Posts Tagged ‘Thurlow Hunt’

Part of our success in securing a prosecution of the Thurlow Hunt pair was in fact the judges ruling that despite their claims of trail laying the reason for their presence in Trundley Wood was in fact the likelihood that they would find a fox there. In this blog post I’m going to elaborate on why this was not just likely to happen but in fact certain to happen.

Much of the work for this post had been done for me by a colleague and fellow witness in the case. It was her video footage along with my own which formed the backbone of the case. The information which I’m now going to publish was submitted as evidence however due to the lack of proof linking it to the huntsman, Chris Amatt, it was never discussed in the court proceedings. However now that it’s all over we can release this and highlight what continues to take place all over the country and not just in Thurlow Country.

“In countries where earths are scarce it is sometimes found necessary to make artificial earths, to provide somewhere for local foxes to have their cubs : in other words, for breeding purposes. Another advantage of artificial earths is that in grass countries where the coverts tend to be small and scattered it is useful to have snug earths judiciously placed at regular intervals, thus persuading foxes to take a good line. An additional advantage is that if an artificial earth is left open, it will only take a few minutes to bolt a fox. Also if it is a blank day, one knows where to go with some certainty of finding a fox . . . In this book I only wish to touch on the subject, and to tell you what my grandfather had to say. He felt that artificial earths should be primarily intended as breeding establishments, and so among the chief points to be borne in mind should be the aspect, position, soil, drainage and materials used for their construction”. – Exert from Fox Hunting, The Duke of Beaufort, published by David & Charles, 1980

For those that don’t know artificial earths are structures built and maintained by hunts to provide shelter and breeding places for foxes. Their sole purpose is to ensure a good supply of foxes ready for the hunting season. They are most often constructed of pipes buried underground, leading to a central bedding chamber. The chambers can be elaborately built with brick or drystone walls.

There are 2 artificial earths in Trundley Wood.

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The picture above shows the entrance to artificial earth 1. This is a pretty standard arrangement and there is another entrance of the other side of the mound in the picture. Between these 2 entrances is the central bedding chamber. You can just see the edge of this in the picture below.

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This artificial earth would appear to be perfectly serviceable. The picture below shows the pipe to be dry and clear of any obstructions.

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Below is the entrance to artificial earth 2.

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Once again the entrance is clear of obstructions and would appear to be serviceable for use.

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Interestingly the League Against Cruel Sports published the location of this earth in an investigation they carried out in 2011. You can clearly see the earth here and the area it covers. The photograph was clearly taken only a short time after it’s construction and a clear indication the Thurlow Hunt were still undertaking activities to encourage foxes several years after the ban had been in place.

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They noted in their report: “The earth is in a wood owned by the Thurlow Estate, one of whose directors is a joint Master of the Thurlow Foxhounds. Trundley Wood is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest by English Nature because of its ancient, semi-natural woodland.”

Let’s face it, most, if not all hunt staff are likely to know where to find foxes, especially if those locations are static and built by the estate themselves. All they have to do is rock up at any of these locations during a hunt and theirs a pretty good chance the hounds will pick up on a fox to hunt. If you’re the Kimblewick you’ll have the terrier men make sure there’s a fox a home the night before and hold it there over night to be released in front of the hounds the next day.

These aren’t isolated incidents. There are artificial earths all over our countryside and they are still very much in use by both foxes and the hunts who maintain them. In the Thurlow case it was highly likely the hounds picked up on the scent of the poor animal and it was attempting to seek refuge in one of these earths when it was caught and killed. No doubt had it reached one of the earths and we had not been on the scene, the terrier men for the hunt would have been called in the flush the animal so it could be hunted again.

Make no mistake, the so called Countryside Alliance can continue to claim that hunts are obeying the law but the simple fact of the matter is we all know different and the very presence of artificial earths on hunt owned lands only strengthens this argument. The Thurlow Hunt are prodigious artificial earth builders. In their relatively small hunt country there are 31 known artificial earths. They must have a lot of foxes to hunt. While the evidence submitted here was’t actually used in the case itself it is a clear indication that the hunt knew very well they would find a fox in Trundley Wood, in fact they were relying on it.

 

This is going to be a long blog post so grab a cuppa and settle  in.

If you’re a follower of our Facebook page or Twitter feed (give us like or a follow if you haven’t already) then you’re probably already aware of the outcome of the Thurlow Hunt trial.

If not then very briefly the hunt chased and killed a fox in Trundley Wood near Great Thurlow, Suffolk, on Boxing Day 2017. We were present when they did this and supplied the footage and statements which led to the conviction of the now retired Huntsman, Chris Amatt for hunting a wild mammal with dogs in contravention of Section 1 of the Hunting Act and Common Assault against myself as I retrieved the body of the fox.

The second defendant, Archie Clifton-Brown was found not guilty of the Hunting Act offence but guilty of Assault by Beating, once again, against me for retrieving the body of the fox.

The trial was held at Ipswich Crown Court but was a Magistrates listing. District Judge Nick Watson was presiding over the matter and the case lasted 3 days.

I have a whole load of notes from the day but for the purpose of this blog I’ll try and highlight the most salient points and those which piqued my interest in one way or another.

I was actually first on the witness stand to give evidence, we were informed that each witness would take approximately 30 to cross examine. An hour and half later I’m still on the stand, effectively getting tag teamed by 2 defence barristers who were doing their upmost to discredit my testimony and catch me out. They main problem they had of course is than when you have truth on your side you just have to take a deep breath, consider your answer and stick to the basics. They also had the issue in that I have a fair amount of hunting experience and this isn’t my first time on the stand. Some of the suggestions they made in defence of their clients ranged from the laughable and sinister to downright odd and irrelevant. They even asked me who trained me and how many paid members there were of the HSA! What that had to do with the case I’ll never know. The judge was clearly getting tired with their constant harassment and stepped in, forcing them to finally cease their questioning.

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Archie Clifton-Brown. He wasn’t smiling when he left court.

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Chris Amatt – Thurlow Huntsman in 2017

Our second witness was not only our most experienced sab but also an experienced horsewoman. This completely flummoxed the defence, her confidence in her knowledge of both hunting and riding was something they really struggled to deal with, it was a master class in the delivery of court evidence and the 2 (no doubt very expensive) defence advocates were quite frankly left floundering.

All of the remaining witnesses for the prosecution came across as both honest and credible regardless of their experience and how nervous they would obviously be in such a stressful situation. We are all professional people and hardly the swampy-esque, work shy, soap dodging terrorists the so-called Countryside Alliance attempt to paint us as.

When huntsman Chris Amatt took the stand it was time to really see what their main play was. It can be simply summed with the list below.

1 – The hounds accidentally got on the scent of a fox.

2 – The hunt staff made attempts to stop them but claimed once they were on a fox nothing could stop them apart from getting in front.

3 – There were over 20 sabs in the wood, arranged in a horseshoe shape who turned the fox back into the hounds as it ran north up the track in wood.

4 –  Sabs kicked and punched hounds and twisted the skin of the horses.

5 – Sabs tried to steal hounds.

6 – The fox, once dead was the property of the estate so it was justified to used force to prevent sabs from removing the body. Such an act was to be considered public spirited (really, that’s no joke).

7 – A sab from North Cambs is very tall (again, no joke)

8 – The hunting on calls were in fact Amatt making calls to stop the hounds

9 – Clifton-Brown wasn’t the Whipper In.

10 – Older hounds know the difference between a laid trail and a real animal and will know something is wrong (clever hounds those).

11 – Horn calls are for the benefit of the other riders and not really for any hound control.

Now the main problem with all of these claims are that they are complete nonsense, easily countered by both our statements and the very detailed videos we provided as evidence. The excellent prosecutor Richard Kelly had an absolute field day with Amatt, skillfully pointing out all in inconsistencies in his argument when compared to his statement. Quite frankly it was like watching a car crash in slow motion and to be honest quite uncomfortable viewing. Amatt started off looking fairly calm, but by the end he was clearly very rattled, red faced and losing his cool. A highlight of Amatts testimony was claiming I came at him like a “Red Indian”. Not really sure what that means, maybe I had a feather stuck in my hair?

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Picture of me in sabbing attire. Actually Red Cloud, Lakota chief (1822 – 1909)

If we thought that was bad on day 3 Clifton-Brown took the stand. Now what we have here is a very, and I mean very self entitled young man. He is part of the Vestey Family with cousin Robin Vestey as Master and owner of the hunt, the Thurlow Estate and a whole host besides (some background here) and his uncle is pro hunting and shooting MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown. His behaviour on the stand was nothing less than arrogant and dismissive of the whole legal process. You could tell he honestly believed this was below him and he didn’t have to answer the questions put to him, he became highly animated, slapping his hands on the stand, refusing to answer questions and even arguing with the judge! Now I’m not sure what legal advice he had been given but just being compliant with the court and respectful of the process would have been a start, and all this from someone who is only in his early 20’s.

The defence called more witnesses including Robin Vestey, who they claimed was laying the trails on the day and also another Whipper In, William Burton. Here was a man with a very obvious dislike for anyone who didn’t agree with fox hunting. Now there was some fairly fruity language exchanged by both side during the incident but if you’re going to live in a glass house you shouldn’t really start throwing stones. Burton claimed they had used no such fowl and threatening language which was beautifully put to bed by Prosecutor Kelly playing the video where Burton shouted “Who do you think you are you little shit?” in my direction and the now quite famous line “Get it off him Archie” when referring to the dead fox.

With regards to the list earlier in this piece, this was in fact the reality as the judge saw it.

1 – The hounds got on the scent of a fox as they were in a wooded area likely to hold that animal and were there due to the huntsman taking them there.

2 – The hunt staff made no attempt to stop the hounds, their inaction was a clear indication this was, in fact, what they wanted to happen. It should also be considered that a huntsman with the experience of Amatt (29 years) should be able to easily control the hounds. He made constant references to being tuned into them and them to him. There were no voice or horn calls, no cracking of the whip.

3 – When the incident took place there were 3 of us directly involved positioned some distance to the north of where they were hunting. 2 more from our group were some distance behind and sabs from North Cambs were again some distance away to the east and arrived after the fox was killed. The total was 8 with a couple more arriving later. At no point did the fox turn north into us, the hounds hunted it southwards where it turned east across in front of us, most likely turned by Amatt himself.

4 – No evidence for this at all, in fact as vegans and lovers of all animals this goes directly against everything we stand for.

5 – Again no evidence of this either. It relates to a hound which became lost and was running through the village. We actually have footage of this as well along with Vestey on his quad looking at it and wondering what to do.

6 – This was a technicality the defence had cooked up in an effort to justify the use of force against me to recover the body of the fox as evidence. It was likened to someone smashing a glass in the face of another person in a pub. The landlord, who was friends with the assaulter could then claim as the glass belonged to him he could assault who he liked to retrieve it. They spent a long time pushing this but it ultimately failed as a gambit.

7 – Apparently being tall is bad. Clifton-Brown is a short lad and it was claimed he was intimidated by the tall sab. I find it amusing they didn’t compare Clifton-Brown with me as we’re much closer in height stakes.

8 – It is very clear in the video you can hear the classic hunting on calls of “On On On Come ooon” . The defence attempted to say this was Amatt attempting to call the hounds off and was in fact saying “come along, come along”. No huntsman would ever use those words and it must have been an embarrassment to even suggest this.

9 – Clifton-Brown was dressed in classic whipper in hunting attire. He wore a red coat, with pin and 5 buttons. He carried a whip which he claimed he couldn’t use although as a master and huntsman with a beagle pack this was clearly another lie. The judge in summing up noted that while it was clear Clifton-Brown had a much more important role in the hunting than was claimed there wasn’t enough proof to convict him on the Hunting Act offences.

10 – Hunting hounds aren’t the brightest of animals, they are bread for speed and stamina and for a single purpose. To suggest some hounds know the difference between a laid trail and when they are on the scent of a real fox is utterly laughable especially when you consider the hunt claimed to be using fox urine as a scent. This claim also seems to defeat the purpose of trail hunting.

11 – Now I’m sure there are other hunters reading this as I know they do but really, horn calls aren’t really anything to do with hound control? Why is it they all the hounds come running to the sound of it. Why is there a whole host of various calls in which the huntsman will use to calls the hounds? What complete and utter guff. They took us and the judge for fools and they paid the price.

In summing up the judge saw all the prosecution witnesses as honest and credible while he went on to describe the evidence supplied by the defence as “fanciful” and a clear fabrication in order to cover for their crimes.

Obviously all of those involved (from our side) are overjoyed at the result despite the rather pathetic sentences handed out. It should be noted that this wasn’t the fault of the judge as he can only sentence within the guidelines of the crimes committed.

Obviously CA head bumpkin Dim Tim Bonner had to make a statement and as usual was completely clueless.

“This is a disappointing judgment. This incident happened on Boxing Day 2017, the most popular day in the trail hunting calendar, when the Thurlow hunt was being followed by hundreds of supporters as well as dozens of masked animal rights activists. The idea that anyone would attempt to deliberately hunt a fox in such circumstances is quite bizarre.”

See the problem with Timmy’s quote is there were virtually no followers of the hunt, certainly not where the incident took place and there wasn’t even a huge riding field and none of us were wearing masks. And lets face it, most hunts deliberately hunt foxes all the time, why should boxing day be any different?

Finally a thank you to Sergeant Brian Calver of Suffolk Police’s rural team for the robust investigation. You can read their full statement here.

Full video below. (If the video isn’t showing on your device it can be viewed here)

 

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.

 

So I was kind of hoping to be reporting on the outcome of the Thurlow case as it was scheduled to be heard at Ipswich Magistrates Court last week (28th Jan). We had all arrived at the court as requested and were having our preliminary discussion with the prosecution barrister when he was called away. After waiting for some time he returned with some slightly irritating news – the case was to be delayed.

Of course we all feared some Countryside Alliance skulduggery was afoot but it actually transpired the judge was sick and couldn’t hear the case. Once again a district judge was due to hear the case and not just a magistrate so finding another judge at short notice was simply not possible. Of course it was somewhat annoying to get all suited and booted and then drive 2 hours to Ipswich for no reason but on the upside we all went and had a vegan brunch in a local hostelry and had a more relaxed drive home avoiding the rush hour.

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The fox killed by the Thurlow hunt on Boxing Day 2017

The case itself has now been penciled in for the 11th March so fingers crossed we get the go ahead for that and the accused can hopefully receive some justice. In case you don’t remember this is in relation to a fox which was killed on Boxing Day 2017. Chris Amatt (the Huntsman) and Archie Clifton-Brown (Whipper In) are both facing charges of Common Assault, Assault by Beating and contravention of Section 1 of the Hunting Act.

This may seem like a long time in getting to court but the British legal system moves at a glacial pace at best, this case will have to be delayed several time more to get anywhere near that of the Fitzwilliam, which is still staggering on over 3 years after the original offence. In the mean time the accused get to sweat for a little longer.

Just as a source of amusement and to put into context the sort of people we deal with on regular intervals, Google Archie Clifton-Brown and watch the Vimeo video which pops up in the results . You couldn’t make it up!