I was asked on Twitter recently to write an article on why the CPS dropped a case against the Cotswold Hunt. The incident took place on the 21st October last year. That time of year meant it was a cubbing meet. The incident was filmed by a sab from Three Counties Hunt Sabs.

Before I go over the incident itself I think we should remind ourselves what the difficulties are when attempting a prosecution within the Hunting Act. I’ve mentioned several times before that the level of burden of proof to secure a conviction is set way too high. This is just one of the many problems with the current legislation and of course something which hunts will cynically exploit. Having been through the whole court process several times now and seen how cases are defended and all the tricks the hunts and their legal teams will employ to clear themselves the CPS will have to be fairly confident they’ll have a decent chance of winning. They also have to fulfill all the relevant criteria for it to be considered in the public interest. This doesn’t just mean whether the general public would see this as something they should be pursuing but also, and most importantly, if it’s worth spending the courts time and public money on the prosecution. If they don’t believe they will gain a successful prosecution then it wouldn’t be in the public interest to proceed.

The main point to prove in a court is the “intent“. Most hunts will claim it was an accident or some fox jumped out in front of the hounds because it was feeling depressed and wanted to end it all. Another is to claim it was the presence of sabs or monitors who turned a fox into the hounds while the hunt staff were trying to call them off. All complete nonsense of course but in the Thurlow trial the whip and huntsman both claimed in their statements that there were over 20 sabs in the wood who purposefully formed a “U” shape to head off the fox and turn it into the hounds. Of course our video showed only 3 sabs and them to be complete liars but it perfectly illustrates the depths that they will stoop in order to cover up their dirty little pastime.

Let’s look at what’s needed to prove intent.

1 – The huntsman has to know he is hunting live quarry, that means he’s seen the fox or it be proved that it was impossible for him to not be aware of it.

2 – The huntsman is encouraging the hounds. This is a critical one. You have to show the huntsman making clear encouraging voice calls to the hounds “on . . . on . . . on (or similar)” or doubling of his horn, both well known and accepted hunting calls to push the hounds on to their quarry.

3 – Get all of the above, on video. Hounds, chasing the fox, with the huntsman showing intent.

Anyone who’s spent any time in the field with a hunt will know how hard this is to achieve, purely down to the very fluid nature of hunting and the environment it take place in, not to mention the advantage the hunters have in being able to move over distance far faster than someone on foot.

So let’s get back to the Cotswold Hunt case.

I spoke to the sab involved and have seen the video evidence. It was a very wet day which will make the use of a video camera challenging however I don’t think this will have been a significant factor. Early on you can hear the hounds speaking, the sab is close to the whipper in at the end of a narrow covert on a path between fields. The hounds begin to speak and then a fox appears very close to the whip and runs directly past the sab. The hounds soon appear and the sab does a great job of rating the hounds back and they take off again in a different line.

The whip does nothing.

 

Fox directly in front of the whip.

Fox runs past sab. Lead hound in the background.

The huntsman then appears and gathers the hounds and takes them off in the direction that the fox went.

A short time time later you can hear the hounds once again in cry, in the far distance you can just about make out the lead hound heading down the hill. You cannot see a fox.

Lead hound is the small white dot on the right of shot.

The rest of the pack can then be seen moments later a short distance behind coming down on the same line.

The sab runs up the hill along the original covert. A holloa is heard coming from a third party. This signifies a fox has been seen and is a direction to the huntsman. The person who made that holloa appears in front of the sab and she notes this in the commentary.

The person responsible for the holloa. Note huntsman in the background.

The hounds and huntsman are now in the bottom of the valley. You can hear several horn calls, these appear to be gathering calls and the sab notes that she thinks they have been called off however another person is seen, it is clear he is carrying the body of a fox.

Removing the dead fox.

It’s fairly evident from the video that this is nothing more than blatant illegal hunting and a fox has been killed. However from the CPS’s point of view there are several issues which they know won’t hold up under scrutiny in court and will be easy enough for any competent defence team to put enough doubt in the judges mind.

First off at the very start of the video the whip is clearly aware of the fox but does nothing to stop the hounds. While this in itself doesn’t not confirm intent it will heavily imply it and any judge seeing this will ask why no action was taken. Secondly the whip is not in control of the hounds, his job is to assist the huntsman so will not have a horn and leave all the commands to the huntsman unless instructed otherwise to do so, this will usually be to gather up lost hounds or to prevent them from straying into areas they don’t want to go.

After the sab rates the hounds the huntsman takes them along the route of the fox, clearly hoping to pick up on it’s line. The sab informs him of the foxes presence. While you’d have to be an idiot to think differently again this could be easily argued in court that the huntsman hadn’t seen any fox and wanted to go in that direction anyway, plus he never believes what sabs say.

The footage of the hounds coming down the hill isn’t clear, you can just about make them out however there is no fox visible. It could be argued that they had pre laid a trail here and the hounds were simply following that. The holloa is the next giveaway however once again that in itself is not something that would provide conclusive evidence that a fox is there. Unless the person was identified by the police and called as witness it’s nothing more than circumstantial at best, plus they could easily lie and say they were shouting for something completely different.

Another issue is there is no film of the hounds chasing the fox or indeed the kill. The next we see is the huntsman gathering the hounds, the sab believes they’ve been called off however she quickly realises they’ve killed with the long distance shot of someone walking away with what appears to be the body of the fox. Again, unless this person is identified all of this is circumstantial. There’s nothing to tie that person with the hounds of the fact that the hounds has in fact killed it.

Going back to my original points with regard to proving intent.

Does the huntsman know he is hunting live quarry, or more importantly does the evidence prove beyond reasonable doubt that he is? Very simply – no.

Can the huntsman be proved beyond reasonable doubt to be showing intent? Again no.

Does the evidence have all of the previously mentioned criteria in the same shot – fox, hounds and huntsman showing intent? No it doesn’t.

The legislation needs to be changed.

In any other case the evidence would no doubt have been enough to gain a conviction and this is why it’s so hard to gain a successful prosecution under the Hunting Act. It could be a very good bit of legislation with a few simple changes and much stiffer penalties. If it was easier to prosecute and there was a real risk of doing time it would be a real deterrent to those who enjoy killing animals for fun. That could also be made to apply to the masters of hunts and not just the staff as it’s the masters who are ultimately responsible for the hunt and their activities on any given day. A paltry fine is easily paid.

Will the leaked webinars from the Hunting Office play a part in future cases?

The whole smokescreen revelations which only went on to confirm what we’ve know all along cannot be ignored by the courts regardless of the outcome of the investigation currently under way. If any hunt can’t prove their hounds were on a trail they are likely to come in for some very stiff questioning if they find themselves in court and most prosecutors will no doubt be able to bring into question their claims of following a trail. Personally I think this is something they will never completely recover from.

 

 

Since the publication of the hunting webinars and all the current repercussions now being felt by the hunting world it might be easy to sit back and assume the war is over and all that remains is to mop up the last remaining vestiges of resistance. However, the reality is that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

While it is undeniably true that hunting with hounds has been fundamentally damaged this is no time to rest on our laurels. The so-called Countryside Alliance are finally starting to find their voice in their defence of hunting but their attempts at damage limitation appear to be pretty poor due to the fact they are wholly based on the assertion that trail hunting is a legal activity. If carried out as it should then their claims could be considered credible however the webinars prove this is not the case and it doesn’t matter how much noise they make about it this is never going to change.

 

What was more laughable was the production of a video which was designed to show how trail hunting worked. With shots from both hand held and drone cameras along with titles to offer an explanation it did nothing more than prove what utter nonsense it all was. The production was cheesy to say the least and was so contrived it could have been a parody. The other problem was the hunt they chose to focus on, none other than the criminally convicted Kimblewick! It may have been better for the CA to choose a hunt that hadn’t been convicted of dragging a fox from its earth and throwing it on front of the hounds and also shooting most of their pack a few years ago as they all had bTB. It was obviously not shot at an actual hunt either as there were no field riders (except for a single female escorting a child – have to get a child in there) or their own soft underbelly, the terrier men. It was also amusing that they shot this piece at the same location that we sabbed them blatantly cubbing only last September. Of course I couldn’t help but bash out a quick a more realistic version . . .

Some other news was last night’s vote by Peterborough City Council to ban all hunting on their land. The motion brought by Councillor Ansar Ali said:

“Most registered hunts claim to now be ‘trail’ hunting, an activity invented after the ban which allows hunts to claim that any chase of a wild mammal is an accident rather than intentional. This Council resolves that it will not permit trail hunting, exempt hunting, hound exercise and hunt meets on its land.”

He told ITV News: “There should be no place for [hunting] in the 21st century. There is growing resentment from the general public for this outdated and cruel sport.”

While the amount of land that this will effect is only minimal it sends a clear message of public opinion and obviously that got up Bonner’s snout. He winged about setting a “dangerous precedent” and continued with their time honored claims of “cheap political stunts” and “class war”.

Hunt Sabs spokesperson Lee Moon summed up the vote:

“The trail hunting smokescreen has well and truly been blown away and the British public are finally seeing the truth about “trail” hunting.  The hunting community have been engaged in a nationwide conspiracy to commit illegal acts for the past 15 years and people are sick of it.  We expect many more Councils to follow suit as more and more landowners protect themselves from being dragged into criminal acts.”

Out in the fields the hunts will be making their own decisions. Many, in keeping with their inflated sense of entitlement and arrogance will continue to hunt live quarry regardless while others seem confused and unwilling to risk being caught out. This will no doubt be a reflection on their relationship with the local law enforcement authorities and the levels of corruption therein. Needless to say all senior officers won’t be able to plead ignorance of the criminality going on in the countryside as copies of the webinar have been sent out to every force in the country by the HSA.

While the criminal investigation takes place into the webinar we need to maintain the pressure and keep our opponents on the back foot. Keep lobbying local land owners and supporting your local sab groups. Covid-19 has seen the cancellation of most of the usual festive hunt meets which is a small bonus to the situation and likely to cause a significant loss of revenue, however hunts will still be meeting, largely in secret and desperate to avoid the presence of sabs, monitors and the general public so if you encounter a hunt or see suspicious activity you believe to be hunt related remember to call the HSA Tip Off Hotline (07443148426) as soon as you can with the details. It could save lives.

As you’re all aware through the lack of updates over the past year I decided to take a bit of a break from writing but I couldn’t let this story pass by and not comment, in fact I had a different angle lined up but held it back after some advice from someone in the know and I’m glad I did.

It’s been well over a week now since the Hunt Saboteurs Association published the webinars held by the Hunting Office that show senior members of the hunting world that included Lord Mancroft – Conservative Peer, Chair of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) and former Chair of the Countryside Alliance and ex-senior police officers Phil Davies (more about him here) and Paul Jelley. Also present were Richard Tyacke – Chairman of the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AMHB), Hunting Office Executive Director and former Master and Huntsman of the Wynnstay Hunt as well as Mark Hankinson – MFHA Director, Hunting Office Executive Director  and former Master of the Wilton Hunt.

 

Lord Mancroft – Or is it the eagle from the muppets?

It seemed that there was significant resistance by the mainstream media to cover the story but with the US elections, Brexit and Covid-19 still the main stories that was hardly surprising however it would be easy to suggest that the story was being suppressed as multiple copies of the video were removed from social media with bogus copyright claims. However the level of public interest on social media proved that this was never going to go away, much to the chagrin of everyone involved in hunting.

ITV News Story

Finally it was ITV that came forward and released the story with the added bonus that the police and CPS were actually looking into the situation to see if any crimes and been committed. From my perspective it’s fairly evident from the video and despite what the Hunting Office and the Countryside Alliance might try and claim that those present are conspiring to incite mass criminality, encouraging the many hunt  masters viewing the webinar that if they want to carry on hunting much as they did pre 2005 then all they have to do is follow a few simple rules and they’re good to go. In fact they go even further by offering financial support for any hunt caught hunting and facing prosecution, but only if they’ve followed their advice and created the “smokescreen” they go to such great length to describe and promote.

If you haven’t seen it already the full video’s can be viewed here: Video 1 and Video 2.

Full transcript can be download here and here.

It also seems pretty good timing that a TV crew from ITV were present and actually witnessed and filmed a fox being hunted by the Beaufort Hunt just before lockdown.

 

 

The Hunters response

What is also obvious is the lack of any real comment for the hunting community. The normally extremely vocal Tim Bonner of the CA took his time before uttering any sort of a word on the matter although it wasn’t a direct response to the webinar story and was more as a response to the amount of country that hunts will lose due to the withdrawing of the licenses by major land owners (more on that in a bit) and how they’ll still all be out on Boxing Day, however the official CA media accounts have also been strangely quiet, offering little more than the similar mumblings of the Hunting Office’s claims that the words of those speaking at the webinar had been taken out of context. There was a rather pathetic response from This is Hunting UK which got totally rinsed in the comments after which they posted some waffle about unity and some nice pictures of hounds, hardly a solid forward defensive stroke. Needless to say I’d like to be a fly on the wall at the Hunting Office right now. Head of Hunting at the CA, Polly Portwin is well known for spinning lies but even her abilities for growing a long nose would appear to significantly overmatched by the truth.

 

Hunting licenses suspended

There was significant pressure applies to all the major land owners by members of the public and anti hunt campaigners alike. The first to come out with a statement saying they would be suspending hunt licenses was Forestry England and like a house of cards it was only a matter of time before others followed. There had been a concerted effort to get the National Trust to ban hunting on it’s land, regardless of the unregulated conditions they had set previously they had always stubbornly refused to be drawn into any discussion and continually just replied with a standard response. This time however it would appear that they would be forced to take action and a couple of hours later they too withdrew all licenses on their land. United Utilities, the largest corporate land owner in the country were a little late to the party but they got there in the end and that’s the main thing. As I write more organisations who license hunts are currently reviewing the situation and are likely to follow suit.

Forestry England chief executive Mike Seddon: “We are clear when we give people licences or permission for activities in the nation’s forests that they must behave legally and responsibly or risk losing the right to carry on. Once we had confirmation from the police that they were investigating activities involving the Hunting Office, we suspended all licences granted to organisations that delegate work to them.”

United Utilities statement

 

So what happens next?

The police investigation will be headed by Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton, National Police Chief Council lead for fox hunting and part of Devon and Cornwall police. He was also author of the Operational Advice on Responding to Hunting Incidents document for the National Police Chiefs Council (this can be found online with a simple search for those with an interest). If I’m brutally honest I’d be really surprised if any prosecutions arose from the investigation however in the wider context hunting has been seriously damaged and those officers on the front line of policing who didn’t hold an opinion one way or another will be finding it very hard to believe anything that comes from the hunting community now knowing they’ve been treated as mugs for the last 15 years and those officers that have  supported hunting and known about the conspiracy all along won’t be feeling too confident in being able to support their mates in the hunts. I’ve been in touch with my local police force and needless to say they were very interested and the footage was disseminated to the rural crime team.

So could this be the end for them?

I doubt it’ll be the end anytime soon but this has been one of the best weeks I can remember and certainly brightened up a very dowdy 2020. If hunting is to continue they are going to have to pull some very big rabbits out of some very small hats and I simply don’t see any easy way out. This horrible minority pastime dressed up as a sport has been fundamentally damaged and it’s likely heads will roll but it doesn’t matter who’s running the show, I don’t believe there will be any significant recovery.

Finally

Huge credit must go to those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get this in the public domain and into the mainstream media. Once it finally broke there was an avalanche of stories and coverage on TV, online and the printed press. You know things are serious when even the Torygraph starts putting the boot in.

The Hunt Saboteurs Association have run an excellent campaign and in line with that are also running a funding page (click here) so they can increase the already mounting pressure and not let up. Money is something the hunting side have a lot of, it would be nice to be able to balance those books a little bit.

Online Zoom webinars run by the Hunting Office evidence a nationwide conspiracy by hunters to commit perjury and actively flout the 2005 ban on hunting with hounds.  Throughout the three hours of talks, hunts are clearly and repeatedly incited to engage in mass criminality and shown how to present a smokescreen to anyone watching.

The three webinars were part of a series that took place in August this year and were attended by over a hundred and fifty hunt masters from across the country.  The panel was made up of leaders of the hunting community including:

Lord Mancroft – Conservative Peer, Chair of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) and former Chair of the Countryside Alliance.

Phil Davies – ex-Police Inspector and Police Liaison Consultant to the Countryside Alliance (more about him here)

Mark Hankinson – MFHA Director, Hunting Office Executive Director  and former Master of the Wilton Hunt.

Richard Tyacke – Chairman of the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AMHB), Hunting Office Executive Director  and former Master and Huntsman of the Wynnstay Hunt.

Paul Jelley – Master of the Chilmark and Clifton Foot Beagles from 1990 – 2013 and a Police Officer for 30 years.

These are the videos they are trying to suppress. Lets make sure they stay in the public domain.

 

Text and more information from The Hunt Saboteurs Association.