Jul 012013

On Friday 7 June 2013 police surrounded an empty flat; its occupier George Copland was far away.  Reports of a gunman in the flat were obviously incorrect.  Early morning Sunday 9 June Copland was arrested at his girlfriend’s flat – police broke in, took him away, held him for c. 13 hours, and trashed the flat which they laid siege to, looking for weapons.  They found a completely legal air rifle, Copland said he’d kept it under lock and key, and rarely had it out – and had not had it out any time recently.  Copland was asked to agree if several items – remote-controlled toys and a feather duster – could be construed as weapons.  Denied his medication and medical attention, he was released.  The police have no plans to apologise or to pay for trashing his flat, although he has committed no criminal offence.  Suzanne Kelly reports on recent developments.

George Copland is no closer to having any form of apology or compensation for his broken goods and trashed flat.

The Sun newspaper took the story up, complete with a photo showing the devastation following the police search.

It can be found here: Scottish Sun Huckle-duster Gaffe

The rationale for his arrest, following the siege on his empty house, just doesn’t stack up.

If he were a dangerous gunman – then why the huge delay from Friday morning to Sunday morning to find and detain him?  Who was the anonymous tipster, how credible were they, did they know George, and precisely what did they see and where did they see it?  Since nothing illegal was found, where was any compensation for Copland?  They were also questions about the timing of events, what was confiscated and why.

The police did not respond until days later, and after the Aberdeen Voice article was published.

Police were sent some 25 relevant, detailed specific questions; they have declined to answer these.  Their spokeswoman was asked for a quote to use for publication; the reply was as follows (comment from Aberdeen Voice in square brackets):-

“Thank you for your email. I have answered as many of your questions as I can [actually, none of the specific questions were answered]…  however you will appreciate there are operational and data protection constraints which limit what we can comment on publically.”

[I wrote with Copland’s consent; he has now asked for these questions to be answered under Freedom of Information legislation]

“You mention an incident with a hostage on 7 June; at no time has Police Scotland stated that information about a hostage was received and it would be entirely incorrect to report it as such. “

[The Evening Express covered the incident on 7 June, in a piece with a quote from the police.  The article, which can be found here http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/Article.aspx/3269715 , refers to hostage negotiators being present – which certainly implied that a hostage situation was anticipated.  There does not seem to be any record of the Evening Express correcting, or being asked to correct their story, which also referred to the tip-off as turning out to be a hoax.]

 “As per information already in the public domain, I can confirm that Police received a call at 11.25am on Friday 7 June and specialist officers were deployed to carry out a containment of the property.

 “I can also confirm that no one has been arrested or charged in connection with wasting police time and that the information provided to police was well intended but subsequently found to be inaccurate.”

[The Evening Express called the call a hoax, and reported “detained a 29-year-old man in connection with wasting police time” and many papers reported similarly.  This comment from the police to Aberdeen Voice seems to be the first such instance of police saying the tipster was ‘well-intentioned.  There is a legal difference between being arrested and detained; and although a separate Evening Express article used the word ‘arrest’ in conjunction with the caller, Aberdeen Voice has since changed the word ‘arrested’ to ‘detained’ in its article.  The real issue is why the police at the time did not correct the issues which appeared in the mainstream media, and why only now are the police saying the caller was well-intentioned]

“Police Scotland has strict procedures in place to deal with information received from members of the public. The information received was acted upon in an appropriate manner in order to ensure public safety.”

[Well, it is rather obvious the strict procedures have failed spectacularly in this case.  This paragraph is merely a sweeping statement which could be used to justify virtually any act – ‘public safety’ seems to have become carte blanche for erosion of civil rights if this case is anything to go by.]

The Voice did write for further clarification, but was told the police are not prepared to issue any further statement or information.

A Coincidence or something more sinister?  Copland stopped by police again

In the very early hours of Wednesday 26 June, Copland was with friends, and they sought to get into a local late-night casino.  Lacking photo identification, Copland and another man were turned away, and decided to go to the second man’s home in central Aberdeen.  Near the entranceway for the parking area, a police car drove up, separated the two men, and proceeded to question them.  The conversation was described by the second man as follows – the second man happening to be Fred Wilkinson of Aberdeen Voice:-

“About 3.35am, as we got to the entrance of the car park, just round the corner from my house, a police car pulled in in front of us, and divided our paths … I attempted to pass the rear of the car while Dod attempted to pass in front. The window was lowered and the police addressed Dod.

“Male driver asked if he/we had had a good night and what had we been up to.

“Dod told him we had been to the casino, but could not get in –  no photo ID, so we left.

“Female, passenger side, said she had seen us at the casino, then asked Dod what he had in the box he was carrying.

“Dod said ‘I have a remote control UFO ‘ and showed her the box (picture of the ufo flying toy on the box)

“Policewoman suggested that it was an unusual thing to be carrying around on a night out.

“Dod said something like “not for me, I like my gadgets and flying toys. What’s the problem with carrying that kind of stuff about? I’m the guy involved in that police siege in Northfield. Do you not think I’ve had enough hassle lately?”

“I added ” I’m the editor of Aberdeen Voice and we’re covering the story. Do you know about it?”

“The police claimed they did not know ( which I find quite incredible as it was an extremely high profile incident ) so I gave each of them an Aberdeen Voice card and told them “read all about it”. The police left us to go on our way.”

Let us hope this stop and question incident is a coincidental one-off.  Otherwise, it would look as if a man who is questioning the police on their unfair treatment of him is being shadowed.


George Copland advised the Voice the police have absolutely no plans to compensate him for his destroyed property, trashed flat and detainment.  The Voice will be looking into this.  Thankfully, while not enshrined in law, it would seem to be the case under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984) that there is a right to apply for compensation:-

“[police should be ]explaining compensation may be payable in appropriate cases for damages caused entering and searching premises, and giving the address to send a compensation application, see Note 6A; (v) stating this Code is available at any police station”

Further evidence suggests the police are normally willing to pay such compensation when a search does not turn up illegal items being searched for under the terms of a warrant.

Copland supplied the name of the officer who told him he would not be receiving any compensation; we were unable to contact her prior to publication, but will continue to try and speak with her.

Watch This Space

As this story stands today, the police seem to have carte blanche to act on the word of an anonymous tipster – which then morphs into a tipster with corroborated witnesses – lay siege to and search any premises they choose, subsequently arresting the renter/owner – even  if they are not at or involved with any siege or illegal activity.  No compensation seems to go to an innocent man who was held for around 13 hours and asked to explain toys and a duster, while going without necessary medication.

The police will be more than welcome to send a written response to this article, but at the time of writing, if you have any neighbours who have a grudge against you, if you have anyone in your area who fabricates sensationalist stories, then don’t’ be surprised if your flat is searched and you are woken by police arresting you.

Let us hope for some real transparency from the police and some real compensation for a wronged party.

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Jun 222012

A campaigner against a controversial deer cull has asked the Health & Safety Executive to investigate Aberdeen City Council over its failure to follow its own risk assessment which identified lethal risks to the public and ‘non-target’ species while the shooting took place. With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Twenty-three roe deer were culled by Aberdeen City Council earlier this year on Tullos Hill in the south of the city.

The City says the cull was necessary for its ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ scheme, which started life largely as a Liberal Democrat election pledge. Protestors and a variety of animal welfare charities disagree.

Aberdeen City later claimed that the cull was prompted by new deer management legislation (a claim again contested by opponents).

The question is:  did the City endanger people during the shooting operations?

The City created a risk register concerning the cull, which warned of risks including ‘fatal injuries from misuse of / damage to firearms’.  The heavily-redacted risk register was obtained by Aberdeen Voice’s  Suzanne Kelly via a Freedom of Information request.

The risk register noted the ‘possibility of fatal injuries from misuse of / damage to firearms’ to ‘members of the public’.  Some of the risks identified were ‘injury from firearm discharge (either via ‘blocked barrel or obstructed view when shooting deer’ and ‘trajectory of bullets beyond target’.

The Risk Register prescribed that ‘Cautionary notices will be placed at all known access points to the sites where deer management is taking place’.

Kelly and other frequent visitors to the hill during the period the cull was taking place saw no such warning signs.  A Freedom of Information Request concerning the use of signs is now overdue.  Kelly explains:

“We only discovered details of the shooting recently, and many protestors and local residents are alarmed that they saw no warning signs when they visited the hill.  Freedom of Information Requests by Animal Concern Advice Line, myself and other cull opponents have resulted in knowledge of what animals were shot and when, but my specific request on the warning signs is now overdue and unanswered.

“People deliberately visited the hill to look out for any evidence a cull was on; none of my contacts encountered signs at any entrances to say there was cull and a lethal risk if they went further.  It certainly seems people may have been on the hill oblivious to the presence of hunters with rifles killing the deer and posing lethal risk. 

“Bullets can travel a considerable distance – a quarter of a mile is not impossible.   The Council must prove that they informed the public as per their own risk register and safeguarded the public’s welfare, but the evidence suggests this was not the case.”

“I wrote an Aberdeen Voice article which asked whether hunters had been firing weapons while people were on the hill without warning signs being up.  Well, someone from the city contacted me to correct a small part of the story (about who was involved in the shooting) – but absolutely no one to date has come forward to say the City posted the required signs. 

“You would think that if the City acted correctly, they would have immediately called me once the story was published to demand a correction and to supply evidence of compliance.  But this is not the case.”

Kelly acknowledges there was one small sign deep within the grounds of the hill concerning ‘forestry operations’ being carried out.   This however cannot have been the appropriate warning the council’s own documents said was required.

As an example of good practice, during a recent deer cull at Bennachie, a very large sign was posted at the entrance point which clearly stated deer were being culled, shooting was going on, and what the dates and even the times were, so people were aware of danger.  This sign at Bennachie clearly warned people not to be in the area during those times.

Would people have willingly gone onto Tullos Hill when marksmen were shooting animals?  Kelly has her doubts.

“If there were warning signs at the entrances to the hill, then I would never taken a further step (I normally use a main signposted entrance as well as other access points).  I would instead have immediately reported far and wide that this controversial cull was in progress, something the City wanted to keep secret, as evidenced by correspondence between it and the SNH. 

“You have to wonder – did the city’s desire for secrecy lead to sacrificing public safety in order to hide its unpopular cull?  Thank goodness there were no injuries from for instance a shot that had missed its target.  But either Aberdeen Council put up signs (which no one saw as far as I know) or it didn’t. 

“If it didn’t, then it is time to investigate why not, find out who is at fault, and examine this unwanted scheme in detail.  I am not alone in wanting to see the project scaled down and any further culls prevented.”

The shooting took place between 12 March and 9 April 2012 with hunting often conducted in the evening hours.

“I would personally have been present on the hill on several occasions when rifles were being used.  I would go very often after work, and while I saw children, families, people on motorbikes and pets, again – I never saw a single warning sign regarding the danger.  It makes me feel extremely angry and a bit ill to think our safety may have been compromised.  I want to get at the truth.”

“I anticipate being asked to address Aberdeen’s new Housing & Environment Committee when it next meets to discuss lessons learnt and to try and prevent next year’s and future planned culls from taking place for the benefit of this ill-advised tree planting scheme.    

On Wednesday, Aberdeen Press & Journal carried an article confirming the number of animals shot, but which quotes Scottish Natural Heritage guidelines, indicating there is no legal requirement for erecting warning signs.

Kelly comments:-

“Whether or not there was a legal requirement for warning signs, the City created a risk register which said there was a lethal risk, and that they would erect signs to warn people.  Not to follow their own procedures will have risked public safety – and the public are not going to take this very well at all. 

“I will continue my research, particularly on the cull details, and the precise legal requirements the Council claim to be sticking to about deer overpopulation.  The City knows the deer migrate and are not trapped on the hill; if there is a law demanding that 23 deer in these circumstances be shot, then it should be questioned. 

“These deer were nearly tame, lived in stable numbers for at least 70 years, and initially were targeted by the city strictly to further its tree-planting scheme, against public wishes.  

“Those responsible for this entire situation should not think the matter is closed by any means.  One last point; it is surprising and disappointing that the Press & Journal seem to have concluded that there was no reason to put up warning signs when gunfire was occurring – it may not have been a legal requirement, but the most basic common sense dictates people should not have been endangered – and looking at the shooting times, it certainly seems this was the case.” 


STOP PRESS: Further information has just come to light since writing this article concerning how the cull was handled; many questions have arisen.  The City will be asked to clarify some apparently contradictory details released in Freedom of Information requests.  A critique of a report written jointly by the City and ‘CJ Piper & Co’ in support of the deer cull is forthcoming, as is a further review of the project’s finances to date. Anyone with concerns as to safety issues or comments about the cull and the tree scheme is urged to contact their city councillors.


May 112012

Suzanne Kelly reports on the serious issues raised by the modus operandi of Aberdeen City Council with regard to the recent deer cull.

It is nearly two weeks since the general public were dismayed to learn that 22 of 29 deer were destroyed to further the ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme which was so vigorously promoted by the Liberal Democrats and a handful of City Officials.
As an indicator of how extremely unscientific this entire project is, it seems that only one deer count was done before the shooting started, and it failed to identify the sex of half of the deer it counted.

The shooting secretly started around 18 February (an early start which needed Scottish Natural Heritage approval), and seems to have continued until the end of the official season. 

It is only now that the general public realise that a gunman was on the hill shooting a rifle:  and that the City took a lethal risk to people’s lives to kill the deer.

This article looks at the risks we didn’t know were being taken with our safety, and recommends the entire matter be made the subject of a city council investigation, possibly with impartial, outside agency involvement.

A document entitled ‘Granite City Forest Deer Management – Risk Assessment’ was obtained some time ago under Freedom of Information legislation.

It can be found at http://suzannekelly.yolasite.com/

This document alarmingly acknowledged that hazards identified included:

  •  “Injury from firearm discharge (either via blocked barrel or obstructed view) when shooting deer;
  •  “Uncontrolled access to firearm(s) and ammunition; and
  •  “Trajectory of bullets beyond target (ie living roe deer) impacting on non target species” (ie anything from small birds and mammals to people).

This document acknowledges that ‘who might be harmed’ included not only those involved in destroying the deer, but also the general public.

Having identified the hazards listed above, the document goes on to answer ‘who might be harmed’ and ‘what harm might result’, although its treatment of the issues is superficial at best.  The harm that might have occurred included ‘Possibility of fatal injuries from misuse of / damage to firearms’.

The main reason no one believed any culling was going on was the complete absence of any notices to that effect being put up.

For some inexplicable reason – which needs to be scrutinised along with so many features of this whole sorry saga – is the absence from the report of many other possibilities, including the obvious risk of non-fatal injuries of many kinds to the general public and ‘other species’.

The control measures sited as risk mitigation are almost laughable – but the real issue is the ‘who might have been harmed’ aspect:  the shooting was going on while people were still on the hill.  This is wholly unacceptable.

You may wonder why I am only highlighting this Risk Assessment document now – the answers are very simple.  For starters, the police were asked on several occasions if they knew of any shooting for the deer cull taking place, and the answer was always no.  Councillors who had asked to be informed of any shooting seem not to have been kept in the loop, either.

But the main reason no one believed any culling was going on was the complete absence of any notices to that effect being put up.  The very first ‘Contingency arrangements required to reduce risk’ item listed in the Risk Assessment is this:

“Cautionary notices will be placed at all known access points to the sites where deer management is taking place.”

No one I spoke with, nor anyone I know who visited the hill regularly (and many went with the specific aim of watching out for culling activities) ever saw a sign or notice to this effect whatsoever.  I was keen to visit as often as possible after dusk, and made many trips (only seeing a deer close up once in a gorse thicket which has now been bulldozed).

The question must be asked – did City officials decide not to erect any signs to keep this unpopular cull secret?  If the answer is yes, then our lives and safety were recklessly risked for propaganda purposes.

We now have to wait to find out what days shooting took place, who posted the notices, how big they were, and where they were posted.  I can promise you that I never saw any, and I have been using four different entrance points, including the main entrance where the Loirston Park sign is.

The City also relied on the expertise of the shooter – but even the best marksmen make errors.  Think of the high-profile American accidental shooting – allegedly by Cabinet Member Dick Cheney of a Mr Whittington.  In the UK, hunting accidents also happen.  Finding reliable statistics is not quite so easy – internet searches for hunting accidents seem to result in the appearance of pro-hunting lobbyists putting up unrelated (and questionable) statistics about damage done by deer.

The Health and Safety Executive seems to lump hunting, forestry and all agricultural accidents into one category – in which there are hundreds of accidents any year.

 These questions need to be answered, and I will be formally calling on authorities to have a comprehensive investigation.

Whatever the numbers are, the presence of a notice of shooting on the hill would have at least let people make an informed judgement as to whether to be on the hill or not.  But just like the consultation on the trees (which deliberately omitted mention of a cull or the cost of the previous failure – or the sheer scale of trees proposed) – someone, somewhere took the information needed for our decision-making out, and hid it.

A sign would not have been much use at dawn or dusk; how could it have been visible? Any sign should have been put up in several languages (Polish and French visitors frequent the hill and a sign in English might have been of no use to such people at all).  But a sign and the requirement for the shooter to be diligent are hardly sufficient mitigation for potential lethal risk.  The shooter is also meant not to hunt ‘…when public, contractors or other ACC operatives are known to be on site’.

This is almost meaningless:  access was not prohibited, the site is massive, and bullets can travel a long, long way.  How could anyone possibly ascertain no people were in the vicinity?

It is one thing to create a Risk Assessment document.  It is quite another for its robustness and completeness to be agreed and for it to be approved.  Who wrote this document?  Who was involved in agreeing it was fit for purpose?  Whose name ultimately went on a document which acknowledged lethal risk?  Were signs used or not?  These questions need to be answered, and I will be formally calling on authorities to have a comprehensive investigation.

A former ghillie I know tells me how very difficult it is to shoot a deer, and in his experience deer were known to be injured severely if not brought down with the first initial shot.  Some wounded deer can completely evade the hunter, and travel great distances before dying in shock and pain of blood loss and internal injury.

Our man from the Aberdeen City Council with a license has been shooting things for over 20 years, according to the risk assessment document; are we to suppose his eyesight has not deteriorated at all in this time period? Statistically if he shot 22 animals, how likely or otherwise is it that each and every animal died instantly where it stood?

  These deer were nearly tame; people who stay in the nearby caravans advise they had fed the deer by hand

Ironically, the deer shooter referred to in the document is also a point of contact between the Scottish SPCA and the city council:  the Scottish SPCA has been opposed to this cull from the idea’s inception.  It is unclear whether the shooter would have been likely to report any bad shots or injured deer he caused to the Scottish SPCA.

The remains of a deer were pointed out to me in an area which had a great deal of tree and plant life – could this deer have not died of natural causes (starvation seemed unlikely amid the sources of food) – but rather could it have been wounded, run away and died of shock, slowly and painfully?  We will have to wait for a FOI request which asked how many shots were fired, and how many animal carcasses were removed.

These deer were nearly tame; people who stay in the nearby caravans advise they had fed the deer by hand and grown food specifically for them.  This makes it even more galling that the Risk Assessment provides for putting the carcasses of these much-loved animals into the food chain.  But that is exactly what happened.  In an almost sarcastic turn, the risk assessment covers the point that the man preparing the animals for food might be at risk of cutting himself on his sharp knives, or sprain a muscle moving the dead animals.

For the record, the level of fatal injury to you or I was calculated to be at the lowest level.

It is likely that Ranger Ian Tallboys, staunch supporter of the cull (although he seems never to have formally proposed a cull before the tree scheme became a political promise) did the shooting and the preparing of the carcasses for meat.  He is about the longest-serving ranger I am aware of, and part of the ‘control measures’ were to have an ‘experienced and competent operative’ perform the shooting.

Tallboy’s current silence on the matter is matched only by his silence over building the football stadium at Loirston in the Special Areas of Conservation area, and the silence of Aileen Malone post election.  Malone was the main proponent of the scheme, often claiming it was ‘cost neutral’ – a claim now completely debunked.

Another person responsible for the whole scheme is Peter Leonard, city council officer, whose original report to the Housing & Environment Committee was the death knell for the deer.  The contents of his report need some urgent investigation; claims of ‘cost neutral’ planting, advice against tree guards, etc. etc. have been shown to be inaccurate if not misleading.

  Only a proper investigation will get to the bottom of the genesis and management of this unwanted, unprofitable, destructive scheme

There are now the correct size tree guards in place – the City initially bought smaller than recommended guards.

Furthermore, the SNH and the City corresponded saying tree guards were unsuitable as they had ‘visual impact’.

What has changed?

Leonard also seems to have had a hand in the disappearance of  Councillor Cooney’s paper on keeping Tullos as a meadowland; Leonard is on record as saying that the meadow would be more expensive than imposing an 89,000 tree forest and killing the deer:  how exactly he reached this conclusion will be interesting to determine; he should be invited to explain how and when his research reached this conclusion, how he reached conclusions in his original report which now seem incorrect, and whether or not he had a hand in Cooney’s paper disappearing from sight.

The actions of some of our officers and unelected city employees seem to have fallen unfailingly into the plans of the Liberal Democrats.

Only a proper investigation will get to the bottom of the genesis and management of this unwanted, unprofitable, destructive scheme, and find out who did / did not overstep the bound of their job, and whether any political (or other) pressure was used to bring us to where we are now.

If you care about the future of Tullos Hill, all of its (remaining) creatures and meadow; if you care about a small minority of persons dictating to thousands who oppose their plans; if you care that tens of thousands of pounds have been spent which could have been better used elsewhere – then please write to your councillors and ask for an inquiry to be held.

The deer are dead – and you and your families were possibly put at risk.  The issues thrown up must be investigated so that there is never a repeat performance.