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19th February 2015

Illegal Hunting: Beware The False Alibi – If In Doubt Call 101

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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.

Joe Hashman

Photo copyright © IFAW

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14th February 2015

Working For The Ban

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”.

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21st January 2015

Hounds Off is Changing: Great New Look, Same Solid Service

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Hounds Off is tailored to support and help anyone, anywhere, who wants to keep hunts away from their property for whatever reason.

Our idea remains to keep www.houndsoff.co.uk available as a free resource available to all and let the concept develop organically. Many landowners have contacted us and we’ve helped them directly, including farmers, foresters and homeowners. We hear through the rural grapevine the good news that loads more have taken our advice and simply just got on with it, autonomously.

So here we are. Its early 2015 and this website is our third incarnation. We wanted to make our information clearer and more accessible. Just over a year ago we contacted Compassionate Dorset’s digital media professionals, Anna Celeste Watson and Stu Jones. Between us we’ve upgraded the Hounds Off logo (more about that soon) and created this website you’re on now.

We hope you’ll find it simple to navigate and easy to access the information you require. Please use the online Contact Us form to feed-back your experiences here. We constantly strive to improve our service and therefore value your opinions (especially ideas for improvements).

Please also share the Hounds Off website link with your family and friends or any of the many decent folks who might like to make their property into a sanctuary for wildlife.

This is a massive year for everyone affected by hunting. Much will depend on the outcome of the General Election in May. The bloodsports fraternity are placing great faith on a Tory majority delivering on a promise to repeal the ten-year old Hunting Act. Others believe that killing foxes and other wild mammals with dogs for amusement has no place in a civilised society. Our urge is to enforce and reinforce legislation which, though frequently ignored by many, has achieved over 340 prosecutions for illegal hunting.

Hounds Off was created with the knowledge that, whatever the law dictates, without countryside to ride around in and chase their quarry through, foxhunters and their ilk are scuppered. We’re also acutely aware that many people are affected by unwelcome hunt trespasses. Sometimes it’s a one-off, all too often the incidents are repeated. Hounds Off is relevant whichever way the political wind blows.

Posted by Joe Hashman

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20th December 2012

We Should All Take Heart

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In the case of RSPCA v Barnfield, Sumner and Heythrop, District Judge Pattinson should not have questioned the amount of money these convictions cost.

The amount of work which will have been invested in this result will have exceeded all bounds. You cannot survive the process on fresh air alone.

This was a massive ask. Everyone involved deserves the most generous credit for an awesome job done, and there will be many who came together to make this happen. Thank heavens that they did. Wildlife protection via the Hunting Act is stronger for it.

You cannot put a price on justice. We should all take heart.

Posted by Joe Hashman

Photo Copyright © Colin Varndell

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17th May 2012

The People’s Campaign Against Hunting

In respect of enforcing the Hunting Act, some recent good news; three members of the Crawley & Horsham Hunt were convicted of illegally hunting a wild mammal with dogs at Haywards Heath Magistrates Court earlier this week. This brings the number of successful prosecutions since hunting was banned in 2005 to approaching two hundred and proves yet again that enforcement can work. Well done to everyone in giving justice a chance; from monitors with video cameras to the police and law enforcement agencies.

Official figures show that, seven years on, the Hunting Act (2005) is the most successful piece of wildlife protection legislation to be introduced in recent times. It is curtailing the excesses of both registered Hunts and poacher-types across the countryside.

Nothing in life remains the same and this applies to the law as much as anything else. There is always an argument for updating the legal system as society grows and develops. The Hunting Act is no exception in this. Continued enforcement, coupled with future reinforcement, is the only sensible way forward.

In the meantime, Hounds Off is campaigning hard to make as much of the country Hunt-Free as possible by encouraging people like you to ban bloodsports where you live. Have a look at our website for details. Plump for the Hassle Free Option or Belt & Braces Approach, depending on your circumstance, and just follow the simple step-by-step instructions.

Remember that our power lies in our collective strength. Hounds Off is proud to reveal that over 500 English acres have been made Hunt-Free since our launch in September 2011. Much of this is in prime foxhunting country. We want the exclusion zone to increase and spread. Please take action and share our website with your family and friends.

Hounds Off really is the people’s campaign against hunting!

Posted by Joe Hashman

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