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Media coverage of the “Emperor of Exmoor” story

You have to laugh, don?t you? It?s the only way to deal with some
subjects and certain types of people. Take the fabled Emperor of Exmoor, for instance. A noble creature even more reclusive than Lord Lucan, it seems. You will recall that the gist of the story, as broken on the front page of The Daily Telegraph, was this: a huge red deer stag on Exmoor, known locally as the Emperor, some 9ft tall and the biggest wild land animal in Britain, had been shot by a ?licensed hunter? for the sake of a trophy, and ?deer experts? were outraged.

In reality, every fact quoted in the sentence above is either untrue or contested. Let?s go down the list: the stag wasn?t on Exmoor when the incident is alleged to have happened; the locals did not generally call the animal by any name at all; it wasn?t 9ft tall; it wasn?t the largest land animal in Britain (and not the biggest stag by a long, er, shot) and it wasn?t shot by any ?licensed hunter? for any reason, let alone for its antlers. Indeed, there is no hard evidence to suggest that the stag was shot at all, but if it was, a poacher seems to have been the culprit. Lastly, I don?t know of a singlecredible ?deer expert? who expressed anything approaching ?outrage?. Instead, I saw the usual bunch of antis, wildlife video-makers, tourism parasites and rent-a-gob protectionists taking advantage of the media feeding frenzy to promote their own vested interests.

But hey, that?s par for the course. Remember the great hoo-ha when two hen harriers were supposed to have been shot at Sandringham a couple of years ago? The basic story was one that, as we journalists say, is ?just too good to check?. Of course, it turned out to be ocean-going junk, but the media was too busy playing the game to bother about that. Why spoil a good story for the sake of a few facts? Then, as with the recent Emperor nonsense, the usual suspects came slithering out from under their flat rocks to make sage pronouncements. In due course, the RSPB even listed the fictitious killings in their supposedly authoritative annual bird crime report as ?confirmed? cases.

Among the commentators who swallowed and then regurgitated the Sandringham hen harrier myth was Simon Barnes, a Times columnist who also does some work for the RSPB. He is often pictured wearing a tweed cap and apparently he sometimes sits on the back of a horse, so he must be an authority on countryside matters, eh? Mr Barnes was at it again when the Emperor non-story appeared, sniping away at fieldsports. Laughter is often the best antidote. I was stalking hinds with my friend Martin when the story exploded. He received a text on his mobile from his neighbour, who knew he was away in Scotland stalking deer. The text simply said: Emperor??

Firing blanks

The profile of any self-appointed ?expert?, whether on deer or anything else, has a lot to do with media convenience. Take the reported utterances of Professor Peter Squires, a criminologist at that powerhouse of academic excellence, the University of Brighton. He was put on the Home Office Firearms Consultative Committee under the last government and has since become a media favourite for whacky gun control soundbites.

For all that I know, Professor Squires is a very good criminologist. His solution to gun crime seems to revolve around separating ammunition from guns. The practicality of this, when it comes to rural shooting, seems to have escaped him. It is reported that he thinks ?farmers? (a generic term for country dwellers who use guns, I presume) should be able to keep shotguns at home, but should then ring up to have ammunition delivered just as they do for, say, fertilizer. Perhaps somebody, somewhere, has the time to educate Professor Squires about rural matters, but that somebody is not me. I can only laugh.