Tuesday 23 March 2010

Migrants, fish and swans (cont.)

Here we go again:

This is one of those stories that raises its ugly head rather regularly, and yet rarely seems to be based on verifiable facts.

But there's always an angry fisherman:

Andy Jackson, Secretary of Peterborough Angling Association, blamed immigrants who see taking fish from the river as their right.

He said: 'Many of the waters that we control are being systematically raped and pillaged by migrants'.

Systematically? By Migrants? Must be some cast-iron (ahem) evidence for that?

Well, not really. As always, there's a gap in the evidence:

Head bailiff at the Angling Association Jonathan Means said...'We have found nets and long lines set up but it is hard to find the culprits'.

Ah. 'Hard to find the culprits'? So no migrant, or anyone else, has actually been caught stealing carp or killing swans then?

The Mail does report that five Polish men had been caught fishing illegally in the area. The fishing season ends on 14 March; two were then caught fishing on the 16th, and three on the 17th.

That could be malicious, or it could be newcomers not knowing the rules.

But there seems little to link that and the 'rape and pillage' of the river, although by including it, the Mail clearly wants to make that link.

Moreover, it's particularly noticeable that the version of this story that appeared in the local paper, the Peterborough Today, made no mention of migrants anywhere.

And this really is an old favourite. Here's some other versions of the same urban myths:

And those are just some from the Mail.

There was also The Sun, who used put the headline 'Swan Bake' on its front page on 4 July 2003. It claimed asylum seekers were caught by police barbecuing swans, despite there being no evidence for it. Indeed, the police denied any such thing had taken place.

The Press Complaints Commission allowed the Sun to get away with a mealy-mouthed 'clarification' five months later. Which was on page 41 - a disgrace for a front page lead.

Back to the current version and according to this comment, left by a local journalist, the RSPCA have issued a statement denying parts of this story. I will update this post if and when I get a copy.

UPDATE: I have now seen the statement issued by the RSPCA, thanks to the RSPCA press office and the person who left this comment. Their press officer tells me:

In actuality, the Daily Mail never spoke to the RSPCA and instead lifted the copy from a regional paper (the Peterborough Evening Telegragh) - which in turn had misquoted the [RSPCA's] Animal Welfare Officer.

And from the RSPCA statement:

To date the RSPCA has not received sufficient evidence that any particular person or group of people is responsible for the death of swans in this area.

Our inspectors and animal welfare officers have investigated all allegations, but at this time there is nothing to suggest the deaths are connected or deliberate.

An overhead power cable, other preditors and abandoned litter can all, sadly, be lethal to swans and other wildlife.

But since when does the Mail let the evidence get in the way of demonising immigrants?


  1. Substitute "Freddie Starr" and "Hamster", and these vacuous stories have been running in the Sun for nigh-on 30 years. Key difference: today the intent is not to shock but to seed hatred, rascism and xenophobia. And it works, which would be depressing without blogs like this. Keep digging, this one is an open-and-shut fact fail.

  2. I remember that first Mail story in your list. I covered it at my place, along with the Sun's original version.

    The best thing is that the Sun claimed to have photographic evidence, but the swan in the photos had, quite obviously, not been eaten.

    A witness said, "“It’s vile. You could see where they’d snapped off the wings and plucked them before cooking."

    Trouble was, the picture clearly showed a dead swan with the feathers still attached to the wings.

    If you have an existing urban legend about people behaving in a certain way, it feeds how people think about those people. No evidence that these people are immigrants, but we all know immigrants nick fish out of rivers, innit?

  3. But but but five Polish men were caught fishing without a licence last week! That PROVES that migrants are systematically clubbing swans to death, right?

  4. "'Many of the waters that we control are being systematically raped and pillaged by migrants'."

    I know 'raped and pillaged' is an expression - but really; are migrants now raping fish?


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