This time tomorrow I’ll be at Peterborough Crown Court for what I assume will be the final instalment of what feels like the never ending Fitzwilliam Hunt conviction saga. I’ve covered the story in great depth through previous blog posts so it’s pointless to go over everything again but if you want to catch up then see here, here, here and here.

I’m not really sure how things will pan out but you can never tell with Hunting Act cases in particular and I’m sure the main chance for the hunt overturning the conviction is the hope for a more sympathetic judge. The simple fact is their evidence isn’t going to get any better and having faced the defence’s cross examination for over 2 hours previously I wonder what they are going to come at me with this time.

There’s also the wider implications this may have for the Bird of Prey Exemption within the Hunting Act. If the original decision of the court is upheld other hunts which use this smokescreen will have to seriously reconsider how they operate.

Regardless of the outcome I have to be pleased we’ve dragged them through the courts and secured a conviction first time round. That’s a rarity in itself. From my own point of view and certainly that of everyone else who witnessed the proceedings on the day there’s no doubt of the guilt of George Adams (the now retired Fitzwilliam huntsman). I just hope the Judge presiding tomorrow see’s it the same way as District Judge John Wollard did on the original case.

In his summing up his statement spoke volumes.

“You are either taking part in Falconry, or hunting foxes with hounds. If you are taking part in Falconry you do not need a full pack of hounds to flush the animal, you would use only 2 or 3 of a more suitable breed. Therefore I can only assume you were taking part in hunting foxes”.

Finger crossed.

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George Adams with the Fitzwilliam Hounds.

The main hunting season may be over in my part of the world but elsewhere animals continue to be pursued by hounds for hours and then when finally exhausted, killed.

Stag and Hind hunting in the south west of England has made the news recently with the footage and evidence being released by my good friends over at Hounds Off which clearly illustrates that it is very much business as usual for the wildlife abusers who are killing with impunity.

For a better understanding of how this type of hunting is being allowed to continue you have to understand how they operate and how they are circumnavigating the law.

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Pre-ban image of a stag being shot after a long chase.

Prior to the ban, stags and hinds would have been selected from wild animals in the herd and singled out, then chased by a the pack of hounds over many miles until exhausted where the hounds would have been held at bay. At this point the huntsman would have approached and shot the animal. Sometimes these animals would have been captured before the hunt and then released into the hunting country, often a reserve animal would have been held in a horse box locally should the first escape, thus giving these psychopaths the maximum chance of a kill.

With the Hunting Act coming in to play in 2005 the hunts had to figure out a way to circumnavigate the legislation so they could continue to hunt, much like fox hunts did with the creation of “trail hunting”. There are several exemptions within the hunting act which will allow stalking and flushing out under certain conditions but all of these restrict the number of hounds to 2. This was clearly an issue for the deer hunters so they invented “relay hunting” where several pairs of hounds were used in relays to chase the quarry animal to exhaustion before being killed.

However the Quantock Stag Hounds fell foul of the law in 2007 when they were successfully prosecuted for breaching the Hunting Act while attempting to use this exemption and again in 2010 while claiming to “Rescue a Wild Animal (part 8 para 2).

From the point of view of the hunts there was clearly more work to be done in their efforts to avoid prosecution and for this they looked further afield for inspiration.

Commercial Whaling has been banned since 1986 and yet we’re still seeing these wonderful sentient creatures murdered in some numbers by countries who claim to be using the scientific exemption within the moratorium which allows the killing of whales for vaguely defined scientific purposes. Here was something the UK hunts could use as within the Hunting Act there existed a similar exemption, part 8, para 2;

Research and Observation

“The first condition is that the hunting is undertaken for the purpose of or in connection with the observation or study of the wild mammal”.

What has to be questioned here is what could possible be gained in terms of scientific knowledge by chasing a stag or hind for many miles before finally killing the animal and carving it up to be handed out as trophies? I’d argue with some certainty that we already know pretty much all we’re likely to about these native mammals and there can be no scientific justification for the hunts. However the CPS seem reluctant to take on these cases and the they have recently dropped several against the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds.

What is abundantly clear is that hunting continues much as it did before the ban with the only change being the use of  2 hounds in relays. The Research and Observation exemption really needs to be challenged in the courts but for that to happen we need to be able to get it into the courts in the first place and for the CPS to grow some balls. It shouldn’t be too hard to disprove these nonsensical claims. Of course the best and final way to stop this hunting is a strengthening of the Hunting Act but that will probably also require a change in Government. Removal of these daft exemptions might not stop the hunting completely but it will certainly give the police and CPS a clear direction in prosecuting these criminals.

 

Part of our success in securing a prosecution of the Thurlow Hunt pair was in fact the judges ruling that despite their claims of trail laying the reason for their presence in Trundley Wood was in fact the likelihood that they would find a fox there. In this blog post I’m going to elaborate on why this was not just likely to happen but in fact certain to happen.

Much of the work for this post had been done for me by a colleague and fellow witness in the case. It was her video footage along with my own which formed the backbone of the case. The information which I’m now going to publish was submitted as evidence however due to the lack of proof linking it to the huntsman, Chris Amatt, it was never discussed in the court proceedings. However now that it’s all over we can release this and highlight what continues to take place all over the country and not just in Thurlow Country.

“In countries where earths are scarce it is sometimes found necessary to make artificial earths, to provide somewhere for local foxes to have their cubs : in other words, for breeding purposes. Another advantage of artificial earths is that in grass countries where the coverts tend to be small and scattered it is useful to have snug earths judiciously placed at regular intervals, thus persuading foxes to take a good line. An additional advantage is that if an artificial earth is left open, it will only take a few minutes to bolt a fox. Also if it is a blank day, one knows where to go with some certainty of finding a fox . . . In this book I only wish to touch on the subject, and to tell you what my grandfather had to say. He felt that artificial earths should be primarily intended as breeding establishments, and so among the chief points to be borne in mind should be the aspect, position, soil, drainage and materials used for their construction”. – Exert from Fox Hunting, The Duke of Beaufort, published by David & Charles, 1980

For those that don’t know artificial earths are structures built and maintained by hunts to provide shelter and breeding places for foxes. Their sole purpose is to ensure a good supply of foxes ready for the hunting season. They are most often constructed of pipes buried underground, leading to a central bedding chamber. The chambers can be elaborately built with brick or drystone walls.

There are 2 artificial earths in Trundley Wood.

artificial earths

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The picture above shows the entrance to artificial earth 1. This is a pretty standard arrangement and there is another entrance of the other side of the mound in the picture. Between these 2 entrances is the central bedding chamber. You can just see the edge of this in the picture below.

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This artificial earth would appear to be perfectly serviceable. The picture below shows the pipe to be dry and clear of any obstructions.

pipe 1

Below is the entrance to artificial earth 2.

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Once again the entrance is clear of obstructions and would appear to be serviceable for use.

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Interestingly the League Against Cruel Sports published the location of this earth in an investigation they carried out in 2011. You can clearly see the earth here and the area it covers. The photograph was clearly taken only a short time after it’s construction and a clear indication the Thurlow Hunt were still undertaking activities to encourage foxes several years after the ban had been in place.

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They noted in their report: “The earth is in a wood owned by the Thurlow Estate, one of whose directors is a joint Master of the Thurlow Foxhounds. Trundley Wood is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest by English Nature because of its ancient, semi-natural woodland.”

Let’s face it, most, if not all hunt staff are likely to know where to find foxes, especially if those locations are static and built by the estate themselves. All they have to do is rock up at any of these locations during a hunt and theirs a pretty good chance the hounds will pick up on a fox to hunt. If you’re the Kimblewick you’ll have the terrier men make sure there’s a fox a home the night before and hold it there over night to be released in front of the hounds the next day.

These aren’t isolated incidents. There are artificial earths all over our countryside and they are still very much in use by both foxes and the hunts who maintain them. In the Thurlow case it was highly likely the hounds picked up on the scent of the poor animal and it was attempting to seek refuge in one of these earths when it was caught and killed. No doubt had it reached one of the earths and we had not been on the scene, the terrier men for the hunt would have been called in the flush the animal so it could be hunted again.

Make no mistake, the so called Countryside Alliance can continue to claim that hunts are obeying the law but the simple fact of the matter is we all know different and the very presence of artificial earths on hunt owned lands only strengthens this argument. The Thurlow Hunt are prodigious artificial earth builders. In their relatively small hunt country there are 31 known artificial earths. They must have a lot of foxes to hunt. While the evidence submitted here was’t actually used in the case itself it is a clear indication that the hunt knew very well they would find a fox in Trundley Wood, in fact they were relying on it.

 

This is going to be a long blog post so grab a cuppa and settle  in.

If you’re a follower of our Facebook page or Twitter feed (give us like or a follow if you haven’t already) then you’re probably already aware of the outcome of the Thurlow Hunt trial.

If not then very briefly the hunt chased and killed a fox in Trundley Wood near Great Thurlow, Suffolk, on Boxing Day 2017. We were present when they did this and supplied the footage and statements which led to the conviction of the now retired Huntsman, Chris Amatt for hunting a wild mammal with dogs in contravention of Section 1 of the Hunting Act and Common Assault against myself as I retrieved the body of the fox.

The second defendant, Archie Clifton-Brown was found not guilty of the Hunting Act offence but guilty of Assault by Beating, once again, against me for retrieving the body of the fox.

The trial was held at Ipswich Crown Court but was a Magistrates listing. District Judge Nick Watson was presiding over the matter and the case lasted 3 days.

I have a whole load of notes from the day but for the purpose of this blog I’ll try and highlight the most salient points and those which piqued my interest in one way or another.

I was actually first on the witness stand to give evidence, we were informed that each witness would take approximately 30 to cross examine. An hour and half later I’m still on the stand, effectively getting tag teamed by 2 defence barristers who were doing their upmost to discredit my testimony and catch me out. They main problem they had of course is than when you have truth on your side you just have to take a deep breath, consider your answer and stick to the basics. They also had the issue in that I have a fair amount of hunting experience and this isn’t my first time on the stand. Some of the suggestions they made in defence of their clients ranged from the laughable and sinister to downright odd and irrelevant. They even asked me who trained me and how many paid members there were of the HSA! What that had to do with the case I’ll never know. The judge was clearly getting tired with their constant harassment and stepped in, forcing them to finally cease their questioning.

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Archie Clifton-Brown. He wasn’t smiling when he left court.

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Chris Amatt – Thurlow Huntsman in 2017

Our second witness was not only our most experienced sab but also an experienced horsewoman. This completely flummoxed the defence, her confidence in her knowledge of both hunting and riding was something they really struggled to deal with, it was a master class in the delivery of court evidence and the 2 (no doubt very expensive) defence advocates were quite frankly left floundering.

All of the remaining witnesses for the prosecution came across as both honest and credible regardless of their experience and how nervous they would obviously be in such a stressful situation. We are all professional people and hardly the swampy-esque, work shy, soap dodging terrorists the so-called Countryside Alliance attempt to paint us as.

When huntsman Chris Amatt took the stand it was time to really see what their main play was. It can be simply summed with the list below.

1 – The hounds accidentally got on the scent of a fox.

2 – The hunt staff made attempts to stop them but claimed once they were on a fox nothing could stop them apart from getting in front.

3 – There were over 20 sabs in the wood, arranged in a horseshoe shape who turned the fox back into the hounds as it ran north up the track in wood.

4 –  Sabs kicked and punched hounds and twisted the skin of the horses.

5 – Sabs tried to steal hounds.

6 – The fox, once dead was the property of the estate so it was justified to used force to prevent sabs from removing the body. Such an act was to be considered public spirited (really, that’s no joke).

7 – A sab from North Cambs is very tall (again, no joke)

8 – The hunting on calls were in fact Amatt making calls to stop the hounds

9 – Clifton-Brown wasn’t the Whipper In.

10 – Older hounds know the difference between a laid trail and a real animal and will know something is wrong (clever hounds those).

11 – Horn calls are for the benefit of the other riders and not really for any hound control.

Now the main problem with all of these claims are that they are complete nonsense, easily countered by both our statements and the very detailed videos we provided as evidence. The excellent prosecutor Richard Kelly had an absolute field day with Amatt, skillfully pointing out all in inconsistencies in his argument when compared to his statement. Quite frankly it was like watching a car crash in slow motion and to be honest quite uncomfortable viewing. Amatt started off looking fairly calm, but by the end he was clearly very rattled, red faced and losing his cool. A highlight of Amatts testimony was claiming I came at him like a “Red Indian”. Not really sure what that means, maybe I had a feather stuck in my hair?

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Picture of me in sabbing attire. Actually Red Cloud, Lakota chief (1822 – 1909)

If we thought that was bad on day 3 Clifton-Brown took the stand. Now what we have here is a very, and I mean very self entitled young man. He is part of the Vestey Family with cousin Robin Vestey as Master and owner of the hunt, the Thurlow Estate and a whole host besides (some background here) and his uncle is pro hunting and shooting MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown. His behaviour on the stand was nothing less than arrogant and dismissive of the whole legal process. You could tell he honestly believed this was below him and he didn’t have to answer the questions put to him, he became highly animated, slapping his hands on the stand, refusing to answer questions and even arguing with the judge! Now I’m not sure what legal advice he had been given but just being compliant with the court and respectful of the process would have been a start, and all this from someone who is only in his early 20’s.

The defence called more witnesses including Robin Vestey, who they claimed was laying the trails on the day and also another Whipper In, William Burton. Here was a man with a very obvious dislike for anyone who didn’t agree with fox hunting. Now there was some fairly fruity language exchanged by both side during the incident but if you’re going to live in a glass house you shouldn’t really start throwing stones. Burton claimed they had used no such fowl and threatening language which was beautifully put to bed by Prosecutor Kelly playing the video where Burton shouted “Who do you think you are you little shit?” in my direction and the now quite famous line “Get it off him Archie” when referring to the dead fox.

With regards to the list earlier in this piece, this was in fact the reality as the judge saw it.

1 – The hounds got on the scent of a fox as they were in a wooded area likely to hold that animal and were there due to the huntsman taking them there.

2 – The hunt staff made no attempt to stop the hounds, their inaction was a clear indication this was, in fact, what they wanted to happen. It should also be considered that a huntsman with the experience of Amatt (29 years) should be able to easily control the hounds. He made constant references to being tuned into them and them to him. There were no voice or horn calls, no cracking of the whip.

3 – When the incident took place there were 3 of us directly involved positioned some distance to the north of where they were hunting. 2 more from our group were some distance behind and sabs from North Cambs were again some distance away to the east and arrived after the fox was killed. The total was 8 with a couple more arriving later. At no point did the fox turn north into us, the hounds hunted it southwards where it turned east across in front of us, most likely turned by Amatt himself.

4 – No evidence for this at all, in fact as vegans and lovers of all animals this goes directly against everything we stand for.

5 – Again no evidence of this either. It relates to a hound which became lost and was running through the village. We actually have footage of this as well along with Vestey on his quad looking at it and wondering what to do.

6 – This was a technicality the defence had cooked up in an effort to justify the use of force against me to recover the body of the fox as evidence. It was likened to someone smashing a glass in the face of another person in a pub. The landlord, who was friends with the assaulter could then claim as the glass belonged to him he could assault who he liked to retrieve it. They spent a long time pushing this but it ultimately failed as a gambit.

7 – Apparently being tall is bad. Clifton-Brown is a short lad and it was claimed he was intimidated by the tall sab. I find it amusing they didn’t compare Clifton-Brown with me as we’re much closer in height stakes.

8 – It is very clear in the video you can hear the classic hunting on calls of “On On On Come ooon” . The defence attempted to say this was Amatt attempting to call the hounds off and was in fact saying “come along, come along”. No huntsman would ever use those words and it must have been an embarrassment to even suggest this.

9 – Clifton-Brown was dressed in classic whipper in hunting attire. He wore a red coat, with pin and 5 buttons. He carried a whip which he claimed he couldn’t use although as a master and huntsman with a beagle pack this was clearly another lie. The judge in summing up noted that while it was clear Clifton-Brown had a much more important role in the hunting than was claimed there wasn’t enough proof to convict him on the Hunting Act offences.

10 – Hunting hounds aren’t the brightest of animals, they are bread for speed and stamina and for a single purpose. To suggest some hounds know the difference between a laid trail and when they are on the scent of a real fox is utterly laughable especially when you consider the hunt claimed to be using fox urine as a scent. This claim also seems to defeat the purpose of trail hunting.

11 – Now I’m sure there are other hunters reading this as I know they do but really, horn calls aren’t really anything to do with hound control? Why is it they all the hounds come running to the sound of it. Why is there a whole host of various calls in which the huntsman will use to calls the hounds? What complete and utter guff. They took us and the judge for fools and they paid the price.

In summing up the judge saw all the prosecution witnesses as honest and credible while he went on to describe the evidence supplied by the defence as “fanciful” and a clear fabrication in order to cover for their crimes.

Obviously all of those involved (from our side) are overjoyed at the result despite the rather pathetic sentences handed out. It should be noted that this wasn’t the fault of the judge as he can only sentence within the guidelines of the crimes committed.

Obviously CA head bumpkin Dim Tim Bonner had to make a statement and as usual was completely clueless.

“This is a disappointing judgment. This incident happened on Boxing Day 2017, the most popular day in the trail hunting calendar, when the Thurlow hunt was being followed by hundreds of supporters as well as dozens of masked animal rights activists. The idea that anyone would attempt to deliberately hunt a fox in such circumstances is quite bizarre.”

See the problem with Timmy’s quote is there were virtually no followers of the hunt, certainly not where the incident took place and there wasn’t even a huge riding field and none of us were wearing masks. And lets face it, most hunts deliberately hunt foxes all the time, why should boxing day be any different?

Finally a thank you to Sergeant Brian Calver of Suffolk Police’s rural team for the robust investigation. You can read their full statement here.

Full video below. (If the video isn’t showing on your device it can be viewed here)