You may remember back in January I blogged about the Kimblewick being caught red handed pulling a fox from an artificial earth and throwing it in front of the hounds (see here). The pair involved were the hunt’s terrier man Ian Parkinson and the hunt President Mark Vincent. They were subsequently charged with causing unnecessary suffering to a fox under the Animal Welfare Act.

On Wednesday 30th of October they stood trial at Oxford Magistrates Court with District Judge Kamlesh Rana presiding.

I wasn’t at court on the day (I’ve seen enough of courts for the time being) but I have received detailed notes from someone who was so I’ll try and put together a straightforward account of the proceedings and highlight the relevant points so grab a cuppa and settle in.

First off a bit of background to the case. Undercover footage was supplied to the Hunt Saboteurs Association which clearly showed 2 men, forcing a fox from an artificial earth using drain rods and then dragging it by the tail before throwing it to be chased by the hounds of the Kimblewick hunt. You can clearly hear the huntsman making “hold hard” commands, waiting for the fox to be released. There is clear communication between the pair in the video and the huntsman.

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It is unknown what became of the fox.

The law states: It is an offence to; cause unnecessary suffering to a protected animal or, if being responsible for a protected animal, to permit any unnecessary suffering to be caused to any such animal (Section 62, Animal Welfare Act 2006).

As this is an animal welfare case it was clear a large majority of the court time would be spent arguing about the context of what happened and if indeed the welfare of the animal was compromised. This would come down to the 2 expert witnesses, both veterinary surgeons, David Martin in the case of the prosecution and a certain Stephen Lomax who also acted for the defence in the South Herefordshire Hunt case and was also prosecuted for careless driving, someone who’s credibility would seem to be in doubt even before the start of the case.

The incident all happened on land know as the ‘Big Willows’ and belonged to a Robert Stevens. His statement confirmed he was aware the hunt were using his land but not what they were up to. Whether this was actually the case or not is open to speculation but his answer is realistically the only one he could give, admitting you knew an illegal act was taking place and with your tacit knowledge is likely to lead to your own prosecution through joint venture. One has to consider whether any land owner would know what is taking place on their land and indeed the presence of artificial earths, a structure which needs significant work and disruption to the ground.

As Lomax explained in court, artificial earths are used to encourage foxes into an area with the idea that they will take up residence in the earth. He went on to explain that there would be 2 possible reasons for someone to pull a fox from an artificial earth. Firstly so a gamekeeper can shoot it for pest control reasons and secondly so it can be hunted.

Before we cover further testimony of the expert witnesses we should hear about another witness who’s identity is being withheld for security reasons. The witness had gone to the town square to see the hunt on the day in question. They noted there were about 30 riders and of course the hounds. It was here they overheard a conversation between Andrew Sallis (joint master and huntsman on the day in question as well columnist for Horse and Hound) and a hunt supporter. Sallis had told this supporter there will be a “fox out” Moreton way so that’s where they should go. Up to this point the witness believed that they would be seeing a genuine trail hunt. They saw the hunt leave and head towards Moreton.

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Andrew Sallis – Horse and Hound

This is of course pretty damning as it clearly implies that the whole episode was planned well in advance, several people were aware of what was going to transpire and they were telling people where the action would be.

When the video came to light Vincent and Parkinson were identified and interviewed under caution by PC Darren James, a Wildlife Crime Officer with Thames Valley Police. Both defendants confirmed they worked for the Kimblewick but then offered no comment interviews. This isn’t surprising as most people when arrested will be advised to give a no comment interview by any decent legal representative.

PC James visited the site of the artificial earth and took photos for evidential purposes however the photos of the earth submitted by Lomax appeared to be significantly different. These photos showed that the earth had been completely destroyed, someone had clearly been there in an attempt to hide the evidence. The fact the earth had been destroyed clearly put significant doubt in the judge’s mind as to the validity of the report which was submitted by Lomax on the subject.

In terms of the welfare of the fox several points must be proved, firstly if it was to be considered protected it must be under the control of man. As the earth was blocked at both ends the fox was effectively being held captive and no longer in a free state. Therefore it would indeed be under the control of man, whether this state is permanent or temporary.

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We now have to consider the potential suffering of the animal and this is where the expert witnesses came in.

Lomax stated that foxes were resilient and tolerant of adverse circumstances. He admitted that holding one by the tail is not ideal however also said that holding the tail and hind legs would be fine and the best way to avoid being bitten. He went on to claim that while the fox may have been in some discomfort it was not suffering unduly. He believed the fox was being handled in this way in the video as it was hanging vertically and saw it’s legs come down once it was released.

He went on to state that the hounds being close by would not have scared the fox or caused it any suffering, even adding that he had seen foxes going into hunt kennels although he did admit that it was entirely possible that it was being released to be hunted. When questioned further on his dislike for foxes Lomax stated “I like foxes more than badgers”. He also admitted that he was a hunt follower.

The prosecution expert witness David Martin obviously saw things differently. He stated that the handling in the video would have caused both mental and physical suffering. As the fox was pulled out quite forcefully by its tail there was the potential for dislocation and the stretching of nerves which would lead to further suffering.

Neither Parkinson or Vincent took the stand.

The court finding were very clear.

1. The video showed that the fox was trapped by man.

2. Audio confirmed the drain rods made contact with the fox which was then pulled by its tail and thrown.

3. The court accepts the animal was under the control of man and therefore protected.

4. The testimony of Mr Martin was more detailed, whereas Mr Lomax was vague and more concerned with minimizing the offence. 

Any sentence has to adhere to guidelines set out in law. In this case the judge will have to consider:

1. The deliberate and pre-planned nature of the offence.

2. The aggravating circumstances, in this case why the fox was held and then released – to be hunted with hounds.

3. The actions to assist an illegal activity (hunting with hounds).

Regardless of the fact neither defendant had any previous convictions (they’d just never been caught before) the judge took the view that this would cross the threshold of sentencing guidelines necessary for a custodial sentence.

They will be sentenced on the 26th November.

 

 

 

Well that’s it, for the first time in almost 4 year I no longer have to concern myself with any court proceedings. It’s quite a relief to be honest.

On Monday (21/10) and Tuesday I, along with some colleagues had to attend Ipswich Crown Court for the appeal of the convictions we secured against the Thurlow Hunt last March (see here). We expected there would another full trial which would probably last for 3 or 4 days as Hunting Act cases are never straightforward.

However while driving to the court I had a weird feeling that the defence were going to offer a deal. I can’t explain why I had this feeling, I just did, and that turned out to be the case.

On my arrival I first spoke to the investigating officer from Suffolk Police and then the prosecuting QC, the excellent Richard Kelly. He explained what had been taking place in my absence prior to any further action actually in the court.

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The huntsman, Christopher Amatt would withdraw his appeal against the Hunting Act conviction if we no longer pursued the conviction for common assault.

Now some people have commented on our Facebook page that we should have gone for both but we need to be honest with ourselves here and look at the whole context of the case and also the likelihood of losing everything.

Firstly everyone involved in the first case was surprised we managed to get the conviction for assault. From my own point of view and the rest of those involved that charge was not particularly important, it was always the Hunting Act charge that was our main priority and something we were very keen not to lose out on. It was the police and CPS who drove the assault charges, even after the event it was not something I had even considered. So getting the hunting conviction in the bag was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned. That would effectively be the end of it.

We were to learn later on the reasoning behind their decision to abandon the hunting charge and that was Amatt’s requirement to travel to the USA for personal reasons, something he would be unable to do with a conviction for violence.

All that left now was the assault case against Archie Clifton-Brown.

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Now the problem we faced here was that the arguments would be very specific and not have the considerations of the wider context of the whole hunting case. In the previous case it was very clear both defendants were telling a whole pack of lies and I believe the judge saw this and simply applied the logic that they were lying with regards to the assault. Take away this wider context and the judge was simply looking a Archie’s words against mine along with the video of the incident.

The defence maintained it was Archie’s right to secure the body of the fox as this was the property of the estate and this was all he was trying to do. Obviously from my point of view that was complete nonsense, they were clearly trying to hide the evidence, which I was attempting to secure. Once again I was up against Peter Glenser QC, the Countryside Alliance‘s go-to man for high profile legal cases. It was also interesting to hear him read a quote this blog in court, I wonder if he’s reading this now, or maybe its the legal assistant in the form of Stephen Welford? Anyway, nice to have people from all sides reading what I write whether they agree with it or not.

They put some effort into making Archie look like the little lost boy who was only acting under orders and me, the black clad, highly experienced animal rights activist to whom this was all water off a ducks back. They even played footage of me from the Fitzwilliam case but that was fine by me as I reckon that showed me in a pretty good light.

Once again the judge described me as a straightforward and credible witness however the defence team had done their job and put enough doubt in the judges mind and he granted the appeal.

To be honest, I really didn’t give a toss. Of course it would have been nice to have the conviction upheld but this whole case was, from the other sides perspective, always about getting Archie off. They pretty much threw Amatt under the bus as he was largely expendable.

Getting the original assault conviction for Amatt was a small cherry on top of a thin layer of icing which was the Clifton-Brown Assault. The Hunting Act conviction was the big moist cake underneath it all.

We still have the cake and that tastes pretty sweet.

Finally, the police asked if they wanted the carcass of the fox back  (bearing in mind it was utterly minging, semi decomposed and over 2 years old ) and apparently they do. I kid you not.

I wonder what they’re going to do with it?

Simon Hart MP is (in my opinion) a particularly odious character and was the Chairman of the Countryside Alliance prior to his appointment as Minister of Implementation within Boris’s self serving (and hopefully temporary) Government. This clearly left the CA with a position to fill and we now know who that will be.

Nick Herbert MP is a former Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (May 2010 -Sept 2012) and was also the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He’s currently the MP for Arundel and South Downs in West Sussex. As you would expect from a Tory he’s Cambridge educated where he read law and land economy but more importantly we was the director of public affairs for the British Field Sports Society (the forerunner of the the Countryside Alliance), a post he held for 6 years.

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So are are we to make of this appointment?

Obviously his past demonstrates he is deeply entrenched within the hunting and shooting set and his time as director of public affairs at the BFSS would suggest he should know what he’s doing with regards to PR however the current CEO of the CA, Tim Bonner is a complete loon who constantly scores own goals with his irrelevant and nonsensical ramblings on social media. One wonders if Nick will be able to put a leash on him?

A little bit of digging would show Nick to be the previous Master and Huntsman of the Newmarket Beagles and also the Trinity Foot Beagles, a pack I have been involved in preventing hunting several times. For those that don’t know beagling is the hunting of Brown Hares with beagles. The hunt staff still dress up in stupid costumes but they hunt on foot. A hare will always be able to outrun a beagle (even though hunting beagles are very fast) however they don’t have the stamina of the hounds and as they are reluctant to leave their territory will also tend to run in large circles. In the end they will run out of puff and be pulled apart by the hounds. Beagle packs can kill many hares in an afternoons hunting (more info here).

How anyone can take any pleasure in watching this majestic animal being tormented and killed in such a manner is beyond most normal peoples comprehension but Nick himself describes this as some sort of addiction.

So it should come as no surprise then that Nick loves a bit of animal abuse and during David Cameron‘s time as Prime Minister he held the post of Minister for Police and Criminal Justice, which made him responsible for the policing of the Hunting Act. No doubt one of the many reasons why there was so little action from the police when a staunch hunting advocate was dictating Government policy on the situation.

In a statement about his appointment to the CA Nick states:

“The Countryside Alliance is one of the UK’s biggest campaigning groups, and its mission to stand up for the countryside and the rural way of life has never been more important.  I am passionate about these issues, and I’m honoured to be taking up this role at such a critical time for the countryside.  Having been involved in creating the movement some years ago it feels like I’m coming home.”

It’s pretty standard stuff but he’s right about the time being critical, not just for the countryside but for hunting itself. Beagling especially is a dying blood sport, those taking part are all facing their dotage and packs are going to the wall (see here). In a time where the biodiversity of our country is at an all time low and the pressures on our wildlife are increasing all the time it’s pretty sad that an organisation like the CA even exists, and while they may claim to represent the countryside as a whole we should never lose sight of the fact that their primary objective has always and will always, be the promotion of hunting and the repeal of the Hunting Act.

 

The Atherstone Hunt are finished.

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George Whitemore – Atherstone Huntsman 1906

This is of course incredible news and testament to the dedication and perseverance of a small group of people who took it upon themselves to protect the wildlife that was routinely persecuted by this organised gang of criminals, often with the full support of the police.

Full statement from West Mids Hunt Sabs below:

After six long years of an unrelenting and unstoppable campaign by West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs the 200 year old Atherstone Hunt have finally thrown in the towel and folded.

We have faced harassment, extreme provocation and regular violence from those associated with the Atherstone Hunt. We’ve received death threats, had our tyres slashed, cars burnt out and have been hospitalized. We have also faced a hostile campaign of police harassment from Leicestershire Police who have actively sabotaged investigations against the Atherstone Hunt whilst constantly seeking to prosecute members of our group at all costs.

We persevered and never backed down. Despite the regular violence we have faced our campaign has always remained non-violent. Over the last six years we have sabbed almost every single meet of the Atherstone Hunt. They have collected over 20 criminal convictions and cautions for their violence and antisocial behaviour and at their worst they were making the national press every other month for their hunting and violence. As well as stopping them killing foxes twice a week every week we have been able to expose the real face of fox hunting.

We witnessed them kill numerous foxes in front of us but that only made us more determined. We exposed all businesses that supported them. We held demonstrations at their biggest events of the year and at all of their fundraising events.

For six years the Atherstone Hunt have been completely sabotaged and as a result they have now folded. This means that for now the 908 km² area of West Leicestershire and North Warwickshire are completely hunt free and hundreds of foxes lives will now have been saved

Ultimately the Hunting Act needs to be strengthened however we are not waiting around for politicians to change the law or corrupt police forces to enforce the law. Fox hunting is cruel and barbaric and has no place in the 21st century. Hunt saboteurs will shut hunts down one by one until hunting is consigned to history.

Our only concern remains the safety and welfare of the hounds. We have notified relevant authorities

We would like to thank all the different sab groups who have helped us and joined us in sabbing the Atherstone Hunt over the years. We would also like to thank all of you who have donated towards fuel and equipment costs over the years, all the kind words and encouragement and all the tip offs and information sent to us.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Dedicated to Leanne Bridgewater.

If I can put this achievement into some perspective take a look back at this blog post I wrote back in 2015 (see here). It’s a meet of the Atherstone. Look at the number of supporters alone.

It was a hunt of some significance. I can remember driving to the meet on that particular day and seeing a least a mile of parked up support vehicles on both sides of the road. The riding field was huge.

Not any more.

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Trying to drum up support

Of course the hunting community are probably feeling a bit miffed right now to say the least. The FB page,This is Hunting UK are trying to rally support but the problem they have is a simple one. It’s impossible to promote hunting in a positive way to everyone when hunting is just a cruel and illegal minority pastime. The British public, by a vast majority no longer accept the lies spouted in an effort to save their sick little hobby.

This isn’t the first hunt to go to the wall, it certainly won’t be the last but the method in which this one was helped on it’s way should be considered a blueprint for others with the same goals.

To all those at West Mids Hunt Sabs – I salute you.

Finally I’d like to say “Hi” to Adrian Henson. I love it that you share my blog among your bumpkin friends online, it improves my figures! Did you like the one about the letter?

UPDATE: Comment from the hunt themselves on their FB page.

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