Hidden hazards

THERE is barely a week goes by without Gazette reporters being asked to follow up an issue which has been flagged up on a social networking site such as Facebook or Twitter.

This week, we were made aware of an alarming spate of dogs being poisoned – possibly deliberately – on a stretch of beach between Warkworth and Alnmouth. Three had already died, we were told, and more were ill.

With all due dilligence, we contacted the authorities, namely police, council and the site owner, the National Trust.

Through our extensive network of local contacts, we managed to track down the owners of two dogs which had succumbed to sudden convulsions after being walked on the beach, which required emergency treatment by vets in Alnwick. It sounds relatively straightforward – or it would have been, had we not had to wade through a mire of rumours and downright fiction first to get to the bottom of what had happened.

The facts are that two dogs came into contact with an unknown toxin, became very ill very quickly, were treated and made a full recovery within a couple of days. But some of the elaborations which appeared on websites – and are still appearing – would suggest a pet-hating maniac is on the loose, deliberately and indiscriminately killing dogs across north Northumberland.

This is fantasy. It’s also highly unhelpful, not only to journalists trying to inform the public, but also potentially damaging to our tourist industry.

Idle gossip is one thing, but spreading it under a banner of fact is another.