Obiter normally frowns on dog eating dog, but we can’t help observing that the old tabloid journalism adage of not checking a good story too carefully lest it evaporate is alive and well. Take the Michigan case of the African grey parrot which allegedly mimics the last words of its murdered owner: ‘Don’t f***ing shoot!’

Of course the press loved the idea of a bird taking the witness stand in a trial. ‘Parrot could take the perch at murder trial’ squawked The Times last Wednesday. Perhaps, er, parroting a report in The Guardian dated 7 June: ‘Parrot could be witness to possible US murder case’. Or possibly Le Journal de Montreal (4 June) :‘Un perroquet est le témoin numéro un’ (A parrot is the key witness). Or even La Stampa (6 June): ‘Il suo pappagallo e l’unico testimone dell’omicidio’ (his parrot is the only witness to murder).

Alas the source of it all seems to be WoodTV, a broadcaster in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which broke the story on 2 June with footage of the parrot’s soundbite (expletive bleeped out). But, very properly, the TV station also quoted a Michigan prosecutor stating that the parrot’s evidence would not be admissible. Oddly, that detail seems to have been lost in translation.