Posts Tagged ‘Golden Eagle’

. . . the Fitzwilliam case. This will be my last comment on the saga so let’s crack on.

It would appear that there will be no appeal. I’d held off commenting further and releasing the footage to the general public just on the off chance that an appeal would be forthcoming even thought the stated time limit for any appeal had long since past. Just for the point of clarity the law states:

“52.12 – 2(b) where the court makes no such direction, and subject to the specific provision about time limits in rules 52.8 to 52.11 and Practice Direction 52D, 21 days after the date of the decision of the lower court which the appellant wishes to appeal.”

As the case was heard back in April I think I can now safely assume it’s all done and dusted. As I commented before there was plenty of noise coming from Tim Bonner of the so-called Countryside Alliance about appealing but it was very much left in the hands of the Huntsman George Adams who now retried, would gain little from another court appearance except perhaps increasing the chance of a heart attack.

The ramifications of this conviction in the wider hunting community may already be starting to take effect. A post by Norfolk/Suffolk Hunt Sabs regarding the Easton Harriers highlighted the fact they were looking into purchasing a bird of prey in an effort to circumnavigate the law and allow them to keep killing our wildlife illegally. However these efforts appear to have been shelved once they realised that this exemption would no longer give them a suitable alibi. One has to wonder how many other hunts which have purchased birds are now reconsidering their options?

At the Trial

As part of my statement and evidence during the trial I submitted a detailed map I created using an aerial photograph and noted places where footage was taken and the approximate path of all concerned. While not 100% accurate (these thing can never be so) it was accepted by the court and used by the judge, the prosecution and the defence as a point of reference for the proceedings. This was actually quite an important aspect and it was never challenged by the defence in any way (see below).

map

Throughout the trial the defence’s main avenue of attack appeared to be based on 3 aspects.

(1) John Mease never had the opportunity to release the bird due to environmental restrictions (the fox was never in the open for sufficient time for a release).

(2) Sabs had turned the fox back into the hounds.

(3) To discredit the main witness (me) regarding the use of a hunting horn.

Defence Failures

(1) Defence barrister Stephen Welford put in a huge effort to clear Mease, something which he achieved however as described in an previous blog post this was due to the technicalities in the law and the control of the hounds and not through any of his own efforts. Under examination it became clear that Mease had claimed in his original statement that the fox had run in the clear for 120 metres and this should have been enough for him to release the bird if he wished to. However he also stated that he would never release the bird on grounds of safety if others were present, this would include members of the public, dog walkers and sabs. Once this was accepted to be the case then they would have to cease any and all actions in the pursuit of the quarry, in this case the fox the hounds would kill a short time later.

(2) This claim seems to be pretty standard tool in the defence’s box of dirty tricks. The problem in this case was once again the video evidence supplied. Even the video supplied by Mease himself undermined their own claims. Welford attempted to suggest on multiple occasions that sabs were responsible for the death of the fox due to their location and intervention. Our interaction was roughly as follows:

SW – “Do you accept that the fox was killed due to your actions?”

AA – “I do not.”

SW – “Do you accept that your presence lead to the hounds killing the fox in the field where you were located and that in fact you turned the fox into the hounds?”

AA – “I do not – further to that the video speaks for itself. Look at the video evidence. At the point where the hounds are killing the fox the only persons present at that location (a different field from my location) are riding horses and wearing red hunting jackets”.

(3) Another underhand attempt at discrediting me as a witness was the claim that I was using a hunting horn. Horns can certainly be heard on the video but it certainly wasn’t I who was using one. Welford asked the question several times;

“Did you have in your possession a horn and use it at any time?”

My answer was clear – “No, I didn’t have a horn on that day”.

Welford then fast forwarded the video to a point after the kill and froze the image. The image showed a horn in my hand. Taken out of context this would appear to show me as being dishonest in the court. This was however, of no concern to me. Even though Welford thought he’d caught me out I knew where he was going with this and was ready with an explanation.

I asked the court to rewind the video to another point and then play again. During the scuffle after the hounds had killed the fox you can clearly see me pick up a horn which had been dropped on the ground. Where this came from I still have no idea, however it proved to the court that prior to the kill I wasn’t in possession of a hunting horn. I have to admit to feeling quite smug over that one. For someone clearly being paid a lot of money Welford had failed completely and the expression on his face said enough.

Watch the video and draw your own conclusions. I have edited the end a little as the main points relative to the case are prior to the death of the fox and the scuffle over the body is largely irrelevant. One final point is the claim that Adams, at no point saw the fox. This seems somewhat unlikely given it ran right past him and he admitted to hunting this area several times in a season and would know where any likely quarry will run.

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Well I’ve had chance to draw breath and finally take in the events of the last few days. If you’ve been following the Fitzwilliam case over the last 2 years you’ll no doubt already know the result from the court hearing last Wednesday (4th April) as its been in pretty much all the national news as well as some local but in case you don’t they are as follows:

John Mease – Causing Unnecessary Suffering to an Animal – Not Guilty.

John Mease – Contravention of the Hunting Act (Section 3) – Not Guilty.

George Adams – Contravention of the Hunting Act (Section 3) – Guilty.

While we are obviously disappointed that Mease was cleared of causing unnecessary suffering (sticking a knife into the eye of an animal to kill it doesn’t sound particularly humane to me) we weren’t part of that case and I always suspected he would be cleared of the Hunting Act charge although hunting is considered a “joint venture” exercise so it could have been possible to secure a conviction.

The crux of the matter is the use of a bird of prey to circumnavigate the law in relation to fox hunting and this is what we were very keen to prove as illegal. An online discussion with colleagues produced the following response and it seems like a pretty good explanation to me having been present for the whole case:

The legal test that was being performed in this case was; when a hunt uses a bird of prey, who is actually in charge of the hunt? The bird of prey exemption is designed to avoid criminalising the pre-existing falconry community, any hunting (and the dogs used in that hunting) in falconry are under the control of the falconer.

In the case of the Fitzwilliam kill of 1.1.2016, a fox is killed by a pack of hounds (although this point is largely ignored by most of the press). This act itself indicates that the Hunting Act has been breached. The question is, who is accountable?

If, as the Fitzwilliam claimed, they were legally using their dogs to flush to a bird of prey, then this would suggest that the individual responsible for the hunting of that fox is actually the falconer. The falconer is responsible for his own dogs (Mease later admitted that the best dogs to use for this would be maybe two pointers, not 15 1/2 couple foxhounds).

If the falconer is responsible for the dogs in this instance, then the hunting and killing of the fox is the result of the actions of that falconer, and he would be guilty of a Hunting Act 2004 Section 3(2) offence.

It was established in court on 4th April 2018, that while the falconer was present, the control of the hounds in fact fell to the huntsman (George Adams). This was demonstrated by video of George controlling the hounds with his horn, hunting them on etc. Also, Mease admitted that the hounds were not under his control, but the huntsman’s.

Once this point of evidence was established, the falconer is placed immediately out of scope of the Hunting Act offence. Owing to the presence of people in the near vicinity (sabs in this case, but Mease stated this could equally be bystanders, supporters, dog walkers etc) then the falconer would not release his bird of prey. This therefore means that the only factors in play are now the fox and the hounds, and a Hunting Act offence is being committed by whatever individual is controlling the hounds.

Mease being acquitted of the HA2004 offence, therefore, was *integral* and necessary to successfully convicting George Adams of a Hunting Act Section 3(2) offence. Had Mease not been on trial, then the Huntsman would have been free to claim in court that the hounds are part of the falconers armoury, and this would not have been examined by the prosecution.

Media reports focus on “man cleared of hunting foxes because he uses a Golden Eagle”, when in fact this is not the case. It should read, “Man cleared of hunting act offences, because he was nothing to do with the pack of foxhounds which killed a fox as they were trained and commanded to do”. 

huntsman & supporter at kill

Guilty – George Adams with the kill.

So ultimately and regardless of how the press reported on the incident this is in fact a big win for us. The next step is down the opposition, will they appeal as they claim? It’s a high risk strategy for them. While Adams may clear his name if they win,  losing in the crown court means the decision will become case law while at the present all hunting act cases with relevance to the Falconry Exemption will be treated on a case by case basis. If I were a hunter I’d certainly be considering the options and the wider implications for other hunts that pretend to use this exemption. Recent cases would appear to favour the hunters if they are using the “trail hunting” excuse, its certainly cheaper for them to pretend to lay a trail with a smelly rag rather than employing a falconer in a position which may no longer serve the purpose.

Personally I’m pleased with the outcome and happy with the investigation by Cambridgeshire Police and response by the CPS. A District Judge heard the case rather than a magistrate, a knowledgeable prosecution barrister did a fine job on the day and Professor Harris was an excellent no nonsense expert witness. It’s tough being cross examined, I was on the stand for an hour and half and the defending CA barrister Stephen Welford did his best to catch me out but ultimately failed as when you have compelling video evidence and the truth on your side there will ultimately be only one outcome.

The Fitzwilliam now have a conviction under their belt to go along with their invasion of Upwood village last season and their supporters unprovoked attack on a sab vehicle. It’s not been a good year for them, but then that’s what you come to expect from these people.

Who are the real guardians of the countryside?