Posts Tagged ‘Costwold Hunt’

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┬áin 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.