Posts Tagged ‘The Law’

As with most laws the majority of people that once something is made illegal then that’s it, it’s done with. Unfortunately with laws like the Hunting Act that’s far from the case and also explains why so many hunts are continuing to circumnavigate the law by cynically using the loopholes which are written into the legislation in its current form. What I’ll try to do here is outline the main points so its possible to get a better understanding of how things stand. In this part I’ll highlight what I feel are the most relevant points of the act and this will follow in part 2 with the problems in enforcing it and the requirements needed to gain a conviction.

The full act can be found here.

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The main statement of the act reads as follows

A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog, unless his hunting is exempt”.

The important part here is the mention of exempt hunting. This is covered by Schedule 1 of the act. The act then covers various situations where the hunting will be considered exempt however the most important part here is that all of these exemptions are covered by Part 5.

“The third condition is that the stalking or flushing out does not involve the use of more than two dogs”.

This was the part which was supposed to put an end to the hunting of foxes, hares and stags (amongst other species) with full packs of hounds. However when the act came into force the CA and hunts got together and invented “trail hunting”. I think most people are now fully aware that trail hunting is nothing more than a cover for real hunting, that is, hunting live quarry, however as the law stands there is no written part of the legislation banning this.

The next import point to note is Part 6 – “Use of dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting” – This is commonly known as the “Gamekeepers Exemption”. This is covered further in Section 2

This part of the act is to enable gamekeepers to be able to kill foxes and protect their precious game birds. They can put a terrier down a hole where foxes thought to be present with the purpose of flushing them so they can be shot by a competent person. Only one dog can be used and these are supposed to be “soft” terriers, that is a terrier which will not engage with the fox and fight it underground. This has to comply with a code of practice but as well all know this is often roundly ignored with both terriers and foxes suffering injuries consistent with fighting underground.

OHTM

The person conducting this operation must have written permission from the land owner if not the owner themselves and this must be made available to any constable who requests it. It has to be proven that the activity is for the protection of livestock, most notably bird which are being raised to be shot (Game birds).

Falconry

This is where the act has an inconsistency. There is no limit on the number of hounds which can be used to flush the mammal for the bird of prey to then hunt. The same restrictions apply with regards to permissions however as you well know this particular exemption has been used by several hunts in order for them to continue hunting as normal. However the recent conviction of the now retired Fitzwilliam Huntsman George Adams (see full story here) has put the use of this exemption by the hunts seriously into question.

Exempt Species

Not all mammals are covered by the act. Those species which are considered vermin have no protection under the act and this include both rats and rabbits. Provided once again that all permissions are satisfied these species can hunted regardless of the number of hounds or the methods used.

There are some quite bizarre exemptions which include Recapture of a Wild Mammal, Rescue of a Wild Mammal and Retrieval of Hares (which have been shot) but these, by and large have no real bearing with regards to the hunting we see in our countryside through the hunting season.

Research  and Observation

This is another odd one as I’m not sure what there is to learn about a mammal from a scientific point of view by hunting them. I’m told the stag hound hunts in the west country use this exemption although it clearly states in the act that the number of hounds is limited to 2.

Section 4 Hunting Assistance

Quite an interesting one this and something, as far as I’m aware that has yet to be enforced. “A person commits an offence if he knowingly permits land which belongs to him to be entered or used in the course of the commission of an offence under section 1″.

This would appear to be a little like vicarious liability. It is possible for the land owner to be prosecuted if they were knowingly allowing an illegal activity to take place on their land. When out in the fields we’ll often be approached by angry people claiming to be land owners and telling us to leave. When you quote them chapter and verse of this part of the act its amazing how quickly they will shut up and make themselves scarce. We’ll always ask for their names and proof of ownership if they continue to press the point. It is without doubt that a large number of land owners who permit their land to be used by hunts know exactly what’s going on and are probably fairly active themselves in the hunting community however it would seem that proving this is nigh on impossible as the police and CPS never seem to go after these people. Perhaps if a successful prosecution could be gained more land owners would have second thought about allowing the criminal hunters to use their land.

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Section 5 – Hare Coursing

We will often hear of how rural police officers spend a lot of their time tackling hare coursing (and rightly so), particularly in the east of the country (the last stronghold of the Brown Hare) and the public will often ask the question why these forces don’t put the same resources into tackling organised hunting with hounds. The hunting act has a section all of its own for hare coursing and this of course makes it a lot easier for the police and CPS to gain successful prosecutions. The people that undertake coursing are often trespassing and damaging property so this is another justification for a more robust police response which will also include seizure of vehicles and dogs.

So these are what I believe to be the most important points to note. Obviously there is a level of interpretation however from personal experience I don’t believe I’m far off the mark. In the next blog I’ll look at the reality of the act in the fields and what is required to to bring these criminals to justice.

So I’ve been a bit lazy in the current updates department recently, this was largely due to wanting to see how things were panning out before I started to draw any conclusions and I also got a case of the dreaded lurgy so haven’t been out in the field but I should be fighting fit once again fairly soon.

When I read through the updates on a Saturday evening from the sab groups all over the UK there is always a common theme and it got me thinking as to why this is allowed to go on. It’s the typical antics from the hunt supporters and their employees – blocking roads, abuse, threatening behaviour, criminal damage and even violence. They are not isolated incidents and happen every week, without fail.

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Attempting to block the road

So lets just change things round for a moment and consider the police response.

If a group of people wished to observe something from a public highway then you would expect them not to act in a way which could be dangerous to other road users or impede those going about their lawful business. Why should the law be different in the countryside from that of the town centres? If this group were being openly aggressive, hurling abuse and actively blocking the road to others then why aren’t the police moving them on or making arrests, there is certainly the legislation in place for them to do so? Imagine a town centre and a group of rowdy individuals gobbing off and looking for trouble, in no time at all there’d be a significant police response. Football clubs have to pay towards the policing of their matches, perhaps hunts should do the same and then maybe they might be inclined to suggest their supporters behave themselves, they do, after all, pay to watch (amazing isn’t it, paying to watch something from a public highway) just like a football supporter.

Then you have these so called “Stewards”. They have no official credibility. Wearing an armband and waving meaningless bits of paper about doesn’t give them special powers whether they have been officially requested by the hunt or not. They have no more power than anyone else. They have to have express written authority from the landowner to even just act on their behalf and that doesn’t include blocking rights of way and assaulting people. Minimum force means virtually no force at all in a trespass situation and as nearly all hunts are hunting illegally any citizen can access that land to stop a criminal act taking place.

charming

These people are always so welcoming

So this begs the question why do the police respond in the way they do?

Now the police forces around the country vary hugely. I believe we’re making good progress on my home patch of Bedfordshire although there’s still significant work to be done but elsewhere it seems the police show little inclination or desire to truly understand what they are dealing with and this is where I believe the problem lies.

Whenever you speak to an officer they will, very early in the conversation say something along the lines of “I’m not allowed an opinion on Hunting, I have to remain impartial”. And this is the root of the problem. The very definition of a police officers is a person who is there to uphold the law and bring to justice those who defy it. They would appear to be overly concerned that applying very basic laws to the hunting side regarding the behaviour of their support and followers would be construed as being biased in favour of those who oppose hunting and so let them act in a way which simply wouldn’t be tolerated in any other situation. Perhaps they’ve had instructions from further up the chain of command? Perhaps they simply aren’t able to properly assess and deal with the situation or maybe there is some sort of institutionalised prejudice against sabs and monitors?

Remember, we’re not talking about the prosecution of the hunt here. Someone once told me that you have to think of the police as a business and their product is prosecutions. Now we know getting a prosecution for illegal hunting is very hard indeed and this I believe, is why the police show little interest, there’s a lot of effort involved with little chance of success however prosecuting those involved with threatening and violent behaviour should be relatively straightforward. There is literally hours and hours of footage every week showing criminal behaviour and this brings me once again to the use of the Section 35 Dispersal Order. Full details of this can be found here (Section 35) but the important part to note reads thus:

Two conditions need to be met for a direction to be given:

the officer must have reasonable grounds to suspect that the behaviour of the person in the locality has contributed or is likely to contribute to –

(a) members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed, or

(b) the occurrence in the locality of crime or disorder.

The officer considers that giving a direction to the person is necessary for the purpose of removing or reducing the likelihood of anti-social behaviour, crime or disorder.

Now as far as I’m concerned pretty much all those criteria are fulfilled when considering the Stewards or supporters. Remove these people from the equation and what you’re left with is those who can behave themselves and those who will monitor a hunt until they believe they are hunting illegally in which case they are fully entitles to intervene.

Removing the violent element would also make policing of these incidents a whole lot easier. Less resources would need to be deployed and costs kept to a minimum. As far as I can see it’s an absolute no-brainer. So I think it really is about time the police had a crack down on this. It’s about being unbiased, it’s about applying the law, to a group of people who think they are above it and can act in a manner which not only contravenes the law but also common decency.

oakley-a508

Fairly certain this would be considered a danger to other road users

It’s a bit depressing returning from your holidays to the drudgery of the office and everyday life but I count myself lucky I can afford to spend my spare time in such wonderful surroundings and focus on more pressing matters at hand. Preparations for are still in full swing for fighting the Badger Cull and the various groups in the zones are putting in some serious hours and effort surveying the areas in great detail and fund raising to keep boots on the ground 24/7. Our best hope of a stop to the killing is the legal challenge currently under way from the Badger Trust, they’re seeking a judicial review of which full details can be found via their legal representation here. However as has been seen previously these events are difficult to predict so we must be ready to fight the cull in the fields with direct action should the call come. If you’ve been reading my blog you will of course already have a few tips on what you need to do plus the kit that’ll you’ll need and if you’re new here (welcome) then please take the time to go back through the archives for the three part series Called “Fighting the Cull”.

Moving on now and last week a friend on Facebook highlighted an interesting thread which had appeared on the on-line forum of Horse and Hound magazine. A user had posed the question of the types of interaction the hunters had experienced with the “Antis”. Of course any discussion in such a publication is going to be a one sided affair but there were a few interesting comments which deserve some closer inspection. Many obviously noted the usual verbal abuse (this is of course and two way street in real terms) and how quite often the antis were able to take control of the hounds (great sabbing skills there) and allow the fox to escape. There were of course some ridiculous claims which were clearly nonsense and obviously no mention of the violence from the pro-hunt followers or hunters themselves against the antis or sabs which is all too commonly caught on camera. One point was however crystal clear, there was not a single claim of violence from the anti-hunting groups which was nice to see and a primary directive of the HSA, non-violent direct action.

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While reading all these comments and the complaints from those posting a singular thought crossed my mind. I was tempted to create a false account and join the discussion but the thread was a little old and no doubt I’d have been bombarded with abuse and banned in pretty short time so instead I’ll pose the question here. Substitute the word “hunting” for “drug dealing” (or any major media favourite crime for that matter) and then ask yourself how good is the pro argument now? OK that may seem a little extreme but the simple fact is both are illegal (for the point of the article we’ll assume they’re breaking the Hunting with Dogs Act 2004 as many had complained of the fox escaping due to the actions of the anti-groups). There aren’t versions of illegal, it’s pretty black and white; you’re either breaking the law or you’re not. Obviously there are differences in the severity of offence but what struck me is that all the people posting on this thread seemed to have the belief that what they were doing was either OK or they thought they were simply above the law and it didn’t apply to them.

From this we can draw the simple conclusion that people who hunt are either ignorant (of the laws of the land) which is clearly no excuse or are supremely arrogant and believe the laws are for everyone else and they need not bother with such trivialities. You can probably guess what outcome would have arisen had I posed the question. Outrage and indignation that their tradition was being compared to such a heinous crime however from whichever standpoint you view the discussion the point of the argument remains the same and is undeniable and I’ll say once again; you’re either breaking the law or you’re not. I’m still tempted to jump in and see if my predictions come to pass, I’ll think on that one. It is also slightly worrying that there’s a whole forum dedicated to animal torture and killing. I guess the fight is going to be a long one but rest assured we’ll be there every step of the way and making it as difficult as possible for those who get their kicks in this manner.

While I was there I also gained some interesting intelligence about hunts which will be getting a visit when the season starts again this autumn. A new group of sabs have formed (Beds and Bucks Hunt Sabs – give us a like) which will be my home group and we’re looking forward to making an impact and getting stuck in so to any pro hunt types in the area reading this I say to you, watch out, because we’re coming for you.

In other news I notice that the Mink hunts are active once again. Regardless of your thoughts on the Mink, hunting a mammal with dogs is still illegal and the whole Mink thing is a complete subterfuge for hunting Otters. They were hunted to extinction from many of our rivers a long time ago and now they’re making a good comeback so the hunts think its game on once again. Even ignoring this fact having a pack of Otter hounds and people rampaging down a river system during the breeding season for most of our bird, mammal, reptile and fish species is nothing more than environmental vandalism. The damage done cannot be overstated.

I’ll leave you with the video of my trip to Mull. Enjoy.