Nov 192015

Herring Gull2By Anne Foy.

Aberdeen is a city in the grips of a gull crisis.

Seen as a trivial problem by many, for those affected by the issue, the huge number of aggressive gulls besieging the city has fast become a living nightmare.

The council have acknowledged that there is unlikely to be any quick fix to the problem, and the growing population of the lesser black-backed and herring species that are choosing to nest in the roofs of properties within the city, rather than in their traditional cliff tops home, is unlikely to be reduced significantly in the next couple of months.

Could Drones Be The Solution?

In a bid to scare away the gulls, Aberdeen Conservative councillor Ross Thomson has proposed that the council employ the use of drones. Thomson surveyed 400 local residents who are currently being affected by the gull problem, and found that  50% want to take further action to reduce the number of gulls, while 55% approve of fitting deterrents, which lead him to make the controversial proposal.

In a statement about the issue, Thomson said:

“Looking at any kind of new technology which can be more efficient, reduce costs, or even do the job better, is something which has to be seriously considered…I know that other local authorities such as Carlisle have piloted that, and I think our officers should be paying very close attention to how successful they have been.”

Both businesses and individuals are being affected negatively by the birds constant presence, with customers reluctant to visit shops in the affected areas and local residents reluctant to leave their homes when the gulls presence is at its highest: the financial ramifications of this are wide reaching, including businesses facing loss of business, increased insurance premiums, and the overall quality of life of everyone involved being drastically affected.

There are certainly negative health effects of the huge number of gulls currently besieging our city: Gulls often carry a wide number of diseases that can be seriously dangerous to humans, such as salmonella and tuberculosis.

The birds and their nests can often be home other creatures such as ticks, fleas and mites. These can all cause problems in both households and businesses, and can lead to additional health problems.

What You Can Do.

The main advice offered by the council for those who are being affected by nuisance gulls is to ensure you discourage their presence as much as possible: don’t feed the gulls or leave food out in your gardens for other wildlife, as any food is likely to attract the gulls. If you own the property that you reside in then you can erect deterrent devices on your property, such as spikes on chimneys and roofs to prevent the birds from nesting.

If you are renting in your current home then why not talk to your landlord about fitting these devices? After all, as well as causing a nuisance to you, the gulls may well cause damage to your landlord’s property too: large birds such as gulls can cause damage to property by disturbing the roof tiles, and by blocking gutters, gas flues, and chimneys.

You could also seek the support of a professional and expert company who can help to remove any eggs in nests on your property, in order to ensure that more gulls aren’t born and the problem doesn’t continue to perpetuate.

It could well take several years for the problem gulls in our city to be fully removed and for the problem to be tackled successfully. This is likely to be incredibly frustrating for those local residents and local businesses who are being affected by the issue on a daily basis. However there are proactive things that you can do to help minimise the effects of the problem in your own home and business, and by working together, we can see an Aberdeen that is no longer blighted by these pesky birds.


“Could drones be used to scare off Aberdeen nuisance gulls?”,  The Press and Journal,

“Aberdeen FC tells fans of challenge tackling gulls”, BBC News,

“Life insurance”,

“New advice on gulls issued to residents and business in Aberdeen”, Aberdeen City Council,

“Angry birds target Pittodrie: Aberdeen go to war with the seagulls attacking their fans”, Daily Record and Sunday Mail,

“Living with urban gulls: A survivors guide”, Aberdeen City Council,

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May 302014

2014 is the 50th anniversary of the terrifying outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen City

In part two of his article Duncan Harley looks at some of the issues surrounding the episode in which the people of the beleaguered city of Aberdeen literally ate the evidence while officials from MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) seemingly connived to sell the remaining stocks of corned beef abroad.

milne report typhoid aberdeenInitially the press were largely unaware of the 1964 Aberdeen typhoid outbreak but as the numbers of hospital admissions grew it became obvious that an epidemic was in progress.

Headlines proclaimed a ‘City under siege’ and the situation was not helped by the proclamation of the then Medical Officer of Health, Dr MacQueen: 

“We’re not a leper colony! End this hysteria”. 

His subsequent advice to both Aberdonians and holidaymakers alike to avoid swimming or paddling in the sea led to a local paper headlining on ‘Beach Bombshell’ and pretty effectively killed off any short term prospect of the return of the lucrative ‘Glasgow holiday trade’ to the beach seafront area.

Described by a colleague as ‘a bulldog with the hide of a rhinoceros’ Dr MacQueen’s strategy of innovative traditionalism has been seen by some as an attempt to protect and extend his department’s services.

He was judged by some to have made excessive use of the media and to have turned the outbreak into an event approaching a national crisis. Indeed the Milne Report into the handling and course of the epidemic commented that:

“we consider that the methods used by the Medical Officer of Health” were

“not wholly justified.”

By the end of May 1964 the MOH was advising the national press that Aberdeen was now ‘a beleaguered city’ and suggesting that Aberdonians should not venture outside the city boundaries. Outsiders should ‘stay away’ he said.

Public baths, youth clubs and sports clubs closed down for the duration and even the Police Pipe Band, who would later be on hand to play for the Typhoid Queen had to cancel an appearance in Renfrew.

Even the normally sedate Sunday Times newspaper got in on the act with an exclusive which claimed that the Granite City’s image as a clean modern city was erroneous. Seemingly Aberdeen was in reality a city suffering chronic housing problems and poor sanitation. Such histrionic rubbish only served to deepen the crisis.

The news of the epidemic was reported around the globe with one Spanish periodical reporting that the streets of Aberdeen were littered with unburied rotting corpses waiting to be thrown into the sea.

Although the tourist trade was first to suffer with hotels being particularly hard hit there were significant effects felt all over the North East. Caravan sites and hotels began refusing bookings from Aberdonians, butchery and fresh produce firms saw their customers sourcing goods elsewhere rather than risk buying from a city under siege.

Typhoid Queen p and J headlineThe Elgin based wholesale fruit firm Reeve Ltd found it necessary to announce that none of their merchandise was coming from Aberdeen and a grocer in Forres told customers that it had cancelled all supplies from the city and now only sourced from firms in the South of Scotland

Alexander’s Bus Company reported a marked decrease in ticket sales with some services running virtually empty and at one stage panic ensued when a local Aberdeen butcher’s Thistle Street shop was wrongly identified as being the source of the outbreak.

Paranoia reached a peak when the catch of an Aberdeen fishing boat was seized after the skipper became ill with suspected typhoid. The matter was discussed at the daily crisis meeting in the council offices.

After some deliberation, during which it was pointed out that ‘unless the crew are in the habit of defecating in the hold, there is no scientific reason to suppose that the fish pose a health risk’, the catch was duly released for sale and public consumption.

For patients and relatives the experience was more serious however.

Placed in isolation wards and uncertain as to when or even if they would be allowed home, patients had to endure weeks of treatment separated from friends and family. Stories of visitors communicating with relatives through locked glass windows are common and as one Old Meldrum man recalls:

“I couldn’t understand why my father and mother weren’t allowed at my bedside, later when I was allowed up we would talk at the ward window, which was of course closed. This went on in my case for about 5 weeks. Luckily I have not had any long lasting effects from the illness but it must have been really hard for the younger children.”

Many others have similar stories.

Compared to the human cost of the Lanarkshire E. coli outbreak – twenty one deaths, Aberdeen’s typhoid epidemic’s total of three deaths pales into insignificance, however the after effects rumbled on for years.

government stockpiles of corned beef at the time contained further quantities of infected Rosario cans

Businesses in some cases never recovered and jobs were lost.

Tourism never really returned to previous heights and the local economy suffered until North Sea Oil finally came to the rescue.

In the wake of the outbreak there were enquiries at both local and national level, the Milne Enquiry being perhaps the most influential. In summary the Milne Report squarely places the source of the infection on infected corn beef imported from the Rosario factory in the Argentine and further stated that there was no evidence that the infected meat had come from government stockpiles.

The fact that the UK government stockpiles of corned beef at the time contained further quantities of infected Rosario cans was seemingly not an issue for Milne and his report concluded that:

“where canned meats are produced under satisfactory hygienic conditions – they will be free from any health hazard.”

It took almost 10 years for the existing emergency corned beef stocks in UK government run warehouses to be disposed of. The main method of disposal was the exporting the now suspect food to other markets abroad with a proviso that the meat should be re-processed.

Not only had the citizens of Aberdeen eaten the evidence from the initial source of the outbreak but over the years subsequent to the Milne Committee’s deliberation, the unsuspecting citizens of many other countries consumed the evidence which remained.

As a postscript, Michael Noble MP then Secretary of State for Scotland announced in September 1964 that in the light of the Aberdeen Typhoid Epidemic he would ensure that ‘additional funding’ would be made available to any local authority in Scotland ‘wishing to provide hand washing facilities within public conveniences’.  He urged that councils should take up this generous offer before the end of the financial year.

Aberdonians were of course by this time already in the habit of washing their hands at every available opportunity despite the comment by Buff Hardie and his mates that:

“we never washed wir hands unless we did the lavvie first.”

© Duncan Harley 2014

All rights reserved

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May 232014

2014 is the 50th anniversary of the terrifying outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen. In part one of a two part article Duncan Harley looks at some of the issues surrounding the episode.

Corned Beef duncan harley typhoid Headlines such as “Typhoid in Bully Tin” would put many Aberdonians and indeed consumers all around the globe off eating the product, some even to the present day.
The series of events which led to the Aberdeen Typhoid Epidemic was however global in nature and involved significant governmental failure.

Amid cheers from assembled friends and curious onlookers and with a rousing tune from the Aberdeen Police Pipe Band, a tired but relieved young woman emerged from isolation in Aberdeen’s Tor-Na-Dee Hospital clutching a bouquet and wearing a brightly coloured sash which proclaimed her the “Typhoid Queen 1964”.

The date was Friday 19th June 1964 and following a thirty day ordeal, twenty three year old assistant librarian Evelyn Gauld had become the first of over five hundred patients being treated for Typhoid to be discharged from the Granite City’s hospitals following what is still remembered worldwide as the Aberdeen Typhoid Epidemic.

This dubious title “Typhoid Queen” was a gift to the press and headlines right across the globe proclaimed her “The symbol of the city”.

After more than four weeks of headlines dedicated to the plight of the beleaguered citizens of Aberdeen an end to the epidemic was in sight and a Royal visit by HRH Queen Elizabeth, nine days later, seemed to confirm that the city which had been described as a leper colony was now safe enough for royalty to travel through, albeit in a sealed limousine.

The Aberdeen typhoid outbreak began quietly on May 16th 1964 when two university students were admitted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary with a diagnosis of pyrexia of unknown origin.

They had been fevered for several days and on May 20th bacteriological results confirmed a diagnosis of typhoid fever by which time the two patients had been transferred to the City Hospital which was the fever and isolation unit at the time of the outbreak.

Further cases quickly emerged and by the end of May there were 238 suspected cases being treated at various hospitals throughout the city.

By the end of the epidemic a total of 540 cases had been admitted with suspected typhoid with 507 being confirmed as having the disease including 86 children under the age of twelve.

There were three deaths plus an additional eight linked cases treated elsewhere including one in Canada.

Indeed so called “typhoid contact” was a feature of the outbreak and statistics compiled by Dr William Walker shortly after the outbreak indicate that the 507 confirmed cases derived from a mere 309 city households out of a total of around 58,000 households in Aberdeen City.

Public Service Poster Typhoid AberdeenBy June 17th the epidemic was deemed officially over and although many patients would continue to be treated after this date, the number of fresh hospital admissions had dwindled to single figures with no new cases being diagnosed after July 31st.

There have been several such public health epidemics since 1964 with the 1996 Lanarkshire E. coli O157 food poisoning outbreak ranking as being amongst the most devastating.

A total of twenty-one people died in the Lanarkshire E. coli outbreak after eating contaminated meat supplied by a butcher’s shop in Wishaw, Lanarkshire.

In 1998, Sheriff Principal Graham Cox concluded after a two-month inquiry that the shopkeeper, John Barr, had been ignorant of food hygiene procedures and had also deceived food inspectors.

Despite subsequent denials, the William Low supermarket in Aberdeen, which was identified as being the most likely initial source of the typhoid epidemic, also suffered from poor hygiene procedures resulting in contamination of hands, utensils and surfaces and leading to contaminated products being sold for consumption by the public.

In this instance it was proven that a 6 pound can of Argentinian corned beef had been the infective source and that not only had the meat been subject to poor hygiene procedures, but it had also been stored in an un-refrigerated shop window in summer heat leading to an marked increase in the rate of bacterial growth.

Although many associate corned beef with corn, it is in fact a salt cured product treated with “corns” of salt. Used in many cultures as a means of preserving meat it has been variously called Salt Beef, Bully Beef or in India and Bangladesh as Hunter Beef.

A staple for troops at war due to its non-perishable nature, it has been produced on an industrial scale for over 200 years. Although consumption decreased markedly in the period after the Second World War there is still significant global demand for the product, much of which is manufactured in South America.

In the early 1960’s, the UK imported around 200,000 tons of beef from Argentina annually, amounting to around 14% of the nations requirements with a significant proportion being canned corned beef intended both for current consumption and for governmental stockpiling in case of nuclear war.

By 1963 typhoid, an illness caused in the main by poor food hygiene resulting in humans ingesting the bacteria through eating or drinking,  had all but been eradicated in the UK. Public health education combined with improvements to public utilities such as chlorination of water and treatment of sewage had borne fruit.

There had been outbreaks such as that at Croydon in 1937, where after investigation it was found that a sewage worker who was a carrier of typhoid had been allowed to work on the water supply during a period when the water purification plant was out of action. The resulting outbreak affected 344 of which 43 died.

Aberdeen was no stranger to the disease either. An outbreak in the city’s Woodside killed 6 of 35 cases in 1935 with the source being identified as a local shop selling cooked meats.

However the notion that Argentinian corned beef might be a source of the disease seemed to break new ground. Unless that is one takes into account the Harlow typhoid outbreak of June 1963. After extensive testing of public water and sewage supplies proved negative the source was suspected to be a local butchers shop selling imported corned beef.

government officials concerned with overseas trade were apparently not keen to publicly blame the Argentinian factories

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Food (MAFF) began to look at the source of the canned beef and attention soon spotlighted issues to do with the cooling of the cans during manufacture.

Seemingly the possibility of the bacteria surviving the high temperatures used during production was almost zero.

However, since the Argentine factories concerned with the production of British imported corned beef routinely used untreated river water in the cooling process suspicion soon focused on the possibility of contaminated water entering through burst can seams and causing bacterial contamination of the contents.

Following a further outbreak of typhoid at South Shields in June 1963, Enoch Powel Minister of Health was asked in parliament “how many of the recent outbreaks of typhoid fever had been traced to Argentine corned beef and what steps had been taken to warn the public”,  the Ministers reply was simply “None.”

Seemingly politics had intervened and public health had become secondary. The government officials concerned with overseas trade were apparently not keen to publicly blame the Argentinian factories until a diplomatic solution to the issue of untreated river water infected with raw sewage could be found.

There was no immediate action apart from a recommendation that a mere two MAFF meat inspectors should visit a total of sixteen meat producing countries including the Argentine over the following few months.

The government were quite clearly not prepared to risk upsetting a trading partner and worse still, stocks of potentially infected corned beef stored in UK warehouses would continue to be released into the UK food chain despite the possible risk to public health.

A further outbreak took place at Bedford in the October of 1963 but still officials stalled regarding measures which might have prevented further outbreaks.

The Argentine factory identified as the probable source of the infected cans had agreed to introduce chlorination of cooling water by early January 1963 but MAFF held stocks of almost 2.5 million cases of suspect corned beef produced there dating back to 1953.

Eventually, much of the suspect stock would be shipped abroad for consumption elsewhere with a recommendation that it should be re-processed. This process of disposal would take several years to complete.

The effects of the political indifference to the spectre of further typhoid outbreaks were to have far reaching consequences for the city of Aberdeen and indeed the entire North East of Scotland.

Scotland the What parodied the episode in humorous terms:

“I can mind the typhoid epidemic at its worst, we never washed wir hands unless we did the lavvie first”

For many in the North East however it was no joke.

(To be continued)

© Duncan Harley 2014 All rights reserved

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Mar 202014

dog-crap-755297-mSqrLatin Quarter is ‘moved’ to comment on the following piece which appeared in Thursday’s Evening Express.

‘North-East community leaders want to see all dogs’ DNA recorded on file, in a bid to crack down on pets fouling in public places.
‘Newtonhill, Muchalls and Cammachmore Community Council said storing the pets’ DNA would allow “faeces to be analysed” and the owners who don’t clean up after their pets to be identified, without having to catch them in the act.

‘The community council has also suggested banning dogs, except guide dogs, from play parks, sports pitches and school grounds.

‘The proposals come in response to The Scottish Government’s consultation, Promoting Responsible Dog Ownership in Scotland.

‘An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said: “Officers routinely carry out enforcement patrols in Aberdeenshire, and any person found committing an offence is issued with a fixed penalty notice.”’

Yes folks, somebody is so upset by dog crap they want a whole new Police Dept formed to deal with the tidal wave of filth – Dogshit Forensics.

I see this as an opportunity – I reckon we can knock up a script for a new police procedural TV show pilot and have it off to HBO by the weekend. What do you say?

Title: ‘Dogshit Squad’ or ‘Faecal Forensics – LA’ 

Starring: Hugh Laurie as Lt. Bedlington, David Caruso as Chief Doberman, Len Leung as Lt Akita, Marisa Tomei as Princess Bedlington and featuring Steve Buscemi as Towser the Mongrel

Premise: He’s a maverick dogshit forensic detective with a drink problem, caused by the time he missed a mutant strain of Weils Disease spores and his own child died. Now, another outbreak threatens every single person in LA who spends a lot of time randomly handling dogshit, and so he finds himself in a race against time to stop the stray rogue mongrel responsible with a fixed penalty notice.

As the most intuitive detective on the squad, due to his habit of working without gloves, he knows he has to get inside the head of his adversary. However, what he doesn’t realize is that the evil canine responsible has already targeted his estranged ex-wife and has taken to dragging its festering brown starfish along her front porch…

Sample dialogue:

“Dammit Chief, you can’t just waltz in here and dip your toe into this”

“Don’t turn your nose up, Princess – you can’t just expect me to leave a case like this at work”

“Something smells wrong, Akita – that’s human and I think I can prove it”

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