Did this happen?

The Daily Mail have picked up on a story that has been doing the rounds since the 16th September this year: ‘Axe murderer who hacked three people to death is allowed out of prison… for a course on chopping down trees’. The article is fairly standard fare for the Mail website, it is basically copied and pasted from what appears to be the source article in the Daily Record. However, whilst the record makes the same claim, the article isn’t exactly big on details:

Axe murderer Thomas McCulloch has been let loose in public – to chop down trees.

But the next paragraph clarifies this somewhat:

He completed a course at a nature reserve where he helped create a pathway by clearing trees and shrubs.

The killer also helped carry out a lizard survey.

Prison chiefs even paraded him getting a certificate for the gardening course in a magazine.

So, he cleared some ‘trees and shrubs’, helped carry out a survey of lizards and was awarded a certificate for a gardening course. Does this mean he was given an axe? I’m not saying he wasn’t given an axe to chop down some trees, but it seems to be a claim that doesn’t have any supporting evidence, apart from the ‘anonymous source’:

A source said: “He may be old now but there is evidence he is still a very dangerous man.

“All prisoners going on courses are vetted but I don’t think its a good idea to let a murderer like McCulloch near sharp implements such as axes and secateurs – that could be a disaster waiting to happen.”

Hardly compelling evidence. We are told that:

McCulloch was paraded by prison bosses in the pages internal magazine The Gallery, which is distributed to inmates and staff in the Scottish Prison Service.

He features in an article about the course at St Cyrus nature reserve in Aberdeenshire.

There is a photo of him with course leaders and fellow lags.

Again, no mention of an axe – and presumably if the prison magazine contained any damning evidence it would have been leaked and published – the source must have had a copy (if they exist).

Now, all the newspapers that have covered this story (and it has done the rounds as a quick online search will confirm) may have got it right, this might have happened. But the reader doesn’t know whether it did or not because no evidence at all is given to confirm the headline claim. It could be complete rubbish, but because it does make a great headline we’ll never know; it’ll just be shared around as fact and before the truth is established it’ll be another day and something else will have taken its place.