Unmasked: Phillip Davies of the Countryside Alliance

You are unlikely to spot Phillip Davies out in the hunting field: he prefers to operate in the shadows. However, if you are one of the growing number of sabs to have been threatened or nicked under sections 35 or 60AA, then you have felt his influence. Davies is the Countryside Alliance’s Police Liaison Officer. Hunt saboteurs will be unsurprised to learn that he was himself a police officer for many years, joining the force in 1980 in South Wales and later moving to Dyffed Powys where he became a Chief Inspector in 2001. He retired in 2010, spent a leisurely year shooting birds out of the sky, then joined the Countryside Alliance. His job involves trying to undermine the Hunting Act and frustrate the work of the HSA, Stop The Cull and other anti-hunt groups.

One Of Our Own.

Davies’ key role is to influence policing policy in relation to hunting. To this end, he has inveigled his way onto various advisory bodies and attends policing events up and down the country. One such event was the National Police Chief Council’s conference which took place in Derby on 16th March 2016. Here, Davies delivered a twenty minute talk entitled ‘Hunting Without Harassment’ in which he went out of his way to portray hunt sabs as dangerous and violent criminals. In particular, he called for an increase in the use of both section 35 anti-social behaviour dispersal orders and section 60AA powers (which compel protesters to remove face coverings) against hunt saboteurs.

It is of concern that Davies is attempting to influence senior police officers who he may very well have come to know professionally – or even personally – during his lengthy police career. As every sab knows, the police are – to put it mildly – an extremely conservative and insular organisation and, at the conference, they were receptive to the message of someone they obviously regarded as ‘one of our own’. We must ask why police forces are prepared to invite an obviously biased speaker from a pressure group such as the CA to address them on a controversial issue like hunting.

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Phillip Davies

To illustrate the sheer hypocrisy and duplicity of Davies’ attempt to criminalise sabs, let’s just look at some examples of hunt violence from around the time of Davies’ talk in Derby. On March 10th, less than a week before the NPCC conference, masked followers of the Ross Harriers used an iron bar to smash the windows of an occupied sab vehicle. Footage from the incident shows one individual wearing a full balaclava, the other a skull mask of the type popular with neo-nazi groups such as the EDL. Three days after Davies’ talk, on the 19th March, a masked-up gang from the Middleton Foxhounds launched a vicious and sustained attack on North East Hunt Sabs at Skirpenbeck, North Yorkshire. A mounted redcoat blocked the road, while thugs used spades to smash the windscreen and windows of the car. Two months later came perhaps the most brutal attack of that season when a balaclava-clad mob assaulted sabs at the Cheldon Buckhounds on Exmoor. One sab sustained a fractured skull, others were beaten unconscious and had their cameras stolen. The national press covered this incident extensively and carried photos of both the masked hunt thugs and a badly injured sab – blood pouring down his (unmasked) face from a serious head wound. It’s clear who the dangerous and violent criminals are.

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Kevin Blowe, coordinator for the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), who attended the Derby conference, commented:

“Davies’ eagerness to see a wide extension of the use of section 35 anti-social behaviour dispersal powers immediately set alarm bells ringing for us. Under these powers, individuals face exclusion from an area for up to 48 hours. There is growing evidence this is misused as a new weapon against people already frequently targeted for harassment by the police. Section 35 is also increasingly used against anyone exercising their democratic right to freedom of assembly with absolutely no public oversight.

Trying to document and prevent breaches of the Hunting Act is quite clearly not “anti-social behaviour” and the police must stop routinely treating it as such. **Mr Davies’ efforts at the conference to portray anti-hunt groups as violent criminals seemed like a rather crude attempt by the Countryside Alliance to try to co-opt local police forces as its own private security. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country, that is exactly what we are witnessing.”

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We’ve Got You On File

If you are one of those sabs who choose not to wear a mask, or you are a LACS investigator, then your mugshot is likely to end up in Davies’ files. If you are really lucky your face will feature in the illustrated talk he delivers to bodies such as the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) and the Association of Masters of Harriers & Beagles (AMHB). Photographs of sabs and monitors have also been reproduced on postcards and distributed to hunts; and there growing evidence that some hunters are using sophisticated facial recognition software to identify sabs. At a time when even non-interventionist monitors are being targeted and attacked, this profiling is another serious concern. Sabs will recall that a LACS investigator had his neck broken by masked thugs at the Belvoir Hunt back in March 2016, while other LACS operatives have had sophisticated tracking devices attached to their cars by persons unknown.

Yet another aspect of Davies’ role is to gather intelligence on the likelihood of sabs turning up at major events such as hunting festivals. He is particularly bad at this aspect of his job, and has been unable to counter our most annoying habit: our unpredictability. We can – and do – turn up anywhere and Davies has failed to provide forewarning on several occasions when the HSA has sabotaged set-piece events such as Severn Vale Hare Week. Rumour has it that the organisers of this festival were furious with Davies after he incorrectly assured them they would be ‘safe’ from sab attention!

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What’s In A Name?

One of the reasons that people like Davies get away with ‘advising’ the police is that the Countryside Alliance has learnt to present itself as ‘the voice of countryside’. This, of course, is absolute bollocks. For sixty seven years the organisation now known as the Countryside Alliance was called the British Field Sports Society and it did what it said on the tin: defend all types of hunting with hounds and hare coursing. The ‘Countryside Alliance’ green-washing occurred in 1997 as a response to the Labour election victory and the looming threat of a hunt ban. In a cynical attempt to widen its support the BFSS/CA tried to portray such a ban as a general attack on rural life. However, those suffering from real rural issues – poverty, isolation, lack of affordable housing – quickly learnt that the CA offers them nothing.

Just look at the CA’s Board: it is comprised almost exclusively of hunting fanatics who will never accept that their ‘sport’ has been banned. These include chairman Simon Hart (former master of the South Pembrokeshire Hunt and current Tory MP), chief executive Tim Bonner (former master of the Wye College Beagles),  Lizzie Pinney (Director of the AMHB), and vice-chair Lord Mancroft (former master of the VWH Foxhounds, current chair of the MFHA and, by an extraordinary coincidence, also vice-chair of the former BFSS).

The CA’s membership, too, is very far from being a representative cross-section of the rural population. The fact is that every single registered hunt in the country requires evidence of CA membership as a pre-condition to subscribing or even joining the hunt supporters club. In other words, the CA is a pressure group very largely comprising people directly involved in hunting with hounds. Given that hunting was banned in this country over ten years ago, the police should be extremely suspicious of the CA’s activities, not inviting its representatives to ‘advise’ them or speak at their conferences. The police would also do well to remind themselves of the CA-orchestrated Hunting Declaration Day on 1st November 2003. This totally unprecedented event saw 50,000 hunt supporters publicly sign declarations that they would break any future law that banned hunting. Some of these aspiring criminals also threatened to escalate their campaign by poisoning reservoirs and burning down forests!

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Collusion in the Countryside?

As its Police Liaison Officer, Phillip Davies is at the heart of a disturbingly close relationship between the police and the Countryside Alliance. The Derby conference perfectly illustrates how the police are only too willing to let the CA set the agenda and dictate how they approach policing the Hunting Act and hunt saboteurs. This explains why we see a total disinterest in policing hunts, yet endless resources made available when it comes to harassing hunt saboteurs. The police are either too stupid to see the CA for what it is, or they are intimidated into doing the bidding of the powerful and influential people – including Lords and MPs – that lie behind it.

All the while, foxes, hares, deer and mink are still being hunted and killed in the British countryside, while those trying to save them continue to face arrest, assault or even worse.