Posts Tagged ‘Hunt Saboteurs Association’

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.

 

 

 

Last Saturday I was one of the 70 odd sabs which disrupted 2 driven Grouse shoots in Yorkshire. There has been plenty of coverage on this on social media as well as the local press. The excellent Raptor Persecution UK site also ran a short piece on it as well and the comments make interesting reading.

I won’t go over all the details again (you can read about it here) but needless to say it was a successful day, many Grouse are no doubt still flying about now which would have otherwise been blasted from the sky and there may be the odd Stoat or Weasel still lurking in the heather which won’t suffer a painful death in a fen trap. However the estates which got visited are no doubt seething having lost money and the ignominy of being targeted and having no way to respond.

What was interesting was one of the comments which came from one of the shoots in question and typical of how these organisations respond when their sordid minority death sports are pushed into the public eye. It was reported in the local paper, the Richmondshire Today

Dalesport, which runs shoots, said the saboteurs tried to stone shoot vehicles and intimidate shoot staff. A spokesman said:

“It was a shocking encounter in this tranquil area of the national park. Half the sabs were dressed in black with balaclavas in an attempt to prevent their identity. The police arrived to disperse them but not before further threats were made to the shoot staff.”

To be honest this is utterly laughable. The standard starting point for these comments is always to paint a picture of peace and tranquillity in the area, but lets face it, lots of ruddy faced men in tweed with guns blasting away at unfortunate birds is anything but tranquil and if indeed sabs were stoning cars surely there would be evidence of this, broken windows, dented body panels etc. Oddly enough, this evidence seems to be completely missing. Where were all the arrests the police made for this threatening and loutish behaviour?

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Estate lacky didn’t want his face on the internet. Oh well never mind.

It’s clearly fake news, an utterly feeble and poorly imagined lie in an effort to gain support by those less well informed, a fairly standard response and straight out of the CA’s manual. Amusingly a spokesperson for the fun day in the village of Reeth reported that the sabs had spent a lot of money and the event  had been a great success. So there you have it, sabs are good for the local economy!

The other point of interest was the attempted detention of sabs and the level of effort in which the estate staff and farmer went to in an effort to prevent the sabs from leaving. When we arrived in the area of Bransdale moor the shoot was in the process of already packing up. The track we used was a gated road and clearly marked on the OS map as being open access. Arriving at the top of the track we were confronted by 3 shoot vehicles which blocked the track. We were informed that the police had been called and were on their way. This was fine by us. No laws had been broken and we were just monitoring the shoot vehicles leaving.

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Gotta love the 19th century attire.

At this point we decided to carry on further down the track to where it joined the road at the other end. We were followed some of the way by one of the estate vehicles however they were clearly planning something and this was revealed when we arrived at the other end of the track and faced with a recently chained and padlocked gate with an estate vehicle parked in front of it to prevent us from leaving.

Turning around we proceeded back to our original position to be faced once again with another locked gate and a further 2 estate vehicles, both refusing to move. It seemed a somewhat odd tactic, surely they would want those who had scuppered their days shoot to leave as soon as possible? We has some discussion with the staff who, it has to be said weren’t the sharpest tools in the box but seemed happy to be detaining us. With sketchy phone signal we just managed to get a call out to both the police and another sab group however it seems we would be stuck there for some time.

3 hours later and finally the shoot staff decided to leave, we took our chance and proceeded back to our original entry point. It seemed the bumpkins had been busy!

Tree sized logs from the forestry work had been strewn across the track, the next gate had been locked with a large chain and a heavy agricultural trailer parked behind it. The next gate 50 metres further along had been treated in the same manner, chained up with a trailer blocking. What amazed us was the shear effort they went to for this and the sense of entitlement that they could detain us in this (illegal) manner. It beggars belief.

 

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Farmer forced to unlock gate on the unpaved byway – photo courtesy of North Cambs Hunt Sabs

Needless say the first set of obstacles were moved quickly, and with some ingenuity, team work and a capable sab vehicle both gate and trailer were soon dealt with and we were on our way to tackling the next one fairly quickly. The red faced angry farmer arrived at this point with the police a short distance behind and then the fine sight of around 50 sabs for some moral support. Angry farmer was sent to get his tractor and directed to move the trailer and unlock the gate. Despite protestations to the contrary the police confirmed that the area was indeed open access and no crimes had been committed. Once again they had failed in their somewhat strange plans and we were free to continue our journey.

I know the Countryside Alliance had issued advice to shoots and estates in the event of disruption but I’m fairly certain this kind of reaction wasn’t part of that. You have to wonder what they were trying to achieve as it was only even going to end in one way. For us the day was a 100% success, shoots were prevented from killing, no-one was shot or arrested, we got some nice PR by just walking on the moors and the local economy got a nice boost with the influx of sab money.

Finally, while we were waiting for our chance to leave a ruddy faced shoot employee asked if we get paid, then proclaimed our employer was none other than Paul McCartney! They never seem to get it, what we do is based simply on the combined desire to save lives and right the injustice of those who take delight in abusing our wildlife.

So last week I summed up what I thought were the most relevant points in the hunting act (see here). What I’ll do here is explain how the hunts are circumnavigating this legislation and what any monitor or sab would need to do to gain a conviction.

We’ve already established that the wording of the act limits the number of hounds to 2 for the act of stalking and flushing out. However as most people are already aware this part of the act was largely made irrelevant by the creation of “trail hunting”. There have been thousands of words written about this in the past (most notably the IFAW report Trail of Liesfull report can be found here) and don’t want to cover old ground again however it is the most common excuse that hunts use because, it seems, it is the most difficult to gain a prosecution against.

The fine people at Hounds Off produced a great list of requirements for gaining a prosecution against hunters using this alibi. It can be found here. What I will add to that is the expansion of point 4 on the list – Proving intent. This cannot be stressed enough. If the hunt staff are aware they are hunting live quarry (you need to prove this) then the addition of them using either horn or voice calls to hunt the hounds on should be enough to secure a conviction provided all the other criteria are met. Learn what these calls are and memorise them. In the fields we have however noted that some hunt staff are remaining quiet if sabs or monitor are present and filming their activities. NOT calling the hounds off the line of the hunted animal may not be enough to prove intent.

Essentially in the video evidence you’ll need: Quarry running – Hounds chasing quarry – Huntsman aware of live quarry and showing intent.

If you intend to monitor you need to learn to recognise the set of circumstance which could lead to a conviction as quick as you can. And herein lies the problem. Hunts have themselves learnt to avoid those situations, either that or they simply don’t care because they know the police (for one reason or another) won’t investigate and prosecute. I covered this in a previous blog which can be found here.

Although the recent conviction we achieved against the Fitzwilliam related to the Falconry Exemption in the Act many of the situational points were similar. The fox killed by the Thurlow last Boxing Day is a different matter and they are claiming to have been following a trail although have already set out their defence by claiming the fox was turned into the hounds by the sabs present. Although this is an ongoing case and as I such I can’t elaborate on the exact details (we’re currently waiting on a decision from the CPS) their claims are quite common and were similarly made by the Fitzwilliam. Needless to say this is complete nonsense (as it was in the previous case) and we hope the truth will come out in court. We have compelling video evidence from 2 separate sources and believe we have fulfilled all the relevant criteria for a successful outcome.

Beagling

Of course the hunting act doesn’t just relate to fox hunting. There are other forms of hunting which may also include Stag/Hind hunting and Mink/Otter hunting but Beagling (hunting the Brown Hare with a pack of Beagles) is the most likely to be encountered, certainly in my locality which is one of the last strongholds of this fast disappearing majestic animal.

packing up for the day

Packing up for the day.

Beagling runs in a very similar way to fox hunting except the hunters are on foot (but still wearing daft outfits). The hounds will be put into a field to search for hares. This will initially be done via scent but once the quarry is flushed the beagles will act more like sight hounds. The usual hangers on will be present to watch and some may be stationed around the edges of the open field to be hunted. Their purpose is to turn the hare back into the field and to prolong the chase. A hare will easily outrun a beagle however it doesn’t have the stamina and they tend to run in large circles. Eventually they will be caught and killed.  A pack of beagles can kill a lot of hares in an afternoons hunting.

Due to their less obvious nature and smaller following field beagle packs can be hard to find, they are very secretive for obvious reasons. The handy point from a monitoring and sabbing point of view is that once found they are effectively scuppered! Merely entering their hunting field with a running camera should be enough encouragement for the hunter to gather their hounds and head back to the meet but once again the criteria for any attempted conviction remains the same.

Falconry Exemption

I’ve written a lot about this recently so won’t cover it all again but needless to say this part of the act is now being seriously called into question as an alibi for hunters since the prosecution of the Fitzwilliam. whether those hunts that still using a bird of prey continue to do so remains to be seen. Next season could be interesting . . .

Gamekeepers Exemption

This is a tricky one and the greyest of grey areas. The simple fact is there is no place for terrier men in a trail hunt and yet all hunts still employ at least 1 terrier man with the usual tools of his trade. The Countryside Alliance might like to claim they are fence menders and call them “Countrymen” but I don’t think anyone really believes that nonsense as terriers aren’t terribly good at mending fences.

I know some sources will disagree but I have always believed that in certain circumstances terrier work would be in breach of the hunting act. I’ve had long discussions with various police forces and their wildlife crime officers over the presence and indeed use of terrier men during a trail hunt. My personal experience of these particularly awful humans would also suggest that once an animal has gone to ground sabs/monitors arriving on the scene will see the terrier men making themselves scarce pretty quickly. The fact they will almost always be masked in some way suggests their need to hide their identity and thus reducing the chance of prosecution.

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Oakley terrier men.

The gamekeepers exemption was never intended to be used in conjunction with a mounted hunt. If a hunt was to chase and mark their quarry to ground and then call in the terrier men to dig out or bolt the animal they are in effect admitting to hunting in breach of the act. Obviously proving this might be nigh on impossible but it will certainly call into question their activities. My local force actually advised me prior to a hunt meet that if we witnessed dogs being used below ground we should call them immediately. A WCO from a different force suggested he would stop the use of terriers if used in conjunction with a hunt however could not stop them if they came back for the hunted animal later on when the hunt has ceased.

Hunted foxes will know their surroundings and look for the quickest route to safety within their territory. This will often be a badger sett – provided the terrier man hasn’t already blocked the entrances of course. This is a traditional job of the terrier man and still regularly takes place. Again evidence of this should be gathered and passed on the the authorities as interference with a sett is an offence under the Protection of Badgers Act. Should a fox go down a badger sett then the protection of the fox becomes a little easier. The sett would need to be proven to be active. This can be done by photographing the entrances. Are they clear of detritus which suggests regular use? Can badger prints be seen in earth? Are there large and fresh spoil heaps or bedding outside the entrances? Further evidence of activity can be gained by the used of a trail cam showing actual footage of the badgers using the sett.

There have been several instances where terrier men have been caught red handed digging into badgers setts in an attempt to get to a fox. They have even left their terriers in the sett in their haste to escape!

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Finally if in doubt call the police. They may be reluctant to attend but call them (on 101) and report it anyway. The more people who start calling the police the better. Don’t get fobbed off, get a crime reference number and chase it up after the event if you don’t get a satisfactory response. Cite your safety concerns if hounds are running around the roads, complain of followers driving dangerously, being aggressive or blocking the highway. Ultimately hunts rarely want the police to attend, it can be a pain in the arse for them to explain themselves and it could save a life.

 

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?