Posts Tagged ‘Hunting with Dogs Act 2004’

This time tomorrow I’ll be at Peterborough Crown Court for what I assume will be the final instalment of what feels like the never ending Fitzwilliam Hunt conviction saga. I’ve covered the story in great depth through previous blog posts so it’s pointless to go over everything again but if you want to catch up then see here, here, here and here.

I’m not really sure how things will pan out but you can never tell with Hunting Act cases in particular and I’m sure the main chance for the hunt overturning the conviction is the hope for a more sympathetic judge. The simple fact is their evidence isn’t going to get any better and having faced the defence’s cross examination for over 2 hours previously I wonder what they are going to come at me with this time.

There’s also the wider implications this may have for the Bird of Prey Exemption within the Hunting Act. If the original decision of the court is upheld other hunts which use this smokescreen will have to seriously reconsider how they operate.

Regardless of the outcome I have to be pleased we’ve dragged them through the courts and secured a conviction first time round. That’s a rarity in itself. From my own point of view and certainly that of everyone else who witnessed the proceedings on the day there’s no doubt of the guilt of George Adams (the now retired Fitzwilliam huntsman). I just hope the Judge presiding tomorrow see’s it the same way as District Judge John Wollard did on the original case.

In his summing up his statement spoke volumes.

“You are either taking part in Falconry, or hunting foxes with hounds. If you are taking part in Falconry you do not need a full pack of hounds to flush the animal, you would use only 2 or 3 of a more suitable breed. Therefore I can only assume you were taking part in hunting foxes”.

Finger crossed.

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George Adams with the Fitzwilliam Hounds.

I’ve written before about what kind of evidence you need in order to get a chance of a prosecution under the current Hunting Act legislation, and we all know the level of burden of proof is set way to high but I’m not going to cover old ground again, instead I’m going to focus on the actual use of the recording equipment itself and how to maximise it’s effectiveness.

At any hunt meet there will always be a proliferation of body cams, phones and hand held cameras, both still and video, and used by both sides, but what is the most suitable for the sab or monitor in their quest for justice?

Choice of Kit?

Body Cams: We use these for the purpose of self defence and are of a GoPro type mounted on chest harnesses. As a recording device they are generally only really any good for close in subject matter, great if you’re getting some grief from your local hunt goons but no good if you’re filming the hunt itself.

Mobile Phones: Most mobile devices now have some pretty amazing cameras but once again these aren’t really suitable for catching fast moving action which could be some distance away. They are difficult to hold and easily stolen or obstructed, not something which is ideal in the field. Most people rely on their phones for everyday life so they really need to be protected at all costs.

DSLR: The DSLR will undoubtedly produce the best quality footage and stills with the highest frame rates and quality settings along with shooting in RAW for stills. You have the option of a vast selection of lenses for both near and far work however they are generally quite expensive (a decent 500mm lens is likely to cost in excess of £1000 minimum) and very bulky to carry around. The risk of damage will usually mean this is not an option for most people monitoring or sabbing hunts.

Handycams: These are the most likely option and can be purchased relatively cheaply when compared to the performance available. They fit the hand nicely, are compact and offer zoom capability which is unparalleled, this is a huge positive as hunts can be filmed from some distance without them knowing. For around £250 you can buy some excellent equipment. Personally I’d go for the Panasonic HC-W580. It claims a 90x zoom but the reality is 50x optical and the rest digital. I’d always ignore any digital zoom figures, all you’re really doing there is increasing the size of the image and a drop in quality will result but, 50x zoom is plenty in most situations.

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A good bit of kit for the price.

What & When to film?

Much of this can only come through experience and understanding of what’s happening during a hunt. As you start out learn to focus on the huntsman and hounds and try and consider where a fox is likely to break. Keep as much of the action in shot as you can, don’t focus in too early and if the hounds go into cry get the camera up and running as soon as possible, it’s highly likely that it might be a false alarm or you don’t get anything in shot however missing something important because the camera wasn’t rolling is a schoolboy error. Spend lots of time filming and you’ll soon begin to understand what and indeed when to film.

Positioning.

Where you locate yourself will once again come with experience. Most sabs with a few seasons under their belts will know this, it’s all part of sabbing. We’ll always be looking to position ourselves in the ideal location to get between the hunted animal and the path of the hounds. If you’re in a group make sure everyone knows their job, the sprayers, the raters and horn blowers. As the camera person you should be positioned slightly further back so you can catch all the action as it happens but the starting off position will be very similar to the rest of your team.

Using the Equipment.

It’s happened to me several times before, I’ve given someone a camera prior to a hunt and told them to get some footage when they can. What I got back was a jumbled up mess of shots which included a lot of sky and ground, the insides of their pockets, some banter in the back of the sab van and a whole bunch of footage where the camera is being shaken all over the place as it’s filming as they are running along.

Most handycams are very easy to use with a small flip out screen, a zoom trigger with a start and stop (filming) button. Make sure you know where they all are and that you remember to start and stop filming properly. Some cameras will continue to film even if you flip the screen to closed. This is a route to filling up memory cards and flattening batteries very quickly and there’s nothing more annoying that missing that shot for these reasons. You can of course carry spare memory cards which is advisable along with batteries but in the course of a day I’ve yet to fill one up or drain a battery.

There are a few simple steps to getting good footage.

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A couple of frames from the footage which convicted the Fitzwilliam Huntsman George Adams

 

1 – Stand still. Shaky footage can be useless. Modern cams have some great stabilisation but they can do only so much. Running around while trying to film effectively is nigh on impossible and footage gained likely to make the viewer sick!

2 – Frame the subject matter first. Do this with a wide shot. Resist the temptation to zoom right in straight away. If you are any distance away you’ll lose the subject matter and spend ages zooming in and out trying to reacquire it. Only a very tiny movement of your hand end will be a huge movement of image.

3 – Predict the direction of travel. If you see a fox running from the hunt get it in a wide shot and slowly zoom in. If it’s going in and out of obstructions or cover try and predict where you think it will break cover and give you a clear shot. This will give you the opportunity to focus on a specific area and when the subject runs through the shot you can pick it up and follow it more easily. This is exactly the process I used in the video which convicted the Fitzwilliam Huntsman George Adams. I knew where the fox would run, focused on a piece of ground directly ahead of it then tracked it as it came through shot (see images above).

4 – Keep a steady hand. Use both hands if you have to. Keep the camera close to your body and use your bent elbows to brace against your chest while using your other hand to steady the camera. Shooting over long distances can be very difficult, use the environment to help if you can, lean on a wall or gate post, they can all improve matters. Keep everything as smooth as you can.

5 – Keep calm. It’s very easy to get over excited when things start to happen in the field. Keep a cool head and focus on what you need to achieve. If you’re panicking or rushing about you’ll miss that important shot and the footage will be all over the place. Let those around you do their jobs and you concentrate on the filming.

The film we submitted which is the basis for the Thurlow case is a prime example of this. There were 2 of us with cameras at the location and although I started to film I knew there was someone else with a better, wider view of what was taking place. That left me to move forward and concentrate on other matters. Obviously I can say too much but needless to say the footage achieved on that day was enough to put the hunt before the courts and hopefully enough to secure a conviction.

6 – Stay Secure. This is really important. If you’ve got some crucial footage the other side will be desperate to get this from you. As soon as you can move away from the area and swap out the memory cards. Even if they manage to get the camera from you later in the day the footage you gained earlier will be safe and secure.

On a final note you do not have to submit your footage to the police on the day. If they ask for it DO NOT GIVE IT TO THEM. You are under no legal obligation to do so and this type of evidence has a habit of going missing. Take the details of the officers on the scene and then go home and make a copy which you can keep secure. You can then either send the police a copy via web download (although they sometimes have trouble with this) or literally put a disk or memory stick in their hands and get proof they have it.

So hopefully you’ll have enough of the basics to go out there and get some good footage. Hunts hate cameras, lets make sure they stay in the spotlight.

 

You’ll hear the same phrase from the police over and over again when questioned over the hunting issue; “We aim to remain impartial with regards to the hunting and recognise the right to demonstrate peacefully”, or pretty much words to that effect.

Now the problem with that is it’s based purely on the assumption that both sides are acting in a lawful manner. You have to hand it to the so-called Countryside Alliance, they’ve done a fine job in convincing the powers that be that trail hunting is a legal and legitimate pass time. Having said that if the anti-hunt side had the same money and influence within the establishment I’ve no doubt the situation would be a little less one sided.

Now I’m fairly certain that the truth of the matter has been well and truly demonstrated by the huge number of well documented hunting kills. Cheshire has seen a large number recently and it has got to the point where the Police and Crime Commissioner has publicly come out to counter statements by Cheshire’s Acting Chief Constable (see here) regarding what appears on social media and has indeed gone further in holding a public meeting to put more scrutiny on hunting within the county (see here).

Only last Saturday (16/02/19) our group was present when the Oakley Hunt killed a young vixen in front of sabs who were doing their very best to save her. It was tough on the new sabs but they acted in a very professional manner in the face of some hugely unpleasant provocation and are a credit to our group. Huntsman Jack Harris (better known as Calamity Jack due his tendency to lose the hounds) knew exactly what was going on. He knew they were on a fox and yet sat there denying all knowledge of any wrong doing. He even had the temerity to deny his hounds had killed anything. A short time later he rang the police and claimed an accident had happened just to cover his own arse.

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The young vixen killed by the Oakley Hunt in the arms of a young sab

And this is where the problem lies.

As it stand the hunts can go out and kill with impunity because all they have to do is – exactly NOTHING, and then claim it was an accident. The level of burden of proof to get a conviction within the Hunting Act is set way too high. There needs to be undeniable evidence of intent by the hunt staff to kill the fox. That means encouraging the hounds with voice or horn while knowing they are hunting live quarry.

So this brings me rounds to my point with regards to impartiality.

This isn’t about a matter of opinion or even a difference in ethical points of view. This is about what is legal and what isn’t. The police are perfectly within their rights to arrest someone who they may find acting suspiciously in the middle of the night with certain tools about their person, the term is “going equipped”. It’s about time that the police understood that going into a field with 12 couple or more (that’s 24 to normal people) trained fox killers and putting them into areas which are likely to contain foxes is only going to have one outcome and you don’t have to be Hercule Poiro to figure that out. Going equipped to kill foxes (or hares for the Beaglers).

If any hunt can’t provide concrete evidence of a trail being laid (and that’s not just some moron buggering around in the nearest field with a mucky rag for 10 minutes) with a map to go with it then they should be forced back to kennels. Any deviation from the map supplied should also be constituted as unlawful along with going into or near likely fox holding areas.

Of course this is all fantasy land, hardly any hunts even bother to pay even minor lip service to the law and they have no intention on changing, they are hunting in a most brazen manner. The Oakley certainly do, we’ve been sabbing them for the last 6 years and I’ve yet to see them lay any sort of trail. If they weren’t such a crappy hunt they’d kill a lot more foxes.

It’s time the police dropped the whole impartiality line. They must know the hunts are breaking the law so quoting that only makes them look at best, incompetent or at worst, horribly biased.

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Additional: The kill at the Oakley was registered as a crime by Bedfordshire Police who by-and-large acted in a professional manner, the body was taken as evidence and scenes of crimes officers noted it had died from multiple dog bites. We don’t expect any further action for the reasons I’ve describe above but the file on the Oakley is certainly building and their time will come.

So it would appear that once again a hunt has been caught red handed holding a fox in an artificial earth and then dragging it from the hole and throwing it in front of the hounds to be chased and killed for the enjoyment of their riders and followers. This time it was the Kimblewick, a hunt which recently killed 97 of it’s hounds due to being infected with bTB. A disease that has unnecessarily caused the deaths of ten’s of thousands of badgers due to the Governments pointless culling policy. The hunt is the plaything of Lord Gardiner of Kimble, a long time Tory who’s been secretary for various ministers and ex chief spin doctor for the so-called Countryside Alliance and now member of the House of Lords.

The incident took place on New Years Day, the meet was at the Thame showground and was claimed as one of the high points of the hunting calendar.

The full video can be seen below.

 

I don’t think the video needs any explanation here. The Times originally reported on this and it’s clearly going to be a story which isn’t going to go away any time soon and has even made BBC TV. Considering the Kimblewick’s recent history and their claims of being a “super hunt” (whatever that may be) this is certainly big news. Whether there will be any action with regards to prosecutions remains to be seen however even to the most myopic viewer the video is clear evidence of illegal hunting or at the very least the intent to hunt a wild mammal. The terrier men are clearly working under the instruction of the huntsman so one would assume “joint venture” could be worth considering from a legal standpoint.

This compelling evidence once again blows apart the myth that hunts are obeying the law and legally following a trail. What shouldn’t be understated is the frequency in which this takes place. Hunts up and down the country will have artificial earths in their territory and will maintain these in an effort to have foxes to hunt on any given hunt day. This is certainly nothing new or out of the ordinary. Fairly recently the South Herefordshire, the Middleton, the Pytchley, and the Belvoir have all been implicated in keeping foxes purely for the purpose of hunting.

What happened to the fox on New Years Day remains unknown.

The so-called CA and Dim Tim Bonner are certainly going to have a hard time talking their way out of this one especially as their Head of Hunting (Polly Portwin) pretty much lives next door to the Kimblewick kennels and rides with them although they’ll no doubt do their best. If the Masters of Foxhounds Association have any credibility whatsoever they will suspend the Kimblewick immediately and then expel them after their own investigation but let’s face it, what are the real chances of that?

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You’re absolutely right Peter, let’s see some action for the authorities

The simple fact is that the hunting lobby like to promote this chocolate box image of hunting, the spectacle and the pomp and also that they somehow provide a service to farmers by controlling fox numbers, not that its even necessary. The truth is however vastly different and this is being shown time and again. Even in the face of such overwhelming evidence some hunt supporters are offering their own explanation which is, as you’d expect completely laughable.

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Jo is clearly a master of fantasy fiction

Fox hunting (and all hunting with hounds) is nothing more than organised crime, an organised crime who’s product is cruelty to wildlife, enjoyed by a psychopathic minority who are prepared to pay for the privilege and will employ the lowest of the low to do their dirty work, be that digging out foxes or conducting violent operations against those who oppose them. The fact it is so deeply entrenched within the establishment means we are fighting a constant battle against those who wield both power and influence.

It’s time that changed.

ADDITIONAL

Below is an exert from a post on Facebook by Team Fox (Save Me Trust) run by Brian May. Let’s hope they are as good as their word if the authorities don’t hold the perpetrators to account.

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