21st Dec 2018
On Wednesday I observed the Portman Hunt blatantly chasing foxes in Dorset.
At about 11.30am I saw two quad bikes and some riders appear over the brow of a low hill, then the Huntsman with his pack of hounds at heel. He took them to foxy-looking bit of rough ground and let them go off and sniff around. His voice calls encouraged them and he rolled his tongue in a way which has been practiced by generations of foxhunters and is designed to rouse their quarry.
After a while one hound started to bark. “Speaking,” hunters call it. Then another and another and within seconds all the twenty-odd hounds were on, actively hunting and speaking in unison, running in and out of thick hedges and undergrowth, back and fore between a woodyard and scrubland in pursuit of a fox who was, unseen, twisting and turning in front and trying to shake them off.
The Huntsman was cunningly wearing a black coat so as to blend in with other riders. Once things got going he stood back to make it look like he wasn’t in full control and could claim to a policeman or a Judge that any illegal foxhunting was accidental. Additionally, there were people scattered around in all directions on foot and no doubt some of them would claim they were “laying a trail”.
I knew they were illegally hunting but hadn’t seen the fox so didn’t report the crime.
Hounds hunted locally for well over half and hour. There was a quiet interlude before the noise started again. Can’t be certain what happened there but likely the fox had found a refuge and before the hunt could continue he had to be flushed out with smaller, specialist dogs. That’s why blokes follow on quad bikes equipped with terriers and spades. They deny it, of course they do, but actually it’s a fact.
Then I could see and hear, from my vantage, that the hunt had gone away. Before they disappeared from view they turned left-handed and after that I was unable to keep track.
I was with friends standing on guard on a piece of land where hunting is forbidden. At 12.50pm I saw a small dot moving, left to right, across a field in the distance and lifted my binoculars to have a closer look. It was a fox. I watched him for a few seconds until he ran out of view.
Sure enough, less than a minute later the whole pack poured through a hedge into that same field and followed precisely the same line as I had just seen the fox take. They disappeared from view in exactly the same place too. And following the hounds were the riders. Doubtless they were having a fine old time. “Just like the good old days,” you could almost hear them think.
That’s when I called the police on 101 and reported the illegal hunting as a wildlife crime. I explained exactly what I’d seen. I couldn’t stop the hunt and even if I had captured the scene on film (which I didn’t) the evidence wouldn’t have stood up to dishonest cross examination in a court of law. But at least it’s recorded and has become a statistic (Crime Log Number I19-186), which is important.
Modern day policing is statistics-led. This means that resources are allocated where, statistically, there is deemed to be most need.
My Sister-in-Law wrote the following short letter to the local paper after she witnessed and reported illegal foxhunting recently too (Crime Log Number 8-224), which we publish here because they didn’t.
“Standing in a back garden last Saturday (8 December) I was blessed with the scene of a fox running across the field beyond, its body full stretch as it sped over the grass underfoot. My awe was quickly broken as only a few seconds later a pack of hounds emerged hot on the fox’s tail. To my shock I was witnessing the local hunt in full motion.
“Fox hunting has been illegal for many years so to see the hunt chasing a fox was a shock and deeply saddening. There was nothing to suggest the hunt was going to call the hounds off, which is what I’ve since been told is supposed to happen.
“I am not naive in thinking that what I saw was anything other than what was intended … the chase … the kill and whatever it is that the people who take part in this type of sport get from doing this.
“I didn’t choose to see or be part of what happened just a few metres away from me that day, but it left me feeling distressed and angry.
“Why is it okay to flout the law in this cruel way?”
C Fawcett, Shaftesbury
© Joe Hashman
14th Mar 2018
Hunt Monitors Peter White & Kevin Hill with Joe Hashman from Hounds Off outside Poole Magistrates Court today (14.03.18) where Portman Hunt Master Evo Shirley was acquitted of illegally hunting a fox, contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act (2004).
DORSET HUNTSMAN ADMITS HE ALLOWED HOUND PACK TO CHASE FOX ON NATIONAL TRUST LAND BUT CLAIMS IT WAS ACCIDENTAL AND IS ACQUITTED
A Dorset huntsman was today acquitted of illegally hunting a fox with hounds, contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act (2004).
District Judge Stephen Nicolls, presiding over the case brought by Dorset Police at Poole Magistrates Court, had previously heard eye-witness evidence from volunteer hunt monitors Peter White and Kevin Hill. Film taken by Peter White showed the Portman Hunt hounds chasing a fox on land owned by the National Trust near Wimborne Minster. However, District Judge Nicolls was not satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that this was deliberate and contrary to the Hunting Act as he interpreted it so he cleared Mr Evo Shirley, Master of Fox Hounds and Huntsman for the Portman Hunt, of the charge.
In evidence Mr Shirley told the court that he had allowed his pack of hounds to hunt a fox which they had flushed from a small wood on 8 March 2017, rather than try to stop them, because he could not control them while they were in hot pursuit and needed to let the events “play out.”
Reflecting on the case, Peter White said, “Dorset Police deserve full credit for listening to myself and Kevin Hill when we approached them and said that we had film of what we believed was illegal foxhunting.”
Regarding the verdict, Mr White said, “The Portman Hunt want people to think that they go after trails of fox urine and not live foxes. Unfortunately on this occasion they have persuaded the Court that the fox was hunted by accident and, as the Hunting Act stands, this is a defence in law.”
With regards to the National Trust, the landowners who allow so-called trail hunting to take place on the Kingston Lacy Eastate, Mr White said, “Despite this verdict, I believe that the Portman Hunt can no longer be trusted. In evidence, Mr Shirley admitted that foxes have been ‘inadvertently’ hunted on numerous occasions. Members and visitors might be shocked to learn that the National Trust is well aware of this too.”
Explaining how trail hunting can be easily used as a convenient cover for illegal bloodsports, Kevin Hill said, “Trail hunting is set up for accidents to happen. In evidence it was admitted that the Portman Hunt hounds are trained to go after a fox-based scent so clearly live foxes are constantly at risk. It was revealed that the whereabouts of man-laid trails was unknown to the Huntsman so he had no idea if his hounds were chasing that or a live fox, until he actually saw it. We were told that the hunting pack numbered thirty to forty hounds and, because they were hard onto the fox, the Huntsman could not stop them.”
Explaining how crying “Accident” allows for a defence in Hunting Act cases and how this loophole could be closed, Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman said, “To succeed with prosecutions, the law demands we prove that hunting wild mammals is intentional. In this case the Defence was able to persuade Judge Nicolls that the fox was hunted inadvertently. For thirteen years hunters have exploited this loophole to escape conviction. I suggest that using a large pack of hounds trained to hunt a fox-based scent in areas where foxes are known to live is reckless behaviour. It is now time to clearly define Section 1 of the Hunting Act so that to ‘hunt’ means ’cause or permit a dog to seek out, pursue, attack, injure or kill a wild mammal’.”
For the acquitted defendent, former Royal Air Force pilot Mr Bruce Cook had previously told the Court that he was responsible for laying trails that day for the Portman Hunt. Despite telling District Judge Nicolls that he had recorded his movements with GPS readings on an iPhone, he was unable to provide any verifiable evidence of this. Mr Cook admitted that the maps he provided as proof had not been prepared by himself, were inaccurate and that additional photographs claiming to have been taken on 8 March 2017 were “indicative of every photo I take on a hunt” and therefore it was not possible or him to definitively pin them to that date and place.
A spokesperson for the National Dis-Trust said, “The result of this case simply reinforces what we have been saying for years, namely that the National Trust faith in and defense of hunts is utterly misplaced & unjustifiable. Their licence system, for permitting hunting with hounds on National Trust property, should be revoked before the next season begins.”
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Hounds Off helps homeowners, landowners and tenants to protect their property, livestock and pets from hunt trespass. Hounds Off also supports the Hunting Act (2004). We seek to enforce and reinforce this legislation in partnership with the public, wildlife crime investigators, legal professionals and politicians.