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:
- Swan bake: carcasses and piles of feathers found next to cooking pots at migrants' camp
- Welcome to Britain... but please don't eat the fish: Immigrants get DOs and DON'Ts pack
- Immigrants told in new 'behaviour packs' not to spit, touch people without their permission or steal carp
- Warning signs go up to stop Poles stealing river fish for Christmas dinner
- New laws to stop Poles eating carp stocks
- The biggest threat to Britain's carp is Eastern European migrants
- Officials patrol rivers to stop Eastern Europeans eating carp
- Signs warn Polish anglers to 'stop eating all the carp'
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?