The deaths of the Aberystwyth lynxes: a reappraisal and an apology

Sometimes Barristerblogger rushes to post a blog, often over the weekend, and often about a subject which he only half understands. Sometimes it hits the right target, sometimes it misses spectacularly. That’s the risk with a blog. Generally speaking I will leave the post up unaltered, leaving it to the commenters to eviscerate it if necessary. Just occasionally I am left with serious regrets that a well-intentioned post may have serious consequences for innocent people, and that is the case with my last post, which I could not resist titling The legalised lynching of Lillith the lynx.

When it was first posted I was quite happy with it, the only immediate regret being that I couldn’t somehow work a Welsh word beginning with “ll” into the title.

Based on newspaper reports – it is very rare that this blog has a scoop of its own – it seemed that a harmless lynx had been mown down by a bunch of blood-thirsty, trigger happy riflemen urged on by unimaginative Aberystwyth bureaucrats with nothing better to do than plan a gratuitous felicide. Since I rather like the idea of the Welsh mountains (and English & Scottish forests too) being once again occupied by lynxes, and have an instinctive dislike of gun-toting macho-men, this seemed an apt topic for a blog. Admittedly the legal angle was not very interesting, but there was just about enough law involved to justify a post on a broadly legal blog.

So the piece was dashed off, mocking the “Cambrian Rambos” who shot the lynx, and, I rather hoped, dripping with sarcasm over their leader, Andrew Venables who, it was reported in the Guardian – generally as reliable a newspaper as any other – saying that “the possibility of a darting operation was never explored.” Either these people were desperate to shoot a big cat rather than recapture it, or they were simply too cowardly or too clumsy to creep up close enough to shoot it with a tranquillising dart.

As for Lillith’s owners, Mr and Mrs Tweedy, they seemed to be the wronged party. They had taken over a failing zoo and were doing their best to raise its standards. Unfortunately Lillith had escaped – anyone with a cat will know how tricksy these animals can be – and they would have been able to recapture it if only the council had given them enough time.

Shortly after pressing the “Publish” button one or two doubts began to creep into this narrative. First, it turned out that the zoo had somehow managed to accidentally strangle a second lynx, Nilly. According to its Facebook post, reported in Wales Online:

“Over the past few weeks our staff have been under incredible pressure and when the authorities gave us 24-hour notice that they would be carrying out a full cat inspection we took the decision to move Nilly to a more suitable enclosure.

Unfortunately, there seems to have been a terrible handling error where it seems she twisted in the catch-pole and became asphyxiated.”

One dead lynx might be put down to bad luck, but surely a well-run zoo should not lose two lynxes in the space of a week? At the very least it raises a question mark over the competence of the staff employed by the Tweedies.

Secondly, I received a very polite, entirely unthreatening but very compelling email from Mrs Venables, the wife of the “Cambrian Rambo” who had himself shot the lynx. It turns out that most of my assumptions about Mr Venables were wrong.

First of all, and most importantly, he says that he did not use the words attributed to him by the Guardian. Contrary to the impression given by the words “the possibility of a darting operation was never explored,” this possibility was explored in great detail.

Mr Venables himself is not licensed to use dart guns, which, because they use compressed gas, are restricted under S.5 (1) (af) of the Firearms Act 1968. Indeed, mere possession of such a gun without lawful authority attracts a mandatory 5 year minimum sentence. A licensed darter was consulted, as was a senior zoo vet. It turns out that darting a lynx is far from straightforward, and getting within the 10 – 15M distance necessary for the dart to do its job is only the first (albeit considerable) problem. A lynx hit with a dart does not immediately keel over. The tranquillising drugs take about 15 minutes to work. In that time the animal, startled by the pain of the dart, is likely to run. I can quite see that a frightened lynx might cover a considerable distance in 15 minutes, and that it could be very easy for it to vanish into the Aberystwyth nacht und nebel. There is a further twist: if the animal is not found immediately, there is a high risk that it will die from over-heating due to the drugs involved. Perhaps that was a risk worth taking, perhaps it wasn’t. What was certainly not true was the impression given by my blog that Mr Venables hadn’t thought about tranquillising the lynx. He had done so very carefully.

And I was completely wrong to mock Mr Venables’s professionalism. He is not – as I confess I had imagined him – some red-necked hill-billy renting out a shooting range for social misfits who want to pretend to be soldiers for a few hours. “It cannot be often,” I wrote, “that these Cambrian Rambos are called upon to do anything important.” On the contrary, he is a highly responsible professional, and Mrs Venables email set out a list of the things he does, which I might as well simply repeat here:

1.      Trains many of the UK’s zoos and wildlife parks which own Section 1 Mammals (dangerous ones) in the safe use of firearms in order that the zoos can to manage any escape under the requirements of the Zoo Licensing Act. So next time a dangerous animal gets out and is shot by a zookeeper before it can kill 5-year-old Danny from Deptford that will be thanks to Andrew and other trainers like him.

2.      Annually trains a UK Government department in safe and humane firearms use for the management of invasive species here in the UK, such as the ruddy duck, and on UK overseas territories such as Montserrat. The rating given to Andrew by this department for the work he did for them was 9.95 out of 10.

3.      Provided maritime firearms security training to professional guards operating on British ships passing through the High Risk Area, as instigated by the British Government under David Cameron.

4.      Provides firearms training to UK Police Forces (some 25 constabularies over the past years) in the safe and humane despatch of large mammals such as cows, horses, deer etc that may cause a risk to the public for example by straying onto a motorway.

5.      Provides training for deer stalking and deer management in the UK and for hunting to ensure his clients can make safe, humane shots.

6.      Speaks at conferences and events on the importance of training in the use of firearms as requested by the likes of the British Deer Society, the Deer Initiative, the British Association for Shooting & Conservation and the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).

7.      Advises as an expert witness in firearms related criminal investigations.

8.      Provides a range rifle shooting experience days for numerous members
of the public. Not important at all really other than ensuring we earn some money to pay our bills.

Mrs Venables went on to tell me, again very politely and calmly that since her husband’s name had been made public their contact details have been circulated on the internet, they have been made aware of threats to kill and maim them, and they have had to install police alarms in their house.

I daresay the Tweedies have also had to put up with the same sort of thing and if so that too is utterly disgraceful: whether or not they are the right people to run a zoo is for others to establish; but there is no reason to think that they are not decent, caring and animal loving people. Their dream of revitalising a somewhat run-down zoo and animal sanctuary has turned into a nightmare.

I can quite understand how an ill-informed, inaccurate and – from my comfortable perspective – relatively light hearted blog about a sad story can appear as extremely tasteless (to put it mildly) when you are the potential targets of animal rights fanatics, and for that reason I am pleased to correct the record.


Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

38 thoughts on “The deaths of the Aberystwyth lynxes: a reappraisal and an apology”

  1. We are all capable of rushing to premature judgements, especially on emotive issues. It’s pleasing to read that you have been able to (as far as you can) put matters right Matthew.

    1. We are all capable of a lot of things.

      And many of us do them.

      But what does it say of a society when even its legal professionals are incapable of detached, rational analysis and rush to premature judgements, especially on emotive issues?

      Perhaps we should replace them with the families and friends of victims, plus unrelated but equally traumatised/offended members of the public, acting as police, prosecutors, defence, judge and jury, on everything from paedo child murders to hate “crime” cases and uncorroborated inappropriate word and touch allegations.

      And surely we need to apply the same standards to deceased DJs and sacked assembly member suicides.

      Why should they be allowed to escape mob justice just because they’re dead!

      1. “But what does it say of a society when even its legal professionals are incapable of detached, rational analysis and rush to premature judgements, especially on emotive issues?”

        It says that even legal professionals are fallible human beings that sometimes make mistakes. What matters in such instances is not so much the rush to judgement itself, but recognising it and when necessary apologising, as Matthew has done here.

        As for the rest of your reply, it seems contradictory and makes little sense (to me).

        1. Clearly even the part of my post you commented on made little sense to you as you seemed to struggle to understand I was commenting on society (a Stalinist society which drives men to suicide, as though enough of them don’t commit suicide as it is, without even revealing the case against them, never mind rushes to judgement and never apologising), not the author of this blog.

          1. Your were commenting on society *and* legal professionals. If you think we live in a Stalinist society then I can’t argue against that level of bollocks, so you win.

          2. So, perhaps you disagree that, in a non-Stalinist society, at the very least, its legal professionals should be capable of detached, rational analysis and not rush to premature judgements, especially on emotive issues?

            Perhaps you think that, in a non-Stalinist society, legal professionals, politicians, and journalists, rushing to premature judgements, especially on emotive issues, even where it leads to deaths, is acceptable, even pleasing, as long as the real guilty parties have been able to (as far as they can) put matters right, with a correction and apology (although that, strangely, never seems to be enough from the innocent, never mind the unconvicted).

            Clearly you are equally expert on creating a Stalinist society and in not being able to argue against that level of bollocks.

            Especially as you seem to believe that making unsubstantiated and uncorroborated historic allegations against people without even revealing the case against them, driving them to suicide, isn’t in any way Stalinist!

            Or, at least, as long as you apologise to the widow and orphans!!!

          3. As someone who posted on this thread a few days ago, politely I hope, this strikes me as a bit deranged. I await replies with interest.

          4. Any particular reason you had to post such a passive aggressive microaggressive reply?

            What exactly are you trying to insinuate by “replying”: “As someone who posted on this thread a few days ago, politely I hope,”?

            Why do you consider “this strikes me as a bit deranged” a necessary or acceptable reply?

            And when you posted.”I await replies with interest” what exactly are you hoping for in the context of the rest of your post?

            How about sharing your views on elected politicians joining in witch-hunts, accepting accusations as facts, sentencing the accused without trial, refusing to reveal the specific charges or any of the evidence against the anonymously accused, and driving their allegedly politically incorrect former colleagues to suicide?

            How about people merely being driven out of their jobs for an apologised for minor physical a-sexual contact (between friends!), a couple of allegations of inappropriate words by political rivals and a claim that, in a busy restaurant, in broad daylight, they attempted to lunge at an enemy.

            Though I’m not sure whether the lunge was across a bench seat or across the dining table.

            Perhaps he was actually attempting the luge in a crowded restaurant, which I would imagine would be quite dangerous to diners in the vicinity, and you can now get sacked on the strength of a misprint?

            And what are your thoughts on the Police going back on the beat, in their size 14 stilettos, and painted nails, questioning people for questioning if a gay male couple can provide the best environment for a young adopted girl, and arresting people for revving the temperamental engine of an old sports car “in a racist manner”?!

            I”ll make it easy for you, instead of going to all the bother of writing a reasoned response, just pick a number:

            1) Everybody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

            2) Kafka wouldn’t have made it up, it sounds like Utopia.

            3) Nothing like that ever happened in Stalin’s People’s justice system, and stop banging on about Political Correctness: driving people to suicide is just old fashioned good manners, and if the wall hadn’t come down I’d be first in the queue to emigrate to the USSR.

            I await your reply with interest.

  2. The Guardian: “generally as reliable a newspaper as any other”.
    Faint praise indeed! And even more so given the following:
    “First of all, and most importantly, he says that he did not use the words attributed to him by the Guardian.”

    I wonder if The Guardian will make such an honourable rectification as we have here.
    That there were those out there issuing “threats to kill and maim” is depressingly unsurprising, though depressing nonetheless. I wish the Venables all the best in putting this behind them.

  3. “the Guardian – generally as reliable a newspaper as any other”: I’m trying to decide whether this is a lovely, dry joke, or just your confirmation that your prejudices and the Guardian’s are well aligned.

    One thing I do wonder about: are your views on gun users mere prejudice, or have you in fact met many who are “a bunch of blood-thirsty, trigger happy riflemen … [I] have an instinctive dislike of gun-toting macho-men … too cowardly or too clumsy … some red-necked hill-billy renting out a shooting range for social misfits who want to pretend to be soldiers for a few hours.”?

      1. Legally impossible as stale pale males have no protection in law, especially if they’re gun toting ones, legally that is.

        Don’t you read the Guardian?!

    1. Interestingly, until a little over a century ago, there were absolutely no controls on firearms in the UK, ownership was widespread, and gun murders almost unheard of.

      Bit like Switzerland before the “liberals” started interfering then.

      Even more interestingly, if you ignore the Yemen, whose statistics are unreliable, Switzerland comes second in the gun ownership per capita league table, but near the bottom of the gun homicide rate one.

      Israel and Serbia come next in the ownership rankings but are three-quarters of the way down the gun murder table.

      And even the US comes below half way down the gun murder per capita rankings!

      In fact the US isn’t even anywhere near the top of the gun deaths league table despite having so many gun suicides and the small matter of so many black lives taken by cops (interestingly pro rata not that many more than whites, despite blacks being involved in vastly more violent crime than whites per capita).

      Of course, despite the fact you can actually find all that information on the Guardian’s website, not many Guardian readers know that.

      Because what we are usually served up as gun murder league tables are actually gun deaths in a cherrypicked list of WASP countries.

      How very waycist!

      Although when caught out the peddlers of lies, dammed lies and statistics will argue that poor people (including in the US) can’t be expected to refrain from shooting each other, unlike the liberal elite.

      Or even the white patriarchy!

  4. It takes guts to correct yourself and I’m glad the Mrs Venables is one of the rare people these days who can still communicate calmly and reasonable electronically.

    1. Completely agree. It’s so good to see people being polite and restrained with each other. Not often the case, sadly. Well done, Matthew, and good on you Mrs Venables.

  5. Afraid I still don’t understand just how much danger the lynx would have been if they’d left it to it. It’s hardly a human eater. And there’s badgers out there.

  6. Your blogs are always informative and enlightening to a layman like me and I thank you for them. The Cliff Richard one was necessary. This one leaves me a bit uneasy though. Hopefully you privately apologised (i.e. said “I’m sorry”) to the Venables for the damage to their reputation and the death threats etc – “setting the record straight” is good but it really isn’t the same thing as saying sorry. The Tweedies are left hanging in the wind a bit: “whether or not they are the right people to run a zoo is for others to establish”. I don’t know if they are or not, but hopefully they’re not being threatened too.

    1. I would like to clarify that Mr Scott has indeed apologised for any distress his original blog caused to us. I would also like to clarify that the blog did not, as far as I am aware, lead to any abuse: I imagine its readers are somewhat more intelligent and reasonable than many commentators on the issue. That Matthew was not only willing to listen to me, but also to apologise, correct the original blog and then write another one has shown him to be fair and open-minded. We thank him sincerely.

  7. You are a very clever man, and you love using words for fun and entertainment, which is why we all are here. I think your retraction is very decorous and entirely correct: please continue to enjoy posting and poking the establishment, but also choose your targets more wisely in future: let’s go for the fat cats, not the lean lynxes, of this world.

  8. Ah! The Accusative Moral Imperative, rears its ugly head again and Matthew is caught on his own petard. There is a direct relationship between observer’s misconclusions about the Venables, the Tweedies and the perfunctory nature of the constant feigned outrage of the British Media.

    For Lynx read Child. Hypersensitive moral reaction over harm to animals has a clear parallel with the violent response to often untrue and inaccurate cases which involve false accusations of child-abuse. Witness the similar threats to kill and maim. People are too easily hyper-sensitised and polarised. It is so easy for humans to pass judgement providing they feel confident in the justification of their own prejudices and can hide the repercussions of their judgement within a group framework. The more they feel in the right the more virulent and unthinking their response.

    Self righteousness is not new and it universally drives many of our laws and institutions. It is the basis of all political correctness.
    Someone reportedly said:
    ‘He who is without sin, let them him throw the first stone.’
    That is excellent advice but unfortunately our society and the media which controls it indoctrinates the population to rapidly find someone to blame when we should be seeking instead to understand. We all fall into the trap from time to time, I’ve done it to others myself and I’ve had prejudice aimed at me by ignorant folk more times than I can count. It is the rush to judgment which often creates these situations and that is often entirely caused by media coverage pressing people who are in Venables’ position to take instant action to pacify the press-pack to avoid being falsely ‘blamed’. Quick decisions are often wrong decisions and can have catastrophic results like this:

    “In the middle of the Waco siege (April 1993) Chris Bray, the founder of the SAFF, was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph. He told the DT that the Davidians were not Satanic Abusers. They were a Christian sect, not an esoteric cult; their CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALIST credentials were clear, their belief in the Zionist Occupational Government myth and Armageddon were CLEAR. The investigation had been started by the authorities originally because of fears of SATANIC CHILD ABUSE in the compound. Fundamentalist groups who had stirred the scare in the U.S.A. were involved in ADVISING the government. Chris Bray told the Daily Telegraph reporter that these dangers existed and that because of the hysteria the authorities were making all the wrong conclusions. The best way would quite simply be to pack up and leave the Davidians alone, but he feared that the ignorance of the authorities would provoke a showdown in which many people would be unnecessarily killed because the Davidian members would see it as a tribulation sign of the beginning of the 2nd coming and sacrifice themselves for their god. Some of this was printed in the Telegraph, not as a plea for calm, but, apparently, as an indication of how ‘reactionary’ ad off-the-wall the SAFF was! Within a week dozens of innocent Christians and their young children became victims of the Satanic Ritual Abuse Myth in the compound’s conflagration after the AFT troops stormed the building.. Their deaths were utterly and easily avoidable but these poor people died because those who knew what was going on, like Mr Bray, had been kept muzzled by the British press who preferred to create hysteria by printing the muck handed out by believers in Satanic Ritual Abuse. Ever since then the true story behind Waco has been the subject of a U.S. government cover-up of gigantic proportions. ( pause for the cacophony of voices telling us that this cannot be right).”

    SAFF files contain many other examples of situations which could have been resolved much better if the cacophony of Media demands had not been involved. For instance in the case of the Lynx why didn’t they just throw it some meat laced with barbiturates and wait until it zonked? Or why didn’t they just leave it to get on with it’s life as they should everyone else? Tolerance to others appears to have completely disappeared from modern life.

    The Media thrive on knee-jerk politics and increasingly choose the lazy option of hi-jacking controversies on social media sites rather than going out and doing hands-on journalism. The worst aspects of human nature are therefore nurtured and entrained in the popular mind and the boundaries of illogicality are pushed ever backwards. That’s what you always get if you allow ‘do-gooders’ to control the debate. Thankfully in this instance Matthew has unequivocally done the right thing and we can all learn from him in the process.

    John Freedom


  9. I can’t remember when (if ever) I read a blog where someone said, basically, “That I got that one wrong, sorry”. Hope this starts a trend.

  10. “they have been made aware of threats to kill and maim them, and they have had to install police alarms in their house.”

    But what’s the betting that’s all the police have done?

    After all, it’s not like someone has sent them a picture of a bacon sarnie, or pointed out to them they wouldn’t rape them if they were the last parson on earth, necessitating a whole cyber squad tracking down and prosecuting actual hate criminals.

    Especially as such social campaigners, the likes of the animal rights bombers, Antifa, and the We Know Where You Live crowd, are making the world a better place.

    How dare any Extreme Right Wing conservative put them in the same league as a bunch of blood-thirsty, trigger happy riflemen and gun-toting macho-men who endanger us all?

    Especially at this time of year when we are wearing our pink vagina hats and remembering all those peaceful progressive protesters who lay down on their peaceful protests so we could sleep soundly in our own beds at night!.

    1. Dear Mr Mann
      The police have done and are doing far more than just installing police alarms in our house. You will understand that I can’t divulge more but pictures of bacon sarnies and promises not to rape would be mere candyfloss compared to what we have received. Your assumption that we did not receive these is spot on but your assertion that “animal rights bombers” are “making the world a safer place” is questionable. From the perspective of some animals they may be, but using threats, intimidation, violence and illegal means is not acceptable and rather than furthering their cause will damage it. You write intelligently about gun crime around the world but then confusingly talk about a “bunch of blood-thirsty, trigger happy riflemen and gun-toting macho men who endanger us all?” If you are talking about those that use illegal firearms then you have a point. However I do hope you are not talking about licensed firearms holders in the UK who, due to rigorous police and medical checks, are proven to be some of the most law abiding citizens in the country. All the best, Helena

  11. I would happily accept that I was part of the chorus of those who judge situations, on the strength of the least amount of information. It takes a major ‘wrong judgement’ (from self or from others) for that wake up call to look carefully at the facts before judging. In the past I would been at the front of the line showing contempt for anyone being arrested, accused or vilified. No longer. The events from others misrepresentation and judgement on my life has taken its toll. The threatening phone calls, the 2 physical assaults, the daily fears and anxiety, the change in my own behaviour to being extremely cautious and tense. Snap judgement is easy if you are protected by and absorbed into an organisation. It is only when an individual is held to account, that it unsettles those who judge or make the wrong decision. Sadly we live in a world of ‘systems’ (that are the first point of blame) where those individuals hide and never apolgise.

  12. “the Guardian – generally as reliable a newspaper as any other”: How could you think that? Do you think the same of the BBC?

    Generally these two deceive most by what they leave out, but they also deceive by putting things in, sometimes just an extra word here and there, sometimes a whole lot more.

    1. The ridiculous reporting on Boris and the British woman imprisoned in Iran is a classic case of Main Stream Media misinformation.

      The woman is “British”, yes, but only by virtue of having added British to her IRANIAN Nationality, so actually making her a Dual National, something the MSM only appear to have been admitting over the past few days after a week or two of claiming she was “British” (a fact which I had always assumed meant neither the Government, the Foreign Office, nor the British Embassy could stick it’s nose in if she got into trouble in her HOME country?!).

      The MSM then “quoted” Johnson as “admitting” she was training Iranian journalists, conveniently editing out that he’d actually said that as far as he knew it was the worst she could possibly have been guilty of (ie even if she’s was guilty of the worst “crime” she could be accused of, why was she locked up for it, never mind for five years?!)!

      It reminds me of all the media “reporting” that Obama had demolished Romney in a debate, as “proved” by Romney not being able to defend himself against Obama’s claims Romney had investments in China.

      Of course if the reports had allowed the clip to run on we’d have seen Romney immediately come back with the knockout blow that Obama had exactly the same percentage of his pension invested in China.

      Worse, we have the “admission” by Trump.

      Imagine if an old video of Mandela, Gandhi and the Dalai Llama had surfaced in which all three had agreed that in the West, if you are rich and famous, women will let you do anything, even grab their kittens:

      Would any of them have been accused of admitting anything by any news source, never mind all of them, for month after month…….

      1. Of course the worst aspect of the Boris Iran reporting is that the Iranians might never have heard any version of what Johnson said in a committee meeting if the media hadn’t given it 24/7 headline status for weeks.

        But once they had, and fabricated an “admission” , the Iranians could hardly do anything other than review her case in light of what the British Press had said Boris had supposedly said she’d done!!!

        1. Boris said in the select committee hearing that all she was doing was teaching journalists, as he understood it. She was. No-one disputes that. The MSM added the two little words “in Iran” to each of their hysterical reports. This is their way of operating and they get away with it every time. Even Melanie Phillips was taken in.

          Their object was to get Boris sacked and so they were happy to put this woman, in their own terms, at greater risk of harm. They were saying to the Revolutionary Guard, in effect: Lock her up for 5 more years and we will get him sacked. That was quite an offer. Alternatively, it gave the Iranians greater purchase in their negotiations with him about money etc, so, as usual, the MSM were only to happy to do down their own country, no matter how dishonestly, and no matter who gained.

          1. Their other dishonesty in this matter was to make out this was the only prisoner with a British passport in the rest of the world. There were an unknown number, maybe thirty or so, in Iran alone, and a very great number across the world. They conducted the “story” as if the FS had nothing else to think about. This case of the Iranian woman was the only foreign affair, the only Anglo-Iranian matter, and her husband was supposed to be in constant discussion with the Foreign Secretary and accompanying him on his trips.

  13. Accuracy requires either a specific type of intelligence (leveraging on concentration and attention for tracing details) or more time for reasoning around some matters of facts – or both. Truth is especially if one has a judicial mindset he/she tends to jump to conclusions based on biased and superficial assessment of information. This is the basic mechanism to fabricate or trigger a defamation of character that can go viral in minutes. Good to hear you have promptly reviewed your previous blog posts, and if I may speak freely … how greater would be your profession in Today’s distracted minds world if some of your colleagues followed spontaneously such example and periodically reviewed what they write, say, publish or share in Court proceedings about litigants in person!

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