19th Feb 2015
Acting on information received from a member of the public, in March 2007 a colleague and I attended an illegal two-day hare coursing event in North Yorkshire. On the morning of day one, as we pulled in to a verge to let vehicles pass along the narrow lane, a police car departed the scene. We noted the registration number.
Some weeks later we presented our evidence to the police. The officer in charge happened to be the driver of the car we’d noted. He held his hands up when we quizzed him why the illegal hunting had not been stopped at the time. He was at the scene to follow up complaints about highway obstruction. Apparently the coursing officials at the gate (you had to pay to enter) told him that they were doing ‘greyhound trialling’ which was different to hare coursing. With a few cosmetic changes to how the event was traditionally run and genuine ignorance of bloodsports from said copper, coursing supporters had invented a false alibi and they nearly got away with it.
Thankfully, Scarborough Magistrates Court was not hoodwinked. The landowners fought the charges but were convicted. A celebrity chef and a Sir decided to plead guilty as a result. Good job well done by IFAW, RSPCA and the police.
In 2011 the Huntsman and Terrierman from the prestigious, Leicestershire-based Fernie Hunt were convicted of Hunting Act offences. The judge who presided over their subsequent appeal accused them of using “cynical subterfuge” to twist evidence gathered by the League Against Cruel Sports and prepared by Leicestershire Police.
I suspect that with a few cosmetic changes to fox hunting, including the invention of a new post-Hunting Act sport dubbed ‘trail hunting’, similar acts of cynical subterfuge are widespread and ongoing. This is based on personal observation and the first-hand accounts of others.
The Hunting Act is the law, not a voluntary code of conduct which individuals or organisations can choose to observe or not. This is why reporting suspected illegal hunting to the police on 101 is so important. In these times of cuts and scarce resources, modern day policing is statistics-led. So getting a Log Number which records evidence of your call means that, literally, it counts. Sometimes we know that a phone call directly results in catching criminals red-handed.
Yes, it’s a hassle. Yes, you’ll feel interrogated by the police who want to know what you’ve seen and why, exactly, you think it’s a crime. But don’t be fobbed off or dissuaded. Just as there are police who can drive you crazy with their stubborn refusal to listen or see, so there are good coppers out there who’re willing to learn and have their misinformation corrected.
Take for instance the convictions of officials from the Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt in 2012, again for Hunting Act offences. It was volunteers from the Hunt Saboteurs Association who gathered the evidence in this case. They compared their real-life footage with a scene from The Belstone Fox. The investigating officer saw exactly what was going on, the penny dropped, and justice was done.
Don’t leave it to others. If you see suspected wildlife crime report it. Your call counts.
Photo copyright © IFAW
14th Feb 2015
Jordi Casamitjana, Campaigns & Enforcement Manager IFAW UK says:
There are many organisations in the UK that work to protect British wildlife from the cruelty of hunting with hounds, but not that many are international with headquarters in another continent. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is an exception and I am proud to be leading the team that deals with this issue.
IFAW joined the campaign to ban hunting with dogs as far back as 1989, and it was the coordinated efforts of the RSPCA, League Against Cruel Sports and IFAW working in coalition which proved vital in finally securing a ban. However, all of us soon realised that getting the Hunting Act 2004 passed was not going to be enough, because the hunting fraternity was quite clear in its intention to challenge the ban. Creating the false alibi of ‘trail hunting’ instead of converting to drag hunting was early evidence of this.
So, since 2005 IFAW’s work on this issue has been mainly focused on two tasks: to help with enforcement of the Hunting Act and to protect the hunting ban. However, we never expected that we would be so busy on these two fronts for so long. In fact, for the last 10 years, we could never lower our guard because enforcement of the Act by police and CPS has been, to say the least, quite poor, and the threat of a repeal or weakening of the Act has never gone away (and today, only weeks from the General Election, this threat is sadly as real as it ever was).
On the enforcement front we have come a long way, though. We started monitoring hunts with a couple of hunt monitors, but the enforcement team grew and grew and we can say that we currently have one of the most sophisticated and efficient Wildlife Crime Investigator teams in the country, which uses state-of-the-art equipment and complex forensic techniques that have already produced significant results. Indeed, after many years of countless allegations of illegal hunting and not much progress by the authorities in addressing the problem our enforcement team, together with the RSPCA’s prosecution team, managed to secure the first conviction of a member of a Dorset hunt. A second prosecution of members of another hunt is in progress.
On our work to protect the ban, last year we managed to expose the Government’s plan to weaken the ban by modifying the ‘flushing to guns’ exemption of the Act. We believed this would result in ‘repeal by the back door’ as it would make enforcement even more difficult. We alerted media and public to this, campaigned against the plan and gathered support from other organisations that joined with us on the issue. Soon those plans were postponed, for now at least.
There may be a time when we can all relax and allow the Hunting Act to be applied effectively as other bans are but we are not quite there yet, so we still need to be “working for the ban”.
6th Feb 2015
Hounds Off received this email shortly before Christmas. The sender was happy for us to share it as long as he retained anonymity. We’re pleased to oblige:
“Just thought you would be pleased to know of a lovely moment following watching our local hunt run amok in fields adjacent to my small plot.
Following an incursion into this area and my adjoining garden on the previous hunt I determined to observe the hunt from the edge of my plot and if required head the hounds off before they could trespass (on a side note, judging by the chaotic manner in which they were careering backwards and forward across the fields I find it hard to believe that at any time they were following a laid trail).
“Anyway to the magic moment: the hunt departed, heading away from my field and judging by the time of day I felt it would be ok to head home. Walking back along the footpath, over the wall ahead of me appeared a fox who gave me a fleeting glance and headed through the hedge and across my garden to the safety of the cover of my field.
“This magic moment made my day.”
It made ours too! If you’ve had a foxy encounter (or hare-y one!) do let us know. We’d love to share your precious wildlife experiences.
Posted by Joe Hashman