Part 2 of Salmon poachers at the Horseshoe Falls
The fields posed few problems. At that time of year, apart from the odd field of turnips, crops had been harvested and some were even re-sown with winter wheat or winter barley. They were flat and made easy walking. One problem arose in a grass field when we were besieged by a herd of Friesian heifers. This was unfortunate; had they been older cattle they would have been content to munch the grass, chew the cud or whatever they were up to at that particular time. Even if they had been some of the Continental breeds such as Charollais, Simmental or Limousin, these breeds are usually so flighty that they would have taken off in the other direction. It was just our luck to have the attention of twenty or thirty snorting, slavering Friesian heifers surrounding us. We tried to shoo them away but this made the problem worse. They ran off like bucking broncos straight out of a wild-west rodeo, kicking up their heels and farting and coughing loudly with the effort, before returning to exhale their horrible breath on us and cough their snot on us once again. We were still a field-width away from the wood leading down to the river, which was a relief in view of the noise these damn beasts were making, and thankfully by the time they had spotted us we were reasonably near the boundary fence of their field.
When we reached the top of the woodland that stretched 200 metres or so down to the river we watched and listened for a while. There was not a sound and for a few minutes there was nothing to be seen either. Then the faintest flash of a torch on the river assured as that our quarry was there. We gave it a further fifteen minutes and a second flash of a torch in the same place confirmed that our targets were fairly static and gave us a direction to take. Neither of us was looking forward to the fairly steep descent through the wood. Apart from the real risk of us creating a noise that would give the game away there was also the danger that we could lose our footing. One or both of us clattering down the banking and we would have no chance of catching our poachers. We quietly discussed the options and decided that we had plenty of time to move really slowly through the wood, tentatively testing every step before we put the full weight on to the leading foot. The river was still in flood so we also realised that the rush of water over the falls would cover some of the noise we made provided it was not excessive.
Our progress was painstakingly slow and from the top to the bottom of the 200 metres of steep larch woodland took well over an hour. Even the snails seemed to be overtaking us. As we neared the end of the wood we began to see the two men more clearly. Though they were mostly grey ghosts an odd flicker of their torch was sufficient to show us that every fifteen minutes or so they were emptying their cage and piling the salmon up on the riverbank between the cage and the point that we had reached. From then on we began to crawl rather than walk. We had the backdrop of the wood behind us and what there was of a moon was to our right so we were in no danger of being silhouetted. Nevertheless keeping close to the ground obviated the risk of the poachers seeing any sort of shape that resembled a person.
It was then that a major obstacle brought our otherwise steady progress to a standstill. As we moved closer to the two men we suddenly realised that there was a very wide, very dark, and probably very deep ditch or lade between where we were and where we wanted to be. The two poachers were operating from a strip of land between this stretch of water and the main part of the river. Neither of us knew about this beforehand yet I am sure it just didn’t appear that very night to thwart our operation. Since we hadn’t known of its existence we had no idea how to get across the bloody thing. We considered wading it, but didn’t know whether wading would turn into swimming. I had a fleeting vision of the two of us with our feet stuck in several feet of clinging mud that lay in wait for the unwary under the water, while we were ridiculed by the poachers as they continued their night’s work in safety. Rather than throw caution to the wind we started to crawl downstream. I was thankful that we did so as we had only gone about fifty metres when we found a bridge made of two old railway sleepers with some planks of wood roughly nailed between them. What a relief. I thought afterwards about what we would have done had we not found a crossing point. In the variety of possible solutions the common factor always included getting wet.
Now that we were on the same part of dry land as our targets the rest was comparatively easy. A fifty metre crawl while the poachers were otherwise engaged in the river and we were nearly there. We could see the pile of salmon on the bank and it was a case of getting to an ambush spot as close to them as possible. Ten metres away there was a fairly substantial elder bush which offered enough shelter. The time then really seemed to slow down and it seemed forever until the two men emptied the cage again and began the short journey from the cage to the riverbank, then from the riverbank to their stash of fish. They were laying their latest catch out on the pile, by good fortune with their back or at least their sides facing in our direction. It was enough time to slip from behind the elder bush and literally bid them good morning. There was no scramble to grab them and handcuff them; had they run off we knew who they were anyway so a chase would have been pointless. One made a futile attempt to rid himself of evidence by throwing a gaff he had in his hand into the river but, unlike the rod with the treble hook and lump of lead thrown into the Friarton Hole, (a case discussed earlier) there was no need to retrieve it. It was a reaction to the surprise he had received and I didn’t blame him.
The two were quite matter of fact when they were caught and in fact reminded me of two other men I and another colleague, DC Ian Cantwell, caught after a tip-off Ian had received that they would be breaking into a certain office. We had staked out the office and watched the two men, regular ‘customers’ of ours, enter the common close. We heard the office door getting kicked in and gave them enough time to enter the office before walking quietly up the stairs. When we entered the violated office we split up to search the rooms off the hallway. I had checked the last room on my side of the corridor and Ian had just entered the last room on his side. I came in to the office two steps behind him, in time to see our two housebreakers rifling through drawers and files with their socks on their hands. They were barefooted and their trainers were lying in the middle of the floor. The response of the first one to spot us was to say, ‘Hi Ian,’ just as if we had met them socially in a pub. A greeting like that from our two salmon poaching friends would not have surprised me in the least. It was a good rapport to have with criminals. We played fair and they respected us for that.
With the salmon poaching convictions that they had accrued, and the fact that the use of a cage on such a scale was obviously a commercial enterprise, it was inevitable that the two poachers would receive a jail sentence. Nevertheless, criminals always want to defer a jail term for a long as possible. When we got them back to the cells at the police station at Perth one of them offered me a deal to release them to receive a summons for court rather than be kept to appear in court that morning. If the deal was good I would be happy to oblige as in fact it would save me sitting and hurriedly compiling a report that morning; it could be done at leisure. The deal was that he knew of a safe-breaking job that was about to come off and he would give me the time, location and those who were to be involved once he could confirm the details. He and his socius criminus would have to be released there and then and I would have to trust him. I had trusted him in similar circumstances before and he had kept his word. I had nothing to lose, while he had much to lose: if he failed to deliver it would be the last time that I or any other police officer would trust him.
I let him and his co-conspirator out to receive a summons. The safe-breaking came off and the three involved were arrested and jailed. Our two salmon poachers had a few months’ grace before their case came up. They pleaded guilty and were jailed for 60 days each. Everyone involved, apart from the safe-breakers, was pleased with his particular part of the deal, and I was sure we would all meet again in similar circumstances.
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