It is just a bit over a year (26 December 2012) since my good friend Finlay Christine died in his very early fifties. I was thinking of him as I looked on the internet at self-catering cottages for a Mull holiday this spring. Finlay was a constable on the Isle of Mull and for many years was the wildlife crime officer for the island. His main targets were those who would wish to steal the eggs of rare birds on the island, especially golden eagle and white-tailed eagle. Finlay set up Mull Eagle Watch, a hugely successful operation in which many islanders participated, and in which he was assisted by police wildlife crime officers from throughout Scotland. Such was Finlay’s enthusiasm for this springtime project that most officers who helped him took time off police work to go and carry out police work!
Finlay won many awards during his wildlife crime officer spell. Firstly he was the proud recipient of a Blue Peter badge after filming with them in 2009. In the same year he received the PAW Scotland award Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator of the Year, presented at the Scottish Police College by the then Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham. He was recognised by the RSPB for his work in deterring and detecting wild bird eggs thieves, and they awarded him the President’s Award, presented to him by Julian Pettifer at a ceremony in London. He was also involved in the filming of Springwatch, Autumnwatch, Eagle Island, Landward, Wildlife Detectives and of course a starring role in Balamory!
Finlay retired that same year – 2009 – and set up a wildlife tour guide business Tall Tales of Mull. He was a great storyteller and an immensely popular tour guide. I quote from one of the many satisfied customers: ‘Myself and my husband spent a fantastic day in the company of Finlay Christine whilst on holiday in the Isle of Mull. What an amazing guy – there is nothing he doesn’t know about the Island, including wildlife, history, folklore, and some very tall tales! Although the weather was abysmal, Finlay still managed to find otters, sea eagles, and a wonderful airborne food exchange between a male and female hen harrier. A truly wonderful day and a very extraordinary guide. Highly recommended. Visited July 2011’
When I was compiling my second book, The Thin Green Line, I asked Finlay if he would like to contribute, he jumped at the chance and gave me the following tale, which I really appreciated, having had information from spurned wives and lovers myself:
Angry Spouse Syndrome – Constable Finlay Christine, wildlife crime officer, Isle of Mull
Although most crimes are solved by using diligent police work, witnesses, local knowledge, crime trends or, increasingly, forensics, there are other ways to catch your criminal. Quite often, the best way of getting a result is from an aggrieved spouse wanting a break from a quarrelsome, drunk or irritating partner.
I remember one well-known criminal, who was caught because of his devotion to his children, but not to his ex-wife. When he phoned home every night to speak only to his kids, she would dial 1471, retrieve the telephone number he had called from and pass it onto the police. The police then contacted the local force, informed them that they had a notorious thief on their patch and the man later spent some time in prison, all due to his angry ex-wife.
I have come across ‘angry spouse syndrome’ a number of times in my career, but few as obvious or calculating in their use of the police service as the lady in the following story. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last that this lady would use the police to lock up her partner. I think this was because when he was released from prison, he would be a ‘good boy’ for a couple of months. It is amazing how a few months in jail can turn a man into an ideal husband, or maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder, who knows! I am sure a psychologist would call it ‘rough love’.
I find it strange that she didn’t consider getting rid of her criminally-minded drunk partner with a legal separation. He was always welcomed back into the house after his spells away, and the police would always be the ‘b******s’. The story goes something like this.
I had two renowned fish poachers on my patch. I’ll call them Lenny Tatterson and Stew Pott. Through the years, I often found their nets discreetly hidden along river banks or near to estuaries where they would be netting salmon. The local farmers and anglers were also a good source to find their monofilament nets. I had locked both men up on numerous occasions. On a good night and at the right time of the year, they could net many large salmon, earning them a handsome reward, which would keep them in whisky for a couple of months.
A diminishing retail market in the mid-1990s meant that times were not as good as they had been a few years earlier. This was due to the availability of cheaper salmon from fish farms and the courts imposing large fines on buyers of illegally caught fish. Salmon caught in this way have easily identifiable tell-tale net marks around the head and gills.
My two poachers had been getting into some trouble lately, not only due to their poaching activities, but for some other minor offences, mostly related to drink. The men had been on the drink more often than not of late, and this can get tiresome to partners and the local population who have to put up with their drunken antics.
One October day in the mid 1990’s, I was sitting in the office doing some paperwork when I got a phone call. The female caller introduced herself as ‘Mrs Anonymous’, going on to tell me that Stew and Lenny had been out poaching the previous evening and had salmon in various freezers around the village, including in each of their houses
Stew’s partner, let’s call her Carol, has a very distinctive voice. No matter how hard she tried to disguise it, it was obvious that Carol was my ‘Mrs Anonymous’. So I said, “Thanks Carol”, and she hung up.
An hour later, after having obtained a warrant, I attended with a colleague at Stew and Carol’s house to search for the poached salmon. The door was answered by Carol, who asked what I wanted. I said that I had information that there were some poached salmon in the house and that I intended conducting a search to recover them. She remonstrated with me quite fiercely, stating that I would not get in without a warrant. When I then produced a warrant, she smiled, let us into the house and shouted to Stew, “The police are here and they have a warrant!” He was in his bed at the time, sleeping off a hangover after celebrating a good night’s fishing on the river.
I informed Stew of the reason for my visit. In silence and smelling of fish, he walked me through to the freezer, which he opened. Inside, there were a number of recently-caught salmon with the tell-tale netting marks. A search of the house produced fish scales, nets and various other items they had used in their nocturnal wanderings. Stew put out his arms in anticipation of the clink of the handcuffs. I later attended at Lenny’s house and recovered more fish and equipment. The lads put their hands up and admitted everything, including where they had taken the salmon.
They were, of course, curious as to how I had got on to them so quickly and I would never reveal my source. They blamed everybody from water bailiffs to nosey locals. Not for a second did they guess that it was a partner who just wanted a bit of peace and quiet for a couple of months. The local sheriff obliged and both men spent a few months in jail. Their partners got a well-earned rest.
I must confess that in all my dealings with ‘angry spouse syndrome’, the criminals never thought that it could have possibly been their wife that had fired them in.
Finlay was a first class police officer, an innovative wildlife crime officer and it is incredibly sad that his retirement and his new life in the wildlife tourist industry were cut tragically short.