Posts Tagged ‘Hunt Saboteurs’

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 in 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.

 

 

The increasingly pointless so-called Countryside Alliance are still banging on about trail hunting even after their disastrous video which I took apart in my last blog post. This time they’ve produced a Q&A page on their website which is no doubt designed to encourage people to go hunting. In light of the recent prosecution of the Kimblewick pair and their sentencing on the 26th of last month (see here) they are clearly on a massive damage limitation exercise but as most people are probably aware of the reality by now they are effectively only preaching to their own converted.

Now of course what they’ve written is complete hogwash so I thought I’d counter it with something a little more truthful using their own questions, so here goes.

Q: What is trail-hunting and when does it take place?

Trail hunting is a myth, nothing more than a convenient alibi created by the hunting community when the hunting of live quarry with hounds was banned in 2005. It takes place all over the countryside where foxes and hares live. (see full report by IFAW here)

Q: When did trail-hunting become a regular activity?

In 2005 after the ban.

Q: Who goes trail-hunting?

Bumpkins, blood junkies and those stupid enough to believe in the propaganda spouted by the CA claiming its legality.

Q: What is the difference between trail-hunting and drag hunting?

Trail hunting is a myth, drag hunting is an actual thing. There is either a drag soaked in a substance like aniseed or it is “clean boot”, a runner is used and the hounds (normally bloodhounds for clean boot) set off after them at a predetermined time. Live quarry are not hunted.

Q: How does the trail get laid and what scent is used?

A trail rarely ever gets laid at all and if it does its usually only to put on a bit of a show and provide the hunt with some sort of legal protection. Someone on a horse will probably wave a bit of string about with a muddy old rag on the end. Most of the time this isn’t even on the floor. Sometimes it’ll be on the back of a quad, quite often behind the actual hounds (see below).

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Typical trail layer in action

Q: Who decides where to lay the trail?

Santa Clause, the Easter bunny or the Tooth Fairy.

Q: How do the hounds know where to look for the trail?

They don’t. The huntsman will cast them into areas likely to contain their intended live quarry and certainly nowhere that a trail could have possibly been laid.

Q: Do hounds sometimes pick up the scent of a live fox and, if so, what happens?

Yes very often, mainly because that’s what they want to happen. The hounds will hunt the fox and be encouraged or “hunted on” by the huntsman. If sabs are present they will try and save the fox.

Q: Why do people go trail-hunting?

They are either too stupid to understand the reality of the situation or indeed fully understand and just like killing sentient mammals for fun. They suffer from something called Cognitive Dissonance or they just lack the empathy required to not feel bad about what the do.

Q: How does anybody know when the hounds have found a trail?

Usually when they go “in cry”. They will have found the scent of the trail (fox) and will now be actively hunting it. They will make a chilling baying sound.

Q: Does the trail follow a specified route?

Foxes will run in directions which gives them the best chance of outpacing the hounds and escaping. They will often go to ground if they can. However the hunts terrier men would have probably filled in any likely escape holes like badger setts. This is also illegal. If a fox does find a hole in which to hide in the terrier men will be called by the huntsman to either dig it out or flush it in front of the hounds for more hunting. Why are there terrier men on trail hunts? Why indeed.

Q: Does the trail-layer want to make it easy for the hounds to find and follow the trail?

If that means going through impenetrable brambles, thick coverts, over roads and railways then certainly not because that’s where the hounds tend to end up running. You’d think the trail layer would be a bit more careful.

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A typical trail

Q: What happens if the hounds lose the scent?

The fox survives and escapes.

Q: What scent is used for the trail?

Nothing normally although in the last CA video they appeared to be using Lucozade. As a side note it’s actually illegal to spread a biological waste product over the countryside.

Q: Is trail-hunting legal and humane?

Well, if they actually followed a trail it would be legal. Humane? Ask the hounds and horses.

Q: Who wants to stop trail-hunting taking place?

If it actually took place no-one would be bothered but since it’s just a convenient smoke screen then any compassionate wildlife lovers with a “can do” attitude.

Q: Do the hunt followers still dress the same to go trail-hunting as they did when they went traditional hunting?

Pretty much yes. There is the classic bumpkin uniform. Barbour coat, checked shirt, tie, flat cap, ruddy complexion and a heart attack in waiting.

Q: How can I get involved in trail-hunting?

You can’t. The hunts are so secretive now you have to be recommended by someone within the hunt and as they are shunned by normal people in society the only new members are those they breed themselves and brain wash into thinking this outdated behaviour is acceptable.

trail

The Kimblewick’s trail layer.

The so-called Countryside Alliance love to harp on about sabs putting edited video’s up on social media and calling them fake news. So not to be out done they’ve put up their own little video on the CA’s Facebook page about ‘Trail Hunting‘, yes I know what you’re thinking but for the benefit of what follows let’s just assume it’s actually a thing. Full video can be seen below [Edit or it would if the CA hadn’t removed it after I took it apart]

When you put up any video there needs to be some sort of point of reference if it’s to be considered even remotely credible. Dates and the location of the footage are simple to show and prove with some sort of overall context on the filming. I’m going to break things down and show what an utterly ham fisted attempt at pro trail hunting propaganda this really is.

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1 – This statement is vague at best. Quarry based scent. What is that exactly and how did they obtain it? The picture shows someone pouring what would appear to be Lucozade on the end of a whip. Note the green grass. This could have been (and probably was) filmed on a different day at a different location to the hunt they later refer to in the video. As any kind of proof it’s utterly worthless. We don’t see the rider or the person applying the sugary drink. There’s also no time frame or location.

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2 – The Dedicated Trail Layer. Just have a look at the environment. We have a well maintained hedge plus 2 fields which have been harvested and are bare. Not looking much like where the Lucozade was poured on the whip but more of that later. They could have of course traveled some distance but without any knowledge of the substance and how long it lasts again, it’s meaningless. I think we can safely assume this field is nowhere near the one in the next few frames.

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3 – Hounds are looking for the trail. Surely a better term would be search, if a trail was there they would have their noses to the ground, hounds can’t see a trail, they hunt by smell. Also notice how the environment has suddenly changed to a fairly steep sided valley with a line of thick scrub at the bottom. Just the sort of place you’d find, oh, say a fox? Clearly this wasn’t shot at the same time or location as the so called trail laying video.

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4 – This frame is only a few on from the previous and yet it claims that sabs have seen a fox which the hounds haven’t. Considering the hounds would traditionally hunt by scent they wouldn’t in fact be looking for a fox anyway. They’d pick up the scent first and only once within visual range would they start to course the animal.

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5 – Now we’re really getting into the realms of fantasy land. The single purpose of being a sab is to save the lives of the hunted animal. Doing what they are claiming goes against the very essence of what we as sabs are there to do. This is something the CA and the hunting community simply can’t get a grasp of. If ever there was a statement of fake news then this is it. It’s an utter fabrication with no basis in truth and they have no evidence to back up their claims.

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6 – It just gets better and better . . . here’s a great shot of a sab cracking his whip. They do this to stop the hounds. If we simply wanted to catch them hunting on camera we’d do nothing at all and let them get on with it (which is what monitors do) and yet the video shows a sab demonstrating some basic skills in stopping hounds.

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7 – Hahahaha . . . sorry I can’t help myself. We get filmed ALL THE TIME. It’s never stopped us from what we do and this is the best they can come up with? The reason the horn stopped blowing was because in this instance the fox had got away, I’m just teasing you now but all will become clear.

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8 – This is probably the most accurate statement on the whole video. I’ve already explained the purpose of the whips and shouting at hounds is called ‘rating’, something the hunt staff will also do if they wish to stop the hounds. In this image the hounds have been called away from the line they were on as you can see them with the sabs. Also in this section you’ll see 2 quads (1 out of shot to the right in this still). One of them is the hunt terrier man. What would be his purpose in a legitimate trail hunt? As far as I’m aware terriers are unable to mend fences.

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9 – Toxic chemicals. One has to wonder what evidence they have that the image shows someone spraying a toxic chemical. The answer is very simple, they have none. To believe this utter guff you have to be significantly challenged in the brain cell department. It’s been well documented what’s used to cover a scent line so I won’t waste any more of my time on it.

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10 – The image shown is utterly irrelevant and bears no relationship to what has gone before. It’s just a bit of what we call in the industry a B-roll, a meaningless bit of filler footage to hold interest. The problem they have is that the statement is once again easily dismissed due to the lack of any evidence. How many hounds have been treated by vets after being on a hunt where they have become ill? What is this mystery illness that affects them? Surely if this was genuine and attributed to toxic chemicals the CA themselves would have been shouting about it long before now and there would be detailed records. The only time hounds were infected with anything and had to be destroyed was when the disgraced Kimblewick pack all got bTB from eating infected meat.

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11 – Wait, hang on, we seem to have jumped back in time again to the incident we were watching earlier. Anyone with any knowledge of video production will know that the best way to get something across is to make it easy for the viewer to follow, keep the flow and tell a story with a beginning a middle and of course an end. The creators were so obsessed with a bit of random sab bashing they forgot the basics by throwing in the random footage shown in example 10. I’m also looking at a selection of hounds quite close together, they don’t look too scattered to me.

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12 – The final statement. Design and layout is important in any sort of PR and that includes video. There are some basics which are easily followed and this breaks several rules. First off you should never leave a single word hanging on a line on it’s own at the end of a statement. They do this twice and it looks dreadful. Single words in a line with centred text is another. If you can’t fit something on a line just drop the size of the font or just don’t put it all in caps. Sometimes less is more, you also don’t have to write everything in caps. Finally and best of all, USE A SPELL CHECKER. Oh my oh my. There really is no excuse for this one, “aggrevated”, surely they mean aggravated?

They are correct in their assertion that trail hunting is not illegal but as I’ll show you next that’s not what actually took place. The makers also have no proof or evidence that either their claims took place. For aggravated trespass to be claimed those trespassing have to have interfered with a legal activity. Surely if this was the case the police would be investigating and let’s face it, they generally have no issues with arresting sabs on bogus claims. Did they even make any complaints to that effect – of course not.

Now the reality.

On the day in question I was actually there. It was a joint operation with Beds & Bucks Sabs and North Cambs Sabs involved. It occurred on the 28th September 2019 and the hunt was the Fernie. The area was around Saddington and Mowsly. The area where much of this takes place is in the valley where Laughton brook runs roughly north west parallel to the Mowsly to Saddington road. As you can see by the environment and the fact the riders are wearing rat catchers it was Autumn hunting, more commonly known as cubbing. Now there’s some nice context for you.

1a

The image above shows the huntsman with another rider. The hounds had recently been speaking and searching for something hidden in the scrub next to the brook. You can see them looking with interest in that direction while other hounds are actually in there still actively working. You should also note that these riders are on the other side of the scrub shown in the stills 3, 4 and 5. Surely if they were following the laid trail they would have been on the other side? Moments after this a brace of foxes were flushed just out of shot on the left of what you see here.

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I managed to film the second fox flee from our side of the brook, with the hounds in hot pursuit. What’s significant here is the complete and utter lack of any hunt staff. Surely if they were hunting a trail they would be very keen to stop the hounds if they did pick up on live quarry and yet here they were, putting hounds into an area likely to contain foxes and letting them actively hunt it. It was only the actions of sabs further to my left (out of shot) which stopped them. The sab cracking the whip in image 6 is one from my own group.

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This is an image of the first fox. This broke on the other side of the brook, ran up the hill right in front of a hunt rider (probably the one in their video) and escaped over the hill. The hounds didn’t pick up on the line of this one, mainly because the sabs there had taken them away from its line.

The CA will openly admit they are losing the social media battle. There are 2 main reasons for this. Firstly we have overwhelming public support. No matter how hard they try the general public will never support cruelty or believe their lies. Secondly, and this is the big one . . . they are utterly hopeless at it.

If this is the best the CA can do with all of their resources I suggest they give up now. I’m still laughing.

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?