Well I’ve had chance to draw breath and finally take in the events of the last few days. If you’ve been following the Fitzwilliam case over the last 2 years you’ll no doubt already know the result from the court hearing last Wednesday (4th April) as its been in pretty much all the national news as well as some local but in case you don’t they are as follows:

John Mease – Causing Unnecessary Suffering to an Animal – Not Guilty.

John Mease – Contravention of the Hunting Act (Section 3) – Not Guilty.

George Adams – Contravention of the Hunting Act (Section 3) – Guilty.

While we are obviously disappointed that Mease was cleared of causing unnecessary suffering (sticking a knife into the eye of an animal to kill it doesn’t sound particularly humane to me) we weren’t part of that case and I always suspected he would be cleared of the Hunting Act charge although hunting is considered a “joint venture” exercise so it could have been possible to secure a conviction.

The crux of the matter is the use of a bird of prey to circumnavigate the law in relation to fox hunting and this is what we were very keen to prove as illegal. An online discussion with colleagues produced the following response and it seems like a pretty good explanation to me having been present for the whole case:

The legal test that was being performed in this case was; when a hunt uses a bird of prey, who is actually in charge of the hunt? The bird of prey exemption is designed to avoid criminalising the pre-existing falconry community, any hunting (and the dogs used in that hunting) in falconry are under the control of the falconer.

In the case of the Fitzwilliam kill of 1.1.2016, a fox is killed by a pack of hounds (although this point is largely ignored by most of the press). This act itself indicates that the Hunting Act has been breached. The question is, who is accountable?

If, as the Fitzwilliam claimed, they were legally using their dogs to flush to a bird of prey, then this would suggest that the individual responsible for the hunting of that fox is actually the falconer. The falconer is responsible for his own dogs (Mease later admitted that the best dogs to use for this would be maybe two pointers, not 15 1/2 couple foxhounds).

If the falconer is responsible for the dogs in this instance, then the hunting and killing of the fox is the result of the actions of that falconer, and he would be guilty of a Hunting Act 2004 Section 3(2) offence.

It was established in court on 4th April 2018, that while the falconer was present, the control of the hounds in fact fell to the huntsman (George Adams). This was demonstrated by video of George controlling the hounds with his horn, hunting them on etc. Also, Mease admitted that the hounds were not under his control, but the huntsman’s.

Once this point of evidence was established, the falconer is placed immediately out of scope of the Hunting Act offence. Owing to the presence of people in the near vicinity (sabs in this case, but Mease stated this could equally be bystanders, supporters, dog walkers etc) then the falconer would not release his bird of prey. This therefore means that the only factors in play are now the fox and the hounds, and a Hunting Act offence is being committed by whatever individual is controlling the hounds.

Mease being acquitted of the HA2004 offence, therefore, was *integral* and necessary to successfully convicting George Adams of a Hunting Act Section 3(2) offence. Had Mease not been on trial, then the Huntsman would have been free to claim in court that the hounds are part of the falconers armoury, and this would not have been examined by the prosecution.

Media reports focus on “man cleared of hunting foxes because he uses a Golden Eagle”, when in fact this is not the case. It should read, “Man cleared of hunting act offences, because he was nothing to do with the pack of foxhounds which killed a fox as they were trained and commanded to do”. 

huntsman & supporter at kill

Guilty – George Adams with the kill.

So ultimately and regardless of how the press reported on the incident this is in fact a big win for us. The next step is down the opposition, will they appeal as they claim? It’s a high risk strategy for them. While Adams may clear his name if they win,  losing in the crown court means the decision will become case law while at the present all hunting act cases with relevance to the Falconry Exemption will be treated on a case by case basis. If I were a hunter I’d certainly be considering the options and the wider implications for other hunts that pretend to use this exemption. Recent cases would appear to favour the hunters if they are using the “trail hunting” excuse, its certainly cheaper for them to pretend to lay a trail with a smelly rag rather than employing a falconer in a position which may no longer serve the purpose.

Personally I’m pleased with the outcome and happy with the investigation by Cambridgeshire Police and response by the CPS. A District Judge heard the case rather than a magistrate, a knowledgeable prosecution barrister did a fine job on the day and Professor Harris was an excellent no nonsense expert witness. It’s tough being cross examined, I was on the stand for an hour and half and the defending CA barrister Stephen Welford did his best to catch me out but ultimately failed as when you have compelling video evidence and the truth on your side there will ultimately be only one outcome.

The Fitzwilliam now have a conviction under their belt to go along with their invasion of Upwood village last season and their supporters unprovoked attack on a sab vehicle. It’s not been a good year for them, but then that’s what you come to expect from these people.

Who are the real guardians of the countryside?

Comments
  1. Lynne says:

    You are a true guardian of the countryside

  2. Yvonne Day says:

    Thank you, just thank you so much for your hard work and those of your colleagues.

  3. Catherine Deering says:

    Thank you for all your hard work on this. Please keep fighting. Thank you for your decency and humanity.

  4. Thank you for all that you do for wildlife.

  5. Ms Sonia Donegan says:

    Indeed they are and long may they remain so!! 👏👏👏

  6. Robin Waterman says:

    Are you sure that Appeals in the Crown Court become case law?

  7. James says:

    I think what this all goes to show, is that the bird of prey clause applies to a bird of prey handler alone. A mounted fox hunt may employ a bird of prey handler – however the person with the bird is the only one protected from the Hunting Act.

  8. PETER SOWERBY says:

    How can a person safely handle a golden eagle on their arm while chasing foxes without endangering or causing distress or injury to the bird?

  9. Jeremy says:

    Well, thank you for all your work. As your painstaking & clear summary points out, this is in many ways a very good result. It also provides some rare reassurance that hunting law can be applied and enforced in the courts.
    The savagery and stupidity of these people never fails to astonish me. As for Mease claiming that inserting a knife into a captured animal’s eye is anything to do with humane pest control … the insanity of their vile position sickens us all.

  10. Simon Watson says:

    First off: thanks! You have done a very good job here and the outcome is excellent, especially when hunts are still tending to wriggle out of prosecutions on small technicalities (eg Evil Shirley’s recent case). Mease hasn’t got off. He has now been revealed to be the disgusting animal abuser he is and that shatters the camped-up countryman image he presents at Boxing day.

    There may be an appeal, but winning that would be no proof of innocence. People can see the difference between justice and “legal chess”. The truth is already out that hunts are killing animals. The next step is communicating to the general public that what the Fitz did here is a normal day’s hunting, typical of all hunts, and not a one-off. Your good work has brought this into the open. Well done.

  11. Thank you ,for all that you do in order to preserve our wonderful wildlife.

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