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Truth is never black and white. Even if you're a penguin


Sunday October 10, 1999

SPEAKING OF Thatch, older readers will remember that her finest hour came when she went to war to save the sheep, penguins and democracy of the Falkland Islands from the Argies. The sheep are flourishing, I'm happy to say, but the rockhoppers and local freedoms are being wiped out.

The forthcoming issue of Index on Censorship tells the story of Mike Bingham who left North Wales to become a wildlife officer for the government-backed Falklands Conservation in 1993. He did a penguin census (don't ask me how) and found the number of rockhoppers had fallen from three million to 300,000 pairs. He checked carefully. There wasn't a pandemic slaughtering penguins across the South Atlantic.

Elsewhere, they were having a great time going for dips and eating lots of fish. The slaughter was confined to the Falklands. Oil and fishing industries were eating up the penguins' habitat and their fish.

Bryant was told not to publish his findings. He refused and was fired by a board stuffed with local politicians and the directors of the oil and fishing companies.

Undeterred, Bingham carried on penguin counting. The campaign against him turned vicious. A theft charge was made by Falklands Conservation. The Falkland Islands government used it to justify denying him a resident's permit. The allegation was dropped, but the government still refused to give him a permit. Customs officers joined the persecution and produced a skin flick which he had allegedly ordered from Britain.

The video seemed to prove the saintly Bingham was a pervert until the baffled twitcher investigated and discovered it had been sent from a fictitious address. This year the British authorities tried again. A triumphant Customs officer said he would be tried and deported for deceiving Falklands Conservation into believing he was honest when he had burglary convictions in the UK.

Bingham's fingerprints were sent to Interpol where an angry clerk said he had already told the Falklands plod twice that the break-ins had been the work of another Michael Bingham, two years older than Mike and with a different middle name.

Bingham is a tough man and refuses to flee and leave the 'cosy' cartel that runs the island 'unchallenged'. He has to put up with malicious phone calls to his wife and son, an unexplained burglary and an attempt by persons unknown to sabotage his car. Every Briton can be proud that their young men did not die in vain.



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