Just a short update this week as I had hoped to be making the final preparations for my time in court as a witness for the prosecution of the 2 members of the Fitzwilliam Hunt. When you consider the offence took place on the 01/01/16 you begin to understand that the legal process is not something which proceeds quickly and there is good reason for that. However the when dates and locations for the hearing get changed multiple times it can get somewhat frustrating.

The case was supposed to be heard this week (26/27th) at Chelsmford Magistrates but I was contacted by a court official only last week and informed that the case would now be heard in August at Colchester Magistrates. While this delay is annoying the reasons behind it could be deemed to be in the prosecutions favour. Due to the high profile of the case it couldn’t be heard in the county where the offence took place (Cambridgeshire) so other courts and magistrates had to be considered. I was informed the reason for the late delay was due to “court politics”. According to a legal expert who has been advising me court politics usually refers to a “magistrate that was due to hear the case that had obviously expressed some views about hunting which compromised their ability to hear the case objectively”.

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George Adams & John Mease

This being the case I guess I should be pleased with the delay although that statement could be taken in the both for and against (hunting) points of view. Further details from the court official once again highlighted that this particular case was more akin to that of a murder trial (to be honest I consider it a murder trial of the fox on that fateful day) in that it is being heavily scrutinised and is also the first time the use of the Bird of Prey Exemption has been challenged in the courts.

The investigating officer also contacted me the day after asking if we were all ready to go and I had to inform him of the further delays as he was unaware. From his point of view it made no difference as he wouldn’t have to attend the court on the day. Even though he was the investigating officer he didn’t conduct any of the interviews so wouldn’t be cross examined by the defence, as this was done by more senior colleagues from the serious crime section, another sign that things were being taken very seriously indeed.

While preparing for my day in court I did go over my statement and also reviewed the video footage. It doesn’t get any easier to watch and of course in my mind there can be only one outcome but, this is the Hunting Act and nothing is straight forward where that is concerned.

Continuing on my theme from last week and putting the record straight with regards to Bonner and the Countryside Alliance I thought it only necessary to dive further into their history with regards to their obsession with sabs and monitors. What helped me most was the acquisition of an internal memo sent by Bonner (in conjunction with Simon Hart) in 2009 to Stephen Lambert (board member of the CA) and Alastair Jackson (previous Chairman of the MFHA) with a plan on how they could potentially reduce the risk of being caught illegally hunting.

Tim Lawson Cruttenden

Timothy Lawson Cruttenden

The idea was to employ the legal expert Timothy Lawson Cruttenden, once described as “an enemy of free speech who had a history bringing legal action against activists and protesters and specialised in harassment law, to bring about a state of play which would hugely reduce the capability of all fox hunt monitoring by organisations or individuals by the use of the civil injunction. See the memo below:

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Pay special attention to the 3 main points highlighted. Burden of proof is based on probability rather than reasonable doubt, no defence for detecting or preventing crime and allowing the complainant to set the terms with obvious results for future monitoring. Also note that this trial case “would try to impose conditions on all monitoring of all hunts”.

You don’t have to be a legal expert to understand that there is a clear attempt here to subvert the real course of justice and a clear attempt at handicapping those who seek to bring them to justice via sinister, but legal means. It also highlights the lengths the CA were prepared to go to in allowing hunts to continue to hunt illegally without having to risk being taken to court.

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It makes quite interesting reading, especially when noting the potential cost of such a legal action, estimated to be in the £10 -20K range. This is no small sum and certainly well out of the reach of any normal person and we’ll cover more on that shortly. So how did history record the events that followed?

Wikipedia notes this:

The Crawley and Horsham hunt launched a legal action in the High Court for trespass, nuisance, and harassment against Simon and Jane Wild of West Sussex Wildlife Protection and West Sussex Badger Protection Group. The hunt used Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden, an expert in the use of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 in such cases. This was viewed as a test case and received support from the Countryside Alliance, the Master of Foxhounds Association and 80 landowners and if successful was planned to lead to a request for an injunction against everyone associated with these groups from interfering with the hunt. The defendants claimed to have evidence of illegal hunting taking place and were asking the court to accept this as a defence to the Harassment Act action. The original judge, Justice Cranston stepped down in July 2008 due to earlier comments made in support of the ban made while an MP. During the second trial it was reported that the judge dismissed nuisance and trespass, because they had “fundamental defects”, leaving only harassment. It was also reported that the protestors, using an undercover infiltrator, had been able to get hold of conclusive evidence that the claimants were engaged in illegal fox hunting. The principle plaintiff, Simon Greenwood, was filmed using his hounds to chase a fox to ground and then call in terrier-men to dig it out and throw it to the hounds The plaintiffs dropped the case, and agreed to pay costs estimated at over £120,000.

Bonner, Hart and all involved failed completely in their attempted action. In doing so the costs they were forced to pay were significant and it would appear that when Lawson Cruttendan estimated the cost of such an injunction he was significantly wide of the mark, from £20K to an incredible £120K! The fact that the CA probably didn’t have any trouble paying the huge costs says something about the financial might they can call on however being rich doesn’t always solve your problems.

The ramifications of this would continue to rumble on within the CA for several years to come. Internal emails I gained from CA employees claim;Many hours have been spent reconciling something that was ill conceived from the beginning” and “The architect of this doomed and financially disastrous case, Tim Bonner, has a lot to answer for”. Further to this there seemed to be some confusion as to who was actually responsible for the management of the case as all concerned seemed to be denying it was them. Lord Mancroft (famous for calling NHS nurses “grubby, drunken and promiscuous”) was noted as saying:

“Unfortunately the CA did not have management of the case, it was not well managed and so it has ended badly. If the CA were not in charge of the management, who was, as it was neither the Crawley & Horsham (by their own admittance) nor the MFHA – the last had nothing to do with it and expressed grave reservations about going forward from the outset”.

When we see these monumental CA cock-ups from the inside and see how they shouted from the roof tops about the changes to the face covering laws I covered in my last blog entry you start to understand why they got so excited about something so minor. Makes you wonder what other hair brained schemes Bonner will come up with next and why he even holds a senior position within the CA if he’s as incompetent as he appears. Irrespective of that, these revelations only further my belief that the CA are a truly sinister organisation who will stop at nothing to further their agenda by fair means or foul and are prepared to spend a significant amount of money in doing so. In this instance justice was done and the right outcome achieved however this may not always be the case. It was a relief that their recent attempt to gain charitable status also failed, quite frankly how any organisation can claim to be charity and yet who’s main purpose for existence is the promotion of blood sports is beyond me.

The Countryside Alliance and particularly their Chief Executive Tim Bonner have been banging on about sabs & monitors covering their faces for as long as I can remember. I first commented on the subject here. It’s certainly something which has got under their skin to the point of obsession so when the laws regarding face covering were modified recently they once again shouted from the roof tops to anyone who was listening that they’d gained some sort of victory.

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Oakley Hunt Terrier Men.

Their headline of “New power to remove face coverings from violent protesters comes into effect today” suggests a radical change in police powers however the modification to the Section 60AA legislation is only minor and certainly won’t change anything from the point of view of those who wish to remain anonymous from the CA and their intelligence gatherers. Previously for a Section 60AA to be used it had to be requested and then authorised from an officer of Inspector rank or above and the relevant paperwork signed before it could be enforced. Now this order can be given orally by the senior officer at the request of officers on the ground.

It’s not hard to understand why the CA want to know the identities of those who stand against them. They hold files on all sorts of people from monitors to sabs and LACS employees. This is so, should the need arise they can try to discredit, undermine or even use this information for more sinister purposes by passing it on to the hunts and their thugs which the activists operate against. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had my photo taken by hunters and their supporters. They are clearly under instruction to do so at every opportunity and these will be passed on to the CA so a database of their activities can be built up over time. I imagine my own file is fairly large.

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Masked hunt supporter taking my photo (again).

So, what is the reality of the situation?

Well, nothing really changes. You’ll note in the headline the words “violent protesters”. The police can’t simply turn up at a hunt and demand all those wearing face masks remove them, they still have to justify this order in the same way as previously and simply wearing a face covering isn’t justification. Of course the CA and Bonner like to claim that sabs are violent protesters but the truth of the matter is the complete opposite.

Firstly sabs are not protesters. They are there to stop hunts from illegally killing mammals in direct contravention of the Hunting with Dogs Act. The hunts themselves are more accurately described as the ones protesting as they are openly flouting a law that they disagree with. Secondly sabs are non-violent. They gain nothing from acting in a manner which would detract from their main purpose and in all likelihood lose them the support of the general public. Of course we’re fully entitled to protect ourselves from violent assaults and will do so but it simply isn’t in our interests to act like thugs, we leave that to the hunting fraternity.

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More hunt thugs

Speaking of which we can now look forward to all the hunt thugs and terrier men being unmasked but notice how the CA and Bonner deny all knowledge of the existence of these people? The silence from Bonner et al regarding all the violence from the hunting side which made the national media several times this past season speaks volumes. The hypocrisy involved here really is astounding. In Bonner’s recent statement he says;

There are only two reasons for wearing masks and face-coverings in the context of a protest: to intimidate and harass, and to hide identity with the intention of committing criminal offences and avoiding prosecution”.

Now remember that sabs aren’t the ones protesting and apply what he says to the pro hunting side. I find it highly amusing the CA are attempting to hold the moral high ground here and even when they put together a short video on Twitter which is alleged to show sab violence they can’t really come up with anything substantive. I can say without doubt that any of the sab groups across the country could come up with hours upon hours of footage of hunters, supporter and “stewards” acting violently towards people and property. It is, quite frankly, laughable. Bonner can harp on all he likes, the reality is that perhaps now we’ll get more convictions against the terrier men and the violent thugs the hunts employ and if the police try and apply the rules in a hunt situation it will apply to all concerned and not just from one side.

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Tim Bonner, wearing a face covering while watching a hunt.

The tweet below sums up Bonner & the CA perfectly so I’ll finish with that. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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So another hunting season is over.

It’s always good to look back and evaluate what’s gone on and see how you can learn to make ourselves more effective in future operations. We’ve tried a new direction this year and it’s certainly been an interesting experience but whether it turns out to be a success or not still remains to be seen.

Traditionally there has been a lot of suspicion and distrust between activist groups and the police and not without good reason. However we’ve made a concerted effort to break down these barriers and this pretty much started after my conversation with the Chief Inspector after I published this story (see here). It still seems a little odd to me that 6 months down the line we’ve had no contact with the officer that was the subject of that story in her position of Wildlife Crime Officer. Whether she still holds that position or not I don’t know but I can only assume she does. From then on we did however have a reasonable flow of information coming from the police. We were assigned a liaison officer with whom I met and discussed the way forward and we have continued to keep a regular dialogue. For their part the police seemed to be improving and took illegal hunting more seriously as well as the threat to our safety from the moronic half wits who act as the hunts personal security force. With our help the police were able to identify that the hunt was clearly hunting illegally and while not able to prosecute they didn’t impede us while we operated.

The problems arose with consistency of officers and the nature of the way our operations work.

As a group we have our own intelligence network and rely on informants within the hunting community passing on meet information or simply local people who have had enough of hunt riding roughshod over them. I’m fairly sure the police will understand this and we would inform our liaison as soon as we knew we would be operating in the county. This would often be the day of the hunt however apparently this doesn’t give the police time to act in any meaningful manner. This proved to be the case on the 4th of March when we were assaulted and had cameras stolen in a private woodland behind the Oakley Hunt kennels. The perpetrators claims we were trespassing and had the right to remove us from the land when the truth of the matter was the complete opposite. One particularly obnoxious couple even took their toddler to the confrontation, something any normal parent would clearly wish to avoid. We’ve been in regular contact with the owners of the wood and needless to say they are not happy with what occurred and have made repeated complaints against the hunt and to the police.

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Police vehicle parked in the Oakley Hunt kennels

The fact the hunt denied all knowledge of the people involved speaks volumes about the obvious lies they are prepared to tell to cover their own arses. The vehicles owned by the people responsible were parked in the hunt kennels! The response of the police on the day was appalling to say the least. The officers were utterly uninterested in hearing our complaints and sided instantly with those who had committed the crime even though they didn’t know the full story. We will be having a meeting next month with the Inspector in charge of that part of policing for the county and shall make our feelings known. Slightly concerning was the lack of information being passed between the officers themselves. I spoke to our liaison some time after the incident expecting her to be aware of it and yet it was all news to her. Surely if an incident took place involving us the first person to be informed would be our liaison officer? Clearly there is work to be done here and as it stands we’ve withdrawn all contact until our meeting but for the time being we’ll continue down this path for as long as it takes to get these one sided attitudes changed.

Of course not all forces as the same. We’ve had a fair amount of contact with Cambridgeshire rural units and they’ve done pretty well by bringing the Fitzwilliam Hunt to court (26th/27th April), and at the very least being impartial and investigating illegal hunting when required. Leicestershire have been awful in the past but now have a number of officers trained in matters relating to hunting (Well done to Northants Hunt Sabs who had a big hand in this) but Northants Police still have a way to go although having said that it was nice to know that some of the main protagonists among the thugs have recently been arrested by the Northants force, some for the second time and after searches of their houses alleged stolen property seized. We have submitted plenty of video evidence against them so fingers crossed that justice will be served. I do know that forces further afield still turn a complete blind eye to illegal hunting and still actively persecute the sabs and monitors in the fields attempting to stop these crimes, perhaps this is due to the story I published here or senior officers are hunters themselves?

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One of the many we saved, this time from the Fitzwilliam.

From a sabbing point of view the season has been a bit up and down although we can comfortably say we’ve made a big difference. Like everything in life we have good and bad days but even on the bad days we’ve saved lives and that’s what really counts. Our attentions have reduced the Oakley to a pathetic shambles, more often that not with only a handful of riders and a huntsman who can’t control the hounds. We’ll be surprised if huntsman Calamity Jack still has a job next year. What’s also been clear is their lack of hunt country. Land owners have clearly been pulling out from giving them permission to hunt on their land, there can be no other reason for the hunt to be so restricted and using the same areas several times a season and now that there are hunt hounds implicated in the spread of bTB things are only going to get worse for them.

We’ve had some good PR in the press both local and national and this of course has lead to more public support and people inquiring about getting involved. We’ll be running a training day over the summer for these potential new sabs, we’ll be fund raising and doing some outreach with a stall in a local Lush this May and a vegan fair later in the summer.

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One of our own escorting the shambolic Oakley.

I think the biggest thing we have learnt is more about ourselves. No matter what abuse we face, be it physical or verbal we only come back stronger, no matter how difficult it may be to work with the authorities it only makes us more determined. The general public are overwhelmingly on our side and that’s a powerful weapon to wield in conjunction with an unshakeable spirit to stand up and do the right thing. The Countryside Alliance may bang on every year about record crowds at hunts but the facts are somewhat different. There can be only one final outcome, it’s just a matter of time.