 in 2011-12 from 1,222,378 the previous year.”

These alarmingly high figures demonstrate that some police officers are arbitrarily using the controversial stop and search policies in a racist way – this sad fact is undeniable. Scotland is also searching young children – but the way in which the system treats children will be the focus of a future article.

The high profile cases of the recent past make it clear that racism can have fatal consequences.

Jean Charles de Menezes.

The police shot dead Mr de Menezes as he sat on a tube train. The excuse seems to be that:

a. it was shortly after the London tube bombings and
b. he had a backpack. (It is frightening that the police thought shooting someone on a crowded tube who might have had a bag loaded with explosives was wise – they risked hundreds of lives had the pack been a bomb).

We know the police testimony about the surveillance, the log, and what happened on the tube train was deeply flawed; the log was altered, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The Commission give a chronology in their finding report which opens with the dates of the tube bombing and the failed bombing.

This, in the eyes of many, taints the entire report: millions of people used the tube the day de Menezes was executed by multiple police gunshots – he and his murder had absolutely nothing to do with the bombings except in the overactive imagination of police, who decided that the detection of potential crime meant to kill the suspect.

As the BBC reported:

“The report says 17 witnesses said they had not heard officers shout a clear warning before opening fire.

“The report makes 16 recommendations for change, and says the Met has already begun acting upon them.

“It also says police radios deployed on the day did not work underground, a problem that was first identified in the 1987 King’s Cross fire.

“It also reveals that investigators had asked the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to look at possible charges against the two officers who shot Mr de Menezes, and the commander on the day, Cressida Dick. The CPS decided not to bring charges against the individuals.

“The IPCC said the Met had to rethink policies around deploying firearms officers and critical language governing the manner in which they stopped a suspect.

Mr Hardwick said the IPCC’s investigators believed that Sir Ian Blair played a key role in delaying their work.

“The commissioner attempted to prevent us carrying out an investigation. In my view much of the avoidable difficulty of the Stockwell incident has caused the Met Police arose from the delay in referral [to the IPCC].”
Stockwell One – Investigation into the shootingof Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell underground station on 22 July 2005.

The jury were not allowed to put in an ‘unlawful killing’ verdict. Sir Ian Blair refused to resign his police position at the time. No police officers were in any disciplined, although one was to be ‘spoken to’.

The policy behind this man’s death is Operation Kratos policy – a shoot to kill policy meant to deal with terrorists. With more and more police routinely carrying weapons (even in the usually peaceful Scottish Highlands), and with most stop and search policy targets being from minority backgrounds, we may well be on a hiding to a volatile future where race trumps rights.

It’s bad enough that de Menezes was killed. The Institute of Race Relations keeps a list of those who have died in police custody – it is a heady mixture of unexplained serious (sometimes fatal) injuries, lack of medical care, apparent suicides.

The Ballad of Stephen Lawrence.

The sad story of Stephen Lawrence, a bright young black teenager killed by a gang of racist white youths in 1993, is widely known. It was widely reported at the time too that the police were less than meticulous and thorough in their investigation of the suspects:

“Met detective Paul Steed, 49, tampered with key times and dates on an evidence log, it was confirmed. A Met spokesman said a misconduct board demoted a detective from the rank of sergeant to constable and fined him. …A Kent Police inquiry took place into the case in 1997, followed by the Macpherson Report in 1999, which found evidence of “pernicious and institutionalised racism” in the Metropolitan Police.” 

Insult to Injury, and Rights go out the window.

Imagine your son had been held in a tube seat and shot multiple times by police – when 17 witnesses say he had not been warned and had done nothing wrong. Or imagine your teenage son had been killed by racist thugs, and evidence was tampered with. Things couldn’t get much worse. But they did.

Police spies tried to discredit witnesses, and police spied on the de Menezes and Lawrence families and friends. This was done using our tax money, in the name of keeping us safe. Enter the unilaterally acting ‘Special Demonstration Squad’.

This unit allegedly is so important and so secret it answers to no one – not even the most highly placed Met officers, who we are being led to believe didn’t know what was going on. This convenient ignorance might remind you of the famous scene in Casablanca. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is being chastised by the chief of police for allowing gambling at the bar.

A casino staff member interrupts the conversation to give the police chief his winnings. If we are to believe that the top brass have no clue what is going on, then:

a. they are incompetent from the top downwards,
b. they are not in control, and
c. we have a police force that is unaccountable, anarchic, and as demonstrated – racist.

In an excerpt from a Mirror article:

“Yard chiefs were potentially negligent in their “astonishing” failure to monitor the activities of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).

“A report published today found the SDS [which] had gathered intelligence on 18 campaign groups.

They included those set up by friends and family of Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered in a racist attack, and Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian shot dead in error by police in the wake of the July 7 bombings.

“The family of Ricky Reel, who drowned shortly after being racially abused in London in 1997, were also targeted.

“Relatives of Mr de Menezes said in a statement: “It is shameful that the Met spied on the legitimate activities of a grieving family who were trying to get the answers they deserved.”

“… Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon said … “What is surprising to me is the number of people, the most senior levels in the Met working in covert policing, working in public order command, who did not know about the unit at all.”

“One reference was to an unnamed person planning to go to a funeral, even though “there was no intelligence to indicate that the funeral would have been anything other than a dignified event”, the report said, and Mr Creedon confirmed that there were “more personal examples” 

Summing Up

The police acknowledge their racism, but it seems far from being remedied, going by cases such as Virdi’s and the small number of minorities represented on the force. The police virtually executed a helpless Jean Charles de Menezes, and tampered with evidence which might have helped bring the killers of Stephen Lawrence to a swift justice.

The police have had virtually no comeback from any of this. The police do however want more powers and want to carry guns routinely.

We need to talk about the police.

The next article will delve into the world of the SDS and other covert operations, and cases which have removed any pretense the police might make to operating within the law or respecting basic human rights.

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Jun 162014

Described as ‘Ronnie Barker’s Porridge meets Gene Wilder’s Stir Crazy’, former inmate James Crosbie relates a number of tales of what went on behind the walls of that grim granite fortress once the doors had clanged shut. David Innes reviews.

Peterheid PorridgeIt’s quite apposite that it’s been published now, with, in recent weeks, the replacement prison in the Blue Toon having had its first riot.

Despite the new prison’s much-acclaimed state-of-the-art facilities, beyond the dreams of the old jail’s cons who populate Crosbie’s book, incarceration and loss of freedom must still be the frustrations that fuel the fire of insurrection.

Peterhead Porridge in many ways lifts the lid on the coping strategies developed by prisoners for whom release seems a far-off fantasy and whose biggest enemies are boredom and apathy.

Content to keep his head down and do his time with little fuss and only occasional ducking and diving, Crosbie cannot hide his admiration for those who use humour, very often of the cruellest kind, to relieve the drudgery and make even just a few minutes less mind-numbing.

So, we’re treated to a litany of background anecdotes on nicknames for fellow cons and their enemies the screws, and a succession of accounts of practical jokes, pranks and little victories against the system, all ways of beating the tedium.

In the hyper-macho world behind bars, one-upmanship is all. To lose face is to invite ridicule and among the best parts of Peterhead Porridge are the droll and amusing accounts of circumstances in which the thinkers hold sway over the boastful and aggressive.

There is cruelty too, but Crosbie has left out anything too harrowing as he learns to cope with his loss of freedom, even becoming a regular petitioner for the rights of his peers.

Even if some of the tales fall into the “you had to be there” (er, no thanks) category, there are belly-laugh moments throughout. The key to survival, in the absence of the key to the front door, seems to be to ensure that no weakness is displayed. The lag who let slip his fear of Peterhead’s fearsome seagulls is a hilarious example of the consequences and the recurring theme of a worthwhile series of tales.

Peterhead Porridge by James Crosbie
Black & White Publishing

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Apr 282014
scottish wild salmon company sign in gardenstown 27 april 2014

Scottish Wild Salmon Company sign in Gardenstown 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly

By Suzanne Kelly.

When Scottish Wild Salmon Company (SWSC), a subsidiary of Montrose-based USAN Salmon Fisheries Ltd arrived in Gardenstown, the landowner made it clear there was no permission to shoot seals from his property.  At least one such illegal seal shooting took place last year, yet no one was charged.

Tourists who had witnessed the episode last year abruptly cancelled bookings and left; some locals were concerned; some angered.

This year the SWSC pledged not to use lethal methods to deter seals from going near its salmon nets near the Ythan Estuary. The SWSC arrived in Gardenstown and Crovie this year to net large numbers of salmon (we have asked for figures but no answer has been received yet). They arrived with guns.

Sea Shepherd arrived to monitor the situation this year. Here’s what’s happened since.

A Video Nasty

Sea Shepherd personnel were harassed by SWSC operatives, and a video was released, showing an example of this. The video showed three SWSC operatives cursing at, and intimidating Sea Shepherd and trying to stop them filming which Sea Shepherd had every right to do.

The owner of the area of land in front of the building and yard SWSC operates from has forbidden shooting. Sea Shepherd’s internet posting reads:-

“We have debated long and hard over whether to release this video showing Scottish Wild Salmon Company staff behaving in a threatening and abusive manner to one of our volunteers. Our final decision was made for us when these very same employees arrived at our beach clean last Friday to intimidate our staff, even making sexually explicit comments to one of our female volunteers.

“We hope that the residents of Gardenstown and Crovie will continue to come forward to tell the Scottish Wild Salmon Company that they are bringing disgrace to this otherwise beautiful part of Scotland not only with their seal slaughter but also with their behaviour in public.”

In a concurrent development, invoices were hand delivered to the Sea Shepherd charity demanding thousands of pounds in fees for filming in the harbour area; these invoices were since withdrawn. It is understood that not everyone in the harbour board was happy with these invoices being issued in the first place.


It is proven that Sea Shepherd were threatened by people intent on shooting seals who had rifles; why there is no prosecution forthcoming is unclear.

Crovie looking towards location of wild salmon netting 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly

Crovie looking towards location of wild salmon netting 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly

It has also been proven that there is no permission to shoot seals granted by the landowner:  no one can shoot seals in Gardenstown and Crovie lands.

What men are doing walking around the area with shotguns then is something of a worry and certainly reason for the law enforcement agencies to step in. (Aberdeen Voice readers may well want to compare and contrast the way in which men with rifles are walking around these coastal towns, having been proven to engage in threatening behaviour, and the ‘Siege of Heathryfold’).

Aberdeen Voice has been told that the SWSC’s operatives are living in a non-residential building. While that is not a huge violation of law, it is still illegal. However, the more serious accusation has been made to Aberdeen Voice that guns are being stored in the SWSC’s building.

Aberdeen Voice will share this allegation with SWSC and the police, and will report back with any responses.

If the rifles are not being stored in the building in question, then where are they being legally stored? Did the police investigate how the guns are being stored when they investigated the video of Sea Shepherd’s man being threatened by people who had rifles?

A Walk on the Wild Salmon Side

Aberdeen Voice visited Gardenstown and Crovie, and spoke to locals and Sea Shepherd. No SWSC employees were visible, and their premises locked; it was a weekend. SWSC has given their position in an earlier email, the contents of which appear in the comments section of a previous article, and will be welcome to explain some of the issues arising from this article.

Despite proponents saying that shooting seals is essential and no concern to the people of the north east, many locals are very much opposed to the idea of shooting seals. As one explained:

“A presentation was made to the local heritage society [about studies done involving St Andrew’s University about sonic deterrents to seals]; there are ways to stop salmon being eaten by seals. There are sonic devices which keep the seals away, and there are ways to construct salmon nets so that seals can’t get in. Shooting should not be happening.”

Another said:

“I put the blame for this on Marine Scotland.  I tried to get answers from them and find out how and why they issued any permits to kill seals.  I telephoned – but I never got the promised answer back. With salmon farming taking place (which has lots of room for improvement in how the salmon are treated), there should not be any large scale netting of wild salmon. The smaller anglers are against what’s happening as well.”

And another local added:

Gardenstown harbour 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly.

Gardenstown harbour 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly.

“I have been documenting seal shooting since the seal was shot from Crovie pier last year. I will keep doing so, and I am opposed to SWSC shooting seals. I think there are two net areas (to the east) of Crovie.”

Finally, one local resident commented:

“…there are studies done on the material found in seal waste; I believe the study showed that salmon is not a large part of the seal’s diet.”  [seals eat a wide variety of sea life; salmon is far from their only food].

During our visit, Aberdeen Voice did not find a single local resident who wants gunman shooting seals in the area.

Non Net Income:  Value of Wildlife Tourism

Some would spread the belief that the salmon industries, wild and farmed, must be allowed to do as they please for the benefit of the rural communities.  The government says otherwise; wildlife tourism is big business. A Scottish Government  2010 report, ‘The True Value of Wildlife Tourism’ advises:

“… wildlife tourism annually brings in a net economic impact of £65 million to Scotland’s economy and creates the equivalent of 2,760 full time jobs.

“The report also found that 1.12 million trips were made every year to or within Scotland with the main aim of viewing wildlife. This form of tourism appealed greatly to UK-based visitors and Scots themselves, accounting for 56 per cent of trips. And it was these UK visitors who generated 75 per cent of the income.” 

Seals under threat

The UK  has common and grey seals; the common seal population is declining. We know that illegal shooting takes place (in areas other than Crovie). Aside from the danger of being shot, seals are suffering from pollution from the oil industry, marine activity and plastic waste in the water; depleted fish stocks further threaten seals, sea birds and other marine life.

Arguably we should be protecting the seal population, cleaning our water, and perhaps even taking less Atlantic salmon. An Irish-based research paper reports a drop of 75% in Atlantic Salmon populations:

“Atlantic salmon stocks in Ireland have declined by 75% in recent years (Anon 2008), and although conservation measures have been put in place, salmon stocks in many Irish rivers are below their conservation limits (Anon 2008).” – A pilot study on seal predation on salmon stocks in selected Irish rivers and estuaries.

The Gardenstown and Crovie communities do not operate solely on the basis of salmon fishing; tourism, leisure pursuits and arts play a part. These activities have demonstrably been hit by the arrival of seal shooters with rifles, witness the tourists who left after they saw the shooting last year.

Sea Shepherd will continue to monitor the activities of SWSC, as will concerned locals.

John Robins of Save Our Seals Fund said:

“Sea Shepherd and the Hunt Saboteurs Association have done a great job in bringing this issue back to public attention. I have no doubt they saved many seals from being shot at Gamrie Bay. We now need the general public to help save seals from being shot all around Scotland by signing our Petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to stop issuing licenses to shoot seals.”

Aberdeen Voice will likewise report on any further developments.

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Mar 282014

Aberdeen and its hinterland in the 19th century, from the research published in Fishermen, Randies and Fraudsters, had its fair share of criminals hell-bent on pursuing their career of choice no matter the misery or inconvenience caused and generally undeterred by the sanctions likely to be applied if caught.  Review by David Innes

Fishermen Randies And FraudstersBurglars, pickpockets, drunkards, whores and murderers all feature as Archibald paints a picture of urban and rural lawlessness and the increasingly difficult task faced by the authorities in attempting to keep some sort of order with so few resources and tight budgets, 200 years before central police forces, remote control rooms and controversy over corroboration.

These were the days before highly-organised law enforcement, sophisticated communication technology, forensics and general respect for those attempting to keep order, yet some of the crime solutions Archibald features show ingenuity, bravery and doggedness.

There are also examples of enforcement officers’ stupidity and occasional willingness to partake of petty crime themselves.

Nothing changes, it seems.

Archibald even includes an interesting civil case concerning the whaling industry and ownership of a whale wounded by one ship but finally pursued to the kill by another, a tale that exposes the hardship and brutality of this profession as well as the colossal rewards at stake.

Fishermen, Randies and Fraudsters gives a well-researched  overview of those far-off times, the individuals concerned and the increasingly-difficult job of detection of miscreants which led, almost inevitably, to the establishment of modern, organised police forces. Whilst it is informative and insightful, the narrative might have been presented in a more lively way, but that is a minor criticism of a worthy addition to NE history.

Fishermen, Randies and Fraudsters

Malcolm Archibald (Black & White Publishing)
ISBN10: 1 84502 744 2 ISBN13: 978 1 84502 744 5
256 pp

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Mar 142014

Fishermen Randies And FraudstersWith thanks to David Innes.

Malcolm Archibald’s true crime volume Fishermen, Randies and Fraudsters (Black & White Publishing) has been published and is on sale.

Archibald’s latest book looks at crime in and around Victorian Aberdeen, and from the few pages thumbed so far, it’s clear that the city and its hinterland, even then, was full of rapscallions and scamps ready to part you from your wallet or your ears from your head.

A review is on its way, but we’ll do the author the courtesy of finishing his book first. Hey, we’re pros here at Voice.

Malcolm will be signing copies of Fishermen, Randies and Fraudsters at Waterstones, Union Bridge, Aberdeen on Saturday 15 March at 1300.

That’s the day before the cup final and an ideal opportunity to score yourself a copy to read on the bus to Glasgow, where 39999 rapscallions and scamps are gathering. The 40000th? That’s you, neither rapscallion nor scamp.

For more info and extract, click here:

Nov 252013

With thanks to Aberdeen Women’s Alliance.

AWA Stall in Union Square3

Members of AWA at their stall in Union Square. L-R Sandra Macdonald, Dianne Drysdale, Norma Grant and Deidre Mitchell.

On Saturday, Aberdeen Women’s Alliance (AWA) marked the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women by collecting donations for local charity, Rape and Abuse Support (RAS) in Union Square.

International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day is marked annually by AWA to raise awareness of the forms of violence that women locally and around the world are subject to.

By highlighting this particular day, AWA aim to draw attention to the scale and true nature of violence against women, most of which is hidden from public view.

Chair of AWA, Sandra Macdonald said:

“Recent figures from Police Scotland show that offences of domestic violence in Aberdeen have increased by 36 per cent and there has been a rise in reported sexual assaults. It is, therefore, vital that we all continue to raise awareness of violence against women and we were delighted that so many people took time out from their Christmas shopping to speak to us about these issues.

“Through the generous donations we received, we raised £189.90 which will support the excellent work that RAS do to inform the public of the nature and extent of sexual violence as well as broadening understanding of how appropriate responses can be developed to prevent it.”

RAS provides support and advocacy to female survivors of sexual violence, whether recent or historical, as well as challenging public attitudes towards rape through outreach work.

Nov 212013

AWA_Stall_2012Aberdeen Women’s Alliance marks International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day

On Saturday 23rd November from 12pm, Aberdeen Women’s Alliance (AWA) will be marking the United Nation’s International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day by collecting donations for local charity, Rape and Abuse Support (RAS) at the top of the East Mall in Union Square.

International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day is marked annually by AWA to raise awareness that women locally and around the world are subject to a number of forms of violence.

By highlighting this particular day, AWA hope to draw attention to the scale and true nature of violence against women, most of which is hidden from public view.

Chair of AWA, Sandra Macdonald says:

“Recent figures from Police Scotland show that offences of domestic violence in Aberdeen have increased by 36 per cent and that there has been a rise in reported sexual assaults. It is vital that we all continue to raise awareness of violence against women.

“We are delighted to support RAS again this year. The funds we raise will go towards helping the excellent work RAS do to educate the public and professional bodies about the nature and extent of sexual violence as well as broadening understanding of how appropriate responses can be developed to prevent it.”

RAS provides support and advocacy to female survivors of sexual violence, whether recent or historical, as well as challenging public attitudes towards rape through outreach work.

AWA look forward to meeting and speaking with individuals on the day. If anyone has any questions or would like further information about the work being carried out by RAS, please email BoD@rasane.org.uk.

Nov 142013

Dave Innes reviews Peterhead – The Inside Story of Scotland’s Toughest Prison, (Black & White Publishing).

Jeffrey Peterhead book cover

Who’d have thought that Scotland’s most notorious prison was founded for altruistic reasons?
This altruism was not connected with any soft notions of prisoner rehabilitation or second chances in the grim 1880s. Rather, it was the Blue Toon’s geographical situation that brought about the establishment of those grim grey blocks.

The dangers to shipping, including whale boats, during unrelenting North Sea winter storms, and the losses incurred, one suspects, of revenue as well as the rather more expendable human life, were well-known.

Calls were made for a Harbour of Refuge to be built on the corner of NE Scotland to which shipping could head for safety when weather asserted its mastery over the flimsy human-built vessels daring to challenge nature.

And how best to provide cheap labour for this large-scale engineering and construction task? First you build a prison, then you put the convicts to work. You can’t make an oubliette without breaking rocks, it seems.

Jeffrey’s narrative describes the back-breaking, morale-destroying toil involved in constructing both prison and harbour, the latter task taking until 1954 to be completed, 66 years after the prison opened, and locked very quickly, its doors for the first time.

The main narrative, however, tells the tales of some of Peterhead’s more famous occupants, career criminals, casually-violent conscience-free gangsters, sex offenders and other dangers to society.

The names of Paddy Meehan, ‘Gentle’ Johnny Ramensky, TC Campbell, Jimmy Boyle and Oscar Slater are legend. Jeffrey looks behind the often lurid and prurient headlines and popular mythology built around the household names among the incarcerated, and punctures some myths whilst upholding others.

Meehan, for example, whilst framed for a murder committed by McGuinness, was a habitual criminal and his pathos-ridden demise following his pardon and release is almost sad, until you remember the misery he caused during his period as an active criminal.

Ramensky, on the other hand, comes in for more sympathetic treatment, the author almost admiring his athleticism, barrack-room lawyer articulacy, efforts to right injustices within the system and resigned acceptance of his fate on every recapture.

Jeffrey describes, using eye-witness details, the series of riots and prisoner rebellions that have marred ‘The Hate Factory’, including the swift SAS action taken to end the riot and release a warder hostage in 1987. It’s scary stuff.

Whilst the grimness and often-squalid conditions within the jail are always in the background and its harsh, inhospitable location a constant reference, there is room for humour, often cruel, but at times ingenious. Jeffrey relishes describing how long-term guests of Her Majesty would relieve the boredom, almost admiring the simple but audacious scams and practical jokes perpetrated by otherwise hard, desperate men.

This may be the biggest human tragedy of all, obvious intelligence and resourcefulness ultimately wasted on lives of crime and long periods of non-productive incarceration. The author, in juxtaposing institutions where rehabilitation and preparation for reintegration to society are the aims, poses questions that are relevant even in the more enlightened UK prison regimes and culture of the 21st century.

Peterhead – The Inside Story of Scotland’s Toughest Prison by Robert Jeffrey
Black & White Publishing
244 pp
ISBN 9 781845 025380


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