As with most laws the majority of people that once something is made illegal then that’s it, it’s done with. Unfortunately with laws like the Hunting Act that’s far from the case and also explains why so many hunts are continuing to circumnavigate the law by cynically using the loopholes which are written into the legislation in its current form. What I’ll try to do here is outline the main points so its possible to get a better understanding of how things stand. In this part I’ll highlight what I feel are the most relevant points of the act and this will follow in part 2 with the problems in enforcing it and the requirements needed to gain a conviction.

The full act can be found here.

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The main statement of the act reads as follows

A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog, unless his hunting is exempt”.

The important part here is the mention of exempt hunting. This is covered by Schedule 1 of the act. The act then covers various situations where the hunting will be considered exempt however the most important part here is that all of these exemptions are covered by Part 5.

“The third condition is that the stalking or flushing out does not involve the use of more than two dogs”.

This was the part which was supposed to put an end to the hunting of foxes, hares and stags (amongst other species) with full packs of hounds. However when the act came into force the CA and hunts got together and invented “trail hunting”. I think most people are now fully aware that trail hunting is nothing more than a cover for real hunting, that is, hunting live quarry, however as the law stands there is no written part of the legislation banning this.

The next import point to note is Part 6 – “Use of dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting” – This is commonly known as the “Gamekeepers Exemption”. This is covered further in Section 2

This part of the act is to enable gamekeepers to be able to kill foxes and protect their precious game birds. They can put a terrier down a hole where foxes thought to be present with the purpose of flushing them so they can be shot by a competent person. Only one dog can be used and these are supposed to be “soft” terriers, that is a terrier which will not engage with the fox and fight it underground. This has to comply with a code of practice but as well all know this is often roundly ignored with both terriers and foxes suffering injuries consistent with fighting underground.

OHTM

The person conducting this operation must have written permission from the land owner if not the owner themselves and this must be made available to any constable who requests it. It has to be proven that the activity is for the protection of livestock, most notably bird which are being raised to be shot (Game birds).

Falconry

This is where the act has an inconsistency. There is no limit on the number of hounds which can be used to flush the mammal for the bird of prey to then hunt. The same restrictions apply with regards to permissions however as you well know this particular exemption has been used by several hunts in order for them to continue hunting as normal. However the recent conviction of the now retired Fitzwilliam Huntsman George Adams (see full story here) has put the use of this exemption by the hunts seriously into question.

Exempt Species

Not all mammals are covered by the act. Those species which are considered vermin have no protection under the act and this include both rats and rabbits. Provided once again that all permissions are satisfied these species can hunted regardless of the number of hounds or the methods used.

There are some quite bizarre exemptions which include Recapture of a Wild Mammal, Rescue of a Wild Mammal and Retrieval of Hares (which have been shot) but these, by and large have no real bearing with regards to the hunting we see in our countryside through the hunting season.

Research  and Observation

This is another odd one as I’m not sure what there is to learn about a mammal from a scientific point of view by hunting them. I’m told the stag hound hunts in the west country use this exemption although it clearly states in the act that the number of hounds is limited to 2.

Section 4 Hunting Assistance

Quite an interesting one this and something, as far as I’m aware that has yet to be enforced. “A person commits an offence if he knowingly permits land which belongs to him to be entered or used in the course of the commission of an offence under section 1″.

This would appear to be a little like vicarious liability. It is possible for the land owner to be prosecuted if they were knowingly allowing an illegal activity to take place on their land. When out in the fields we’ll often be approached by angry people claiming to be land owners and telling us to leave. When you quote them chapter and verse of this part of the act its amazing how quickly they will shut up and make themselves scarce. We’ll always ask for their names and proof of ownership if they continue to press the point. It is without doubt that a large number of land owners who permit their land to be used by hunts know exactly what’s going on and are probably fairly active themselves in the hunting community however it would seem that proving this is nigh on impossible as the police and CPS never seem to go after these people. Perhaps if a successful prosecution could be gained more land owners would have second thought about allowing the criminal hunters to use their land.

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Section 5 – Hare Coursing

We will often hear of how rural police officers spend a lot of their time tackling hare coursing (and rightly so), particularly in the east of the country (the last stronghold of the Brown Hare) and the public will often ask the question why these forces don’t put the same resources into tackling organised hunting with hounds. The hunting act has a section all of its own for hare coursing and this of course makes it a lot easier for the police and CPS to gain successful prosecutions. The people that undertake coursing are often trespassing and damaging property so this is another justification for a more robust police response which will also include seizure of vehicles and dogs.

So these are what I believe to be the most important points to note. Obviously there is a level of interpretation however from personal experience I don’t believe I’m far off the mark. In the next blog I’ll look at the reality of the act in the fields and what is required to to bring these criminals to justice.

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?

I had a call only the other day and a familiar voice spoke to me.

“Hi, it’s John, there’s been another change”.

My immediate thoughts were along the lines of “Oh FFS what now?” but before I could go any further John (the witness care officer for the CPS) informed me of the change.

“The date has been moved to next Wednesday and we’re back at Peterborough Magistrates”.

Now this seemed a little odd. Those of you who have been keeping up to date with the long running Fitzwilliam court case saga will no doubt already know that this high profile case has now been awaiting trial for well over 2 years. There have been multiple delays due to various reasons including what I believe to be the attempted derailment of the case by the CA and most notably “court politics”, that means not being able to find an impartial judge. The main reason the location was moved out of county originally was to try and lesson the chance of any conflict of interest with regards to the judge knowing the defendants however that probably now makes little difference.

John went on to explain that they had only found out about the changes by accident and were now desperately trying to inform all the witnesses. Was this an attempt to scupper the case somehow by not informing those required to attend? Later on I spoke to the investigating officer and he was as shocked as I. It was the first they’d heard of it and would now have to allocate resources to the day.

Adams_Mease

Adams (left) & Mease.

So at least it was still going ahead and I will be giving evidence along with a colleague from another sab group on Wednesday (4th) while the expert witness will be speaking on Thursday. There are 2 cases to answer, 2 counts of illegal hunting (George Adams now retired Fitzwilliam huntsman and John Mease, current BoP handler) and another of cruelty to a protected species (John Mease).

As I’ve mentioned before the outcome of this case could have serious and wider implications regarding the use of raptors in an effort to circumnavigate the Hunting Act. I believe we have a very good case compared to the normal trail hunting cases we’ve seen recently. In those instances you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there was intent to hunt the animal in question, the hunts will use the “accident” alibi to cover themselves and its difficult to prove otherwise.

By using the BoP exemption the intent to hunt is already there. What comes into question is have the hunt staff taken all necessary measures to call off the hounds once the animal has been flushed and has the bird has been released?

Nothing is certain in Hunting Act cases, but given a prosecutor who knows their stuff and an honest judge I hope for a successful outcome but regardless of whether we achieve a guilty or innocent verdict in the eyes of the court, getting them there is a victory in itself and anyone who witnessed the incident on the day will know the truth.

I’ll publish more details after the case along with the video footage I took.

If anyone wishes to attend and make their feelings known on hunting then please do however I ask you behave in a suitable manner.

There’s always a recurring theme to many of the questions we get asked both in person and on social media with regards to hunting with hounds. When people finally realise that hunting still goes on largely as it did before the ban they then ask why the police don’t arrest those who are responsible. I’m going to cover what I believe are the 6 main reasons for their lack of action on this issue and hopefully this will also go some way in helping to understand the actions we, as activists take in response to that.

1 – Funding.

Police forces are facing huge challenges in funding their activities and some are desperately trying to juggle their needs and that of public opinion. Our local force is probably the most underfunded in the country and I believe also rated one of the worse in performance. The problem they have is that’s it’s a largely rural county with a couple of large urban conurbations which are, as one officers said off record, “terrorist central”. Clearly the policing of these areas will always take precedence along with the bulk of the funding and this can be construed as neglecting the wider issues in the countryside by the general public. Locally up to a couple of years ago we didn’t even have a dedicated team for rural policing but now this has been resolved and I guess it at least says something that we have a dedicated officer who acts as liaison for our group and a conduit for the transfer of information.

While not all counties will be the same I have no doubt that the majority of funding for police operations will go elsewhere and the whole hunting issue is well down the list of importance.

2 – How the police work.

One of the main points to understand is how the police work and this will explain their actions, or of course the lack of.

Think of the police force as a large company. The product they sell is convictions. The more convictions they achieve the better it will look on their books and the more funding they will receive from Government. Unsolved crimes will go against them. Ultimately the police want to spend the money allocated to them in the most cost effective way possible and achieve the most convictions. If they perceive an illegal activity not worthy of spending time and money on with an investigation due to the poor conviction rate then they simply won’t bother. You’ll often hear the police and CPS in particular say; “it’s not in the public interest”.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they think the public aren’t interested in them prosecuting but the cost of that investigation will outweigh the chance of a successful outcome. This will affect many minor crimes and not just those in relation to the Hunting Act.

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Waste of police resources?

3 – Resource Allocation.

This also relates to point 1 however it’s worth noting as a separate point. We’ve spoken to officers attending hunts who’ve said; “We can’t stay here long there’s a football match we have to police”. Sporting events like football matches obviously take a lot of policing and clubs pay for some of this (inside the stadiums) so it makes sense to take resources from one area to fill another with a greater need and also one which is likely to put something at least back into the financial pot. Although I use the football match analogy there are likely to be many other instances where priority over hunting will take place. In the grand scheme of things hunting is well down the pecking order in the level of priority.

4 – The Legislation.

I think it’s fairly well accepted by everyone on both sides that the Hunting Act isn’t fit for purpose. It has many glaring loop holes, some so big you could drive a horse box through them. Obviously this is no cause for any repeal like the so-called Countryside Alliance and their chief fibber dim Tim Bonner continually bang on about as some very straight forward changes could make the act a very successful and workable piece of legislation. I’ll cover this in more detail in another blog post to come.

Because the Hunting Act is convoluted and written with the law breakers in mind it becomes very difficult for the police to take it seriously and therefore not waste their time and effort in trying to police it. Once again this relates to all the other points of funding, allocating resources and how the police work. Only last Saturday while on operations against the Puckeridge Hunt in Hertfordshire (Tim Bonner’s home hunt) I spoke to the Sergeant in charge of policing on that day and his words were quite revealing.

“We know what the hunt get up to, they don’t fool us any more than they do you but there’s virtually no chance of prosecuting them. We even have to use much older legislation (the Game Act 1831) against the hare coursers we have that come to the county as it’s a better way of prosecuting them than using the Hunting Act”.

This statement speaks volumes.

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A hunter gets narky at plod for not arresting those nasty antis.

5 – Lack of knowledge within the police force, particularly officers attending hunts.

There simply isn’t enough officers which understand the act and are able to make rational decisions from what they witness when attending hunts. Decent wildlife crime officers are in very short supply. We’ve actually worked with some pretty decent officers, some are dedicated and really want to prosecute those who abuse our wildlife but on the whole officers attending hunts have virtually no idea of what they are doing. This is why when they attend they will say they are only there to maintain public order, its what they know and how to deal with.

A couple of weeks ago I was once again speaking to an officer attending a hunt. I showed him evidence of several foxes being flushed by the hunt on my video camera. He made a call to someone obviously more senior for some advice and the response was that as no foxes had been killed then no crime had taken place! This is clearly nonsense and I explained to the officer present that all you need to do is prove the intent to hunt a live mammal, no kill has to take place. The glaringly obvious evidence to back up the intent of the hunt was the presence of masked terrier men (those fence menders the CA like to talk about) with spades and terriers in boxes. There is of course no legitimate reason for these to be on a genuine trail hunt. But then again there’s no such thing as a legitimate trail hunt.

Too many officers will arrive at a hunt and make a snap decision based on their perception (and prejudice) of the people who are there. Who will they believe, a bunch of posh people dressed smartly on horseback or a bunch of sabs who are probably covered in mud and sweating from running around the countryside all day?

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Only interested in protecting the Atherstone Hunt

6 – Corruption.

Good old corruption. The old boys (or girls) club looking after their own. Make no mistake there are a large number of officers and judiciary who hunt. We expose these when we can to make it as difficult for them to influence things as possible (stay tuned for later blog posts as I’ve got an absolute peach of one coming up soon) but irrespective of their claims of impartiality corruption does take place.

The bias shown by some forces and officers can only lead us to draw the simple conclusion that officers on the coal face are either bias themselves or have been instructed to act in a certain manner when dealing with hunts and those who stand against them. I’ve seen officers look the other way while a fox has been chased between police cars with the hounds in pursuit. We’ve seen helicopters deployed to monitor sabs that would have cost the tax payer thousands of pounds. West Mids Hunt Sabs gained audio recordings of officers advising the Atherstone Hunt on which laws to use against sabs and monitors. The CA have ex senior officers manipulating police policy where they can. I’ve written on the subject before and will of course continue to do so. Where there is power there will be corruption and I believe it to exist at all levels within the police force.

roscoe_cordiner

PC Sharon Roscoe & Inspector Lou Cordiner at the Belvoir Hunt Ball

We’ve worked with many that are genuine and honest, lots will even privately tell you that they support what we do and wish us the best, but the fact remains no matter how much progress we make (and that’s been considerable) with regard to police relations there remains an issue which needs to be resolved.