Guest blog – Hunting Crimes in Devon (2) by Ian Carter

Traditional pack of hounds and riders on Dartmoor 2014. There is no suggestion intended that the individuals who appear in this image were, are, or ever have been engaged in illegal activities.

I wrote Fox Hunting Crimes on Mark’s blog back in April, based on my eye-opening experience of living in mid-Devon for two hunting seasons.

The new hunting season is now well underway and I thought I’d revisit the issue. I wrote to the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, Alison Hernandez, seeking her views. I made her aware of the original piece (and all the comments it attracted) and I made clear that her response might be reproduced on Mark’s blog.

Below is her letter, in full, but broken into sections, with my thoughts after each one. Overall, I thought it was an interesting response and rather less bland and generic than I was expecting.

Thank you for your email and for bringing Mark Avery’s blog to my attention.

It is fair to say that hunting divides opinion like few other matters I receive correspondence upon. The law as it stands is imperfect and was objected to by the police when in draft stage. Nonetheless we are where we are and have to find a way forward despite there being little middle ground.

I find the statement about trying to find ‘middle ground’ rather worrying. There are clear parallels here with raptor persecution and the Hen Harrier Action Plan. It seems she is seeking to find a compromise when, in my view, the main challenge to the police is what they might do to tackle ongoing, organised criminality. I was especially alarmed by the way she points out the police’s opposition to the law as it was drafted. Perhaps I’m misreading between the lines but, given the context, is she hinting that the police do not treat this issue as seriously as they might because they don’t much care for the legislation passed by parliament?  

Unfortunately, both sides of the argument occasionally let themselves down – from time to time stirring up strong feelings and sometimes spreading inaccurate information via social media rather than passing information through to the police in a timely manner so that it can be assessed.

I hope she doesn’t mean me but perhaps she does. I have reported information to the police about hunting crimes many times. I’ve found them to be fantastically efficient and effective when dealing with hares illegally chased by dogs in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, but rather disinterested when it comes to foxes and red deer illegally chased by dogs in Devon. The only reason I’ve started to make use of social media is because I have repeatedly come across organised crime within a few miles of where I live and the police apparently have no interest in stopping it.    

It is true to say the police are stretched and need to be assiduous in deploying resources. The police are continually called upon to prioritise how resources are used to best effect. The transitory nature of hunting makes it a challenging matter to police coupled with the sheer volume of hunts taking place each season – often with several taking place at the same time.

This is fair enough up to a point, and we all understand the pressures. But this is widespread organised criminality on a huge and highly visible scale so I think it should be quite high on police priorities however they are set. Hunting may be ‘transitory’ in nature but it would be very easy to get a handle on it by being just a little more proactive and watching what hunts get up to. The ‘sheer volume of hunts’ would be a problem if we expected the police to attend them all, but no-one is suggesting that. All I’m suggesting is that some limited resources are deployed proactively, as with any other suspected major, organised crime, to properly investigate what is taking place. With that approach the ‘sheer volume’ of hunts becomes a distinct advantage rather than a disadvantage. And surely a high volume of any potential criminal activity should help push it towards the top of the priority ranking?  

I am pleased that in recent days we have been able to establish a rural crime team. This provides for the first time dedicated officers whose full-time role will be to prevent and address rural crime. Whilst a small team, I am sure you will agree this is a positive step forward. These officers will work in supporting the national Police Chiefs Council rural affairs and wildlife crime strategies – again, the first time dedicated national priorities have been established in this field.

I do agree that this is a potentially positive step forward. These are just the sort of people who would be trained appropriately to spot the signs of organised criminality in relation to hunting. But this is only a positive step forward if the rural crime team engages with the issue proactively and meaningfully rather than continuing to ignore it whenever possible.

Earlier this year I facilitated a meeting between a lady from Devon and the Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton to discuss similar concerns to yours and Mr Avery’s. The lady was accompanied to the meeting by a hunt saboteur. Both put their points across very robustly. It was during this meeting that the plea was made for the police to take a more preventative approach to fox hunting by reducing the risk that there may be breaches of the law. The points made during that meeting were taken on board and subsequently incorporated into a review of operational guidance of policing hunting incidents issued to police forces across England and Wales.

I’ll take that last point at face value and I will be writing to the Chief Constable to ask about this in more detail once the coming hunting season has run its course. These are fine and encouraging words but they only mean something if the sentiments expressed translate into action. Let’s see what happens this season.

Additionally, the Deputy Chief Constable has written to all the hunts in the Devon and Cornwall area to outline his clear expectation that they operate within the law. This went on to suggest that hunt masters seek legal advice if there is uncertainty on how the hunt should operate within the law.  Deputy Chief Constable Netherton’s letter also asked that hunts are able to actively demonstrate their compliance with the law including keeping a record and map of laid drags.

Again, taken at face value, this is very encouraging. If hunts have been asked by the police to keep a record of laid trails then this will be useful when investigative work finds that they are apparently chasing wild animals illegally. The police could ask, for example, how far away they were from a pre-laid trail – and to what extent the progress of a hunt observed by the police followed the trail marked on a map kept for record purposes. It wouldn’t be very difficult to do this, would it?

Operational policing matters are of course the responsibility of the Chief Constable. I would therefore strongly recommend that you put your concerns in writing to him also.

I plan to do just that at the end of this hunting season and will ask the Chief Constable how much of the actions described above have been put into practice and what the results have been so far. For example, how many hunts have the police attended covertly this season, for how long each time, and in what proportion of cases was illegal activity suspected or confirmed? How many times did the hunt follow the laid trail as shown on the map? Based on my experience up to this point I am not hugely encouraged that things will be any different this season but I hope I’m wrong.

I remain open minded about this issue.

Fair enough. We can’t expect police commissioners to be experts on every type of criminal activity. But the Hunting Act was passed 14 years ago. The only reason the police themselves might remain ‘open minded’ is because either they know the facts and ignore them, or because they are simply not interested in finding out the facts. If the actions alluded to by the commissioner are put into operation on the ground then the police will not be open minded for much longer. To remain ‘open-minded’ in the face of what I have observed in just two years (with no previous experience of fox or stag hunting) is laughable and I do not enjoy the feeling it instils in me about aspects of policing in this country. No doubt the criminals and their associates are laughing too – at the expensive of our police force and its reputation for fairness and propriety.

If I am doing the police a disservice and they are genuinely open minded after all these years then they can always gather the evidence required to reach a clearer view. Not to have done so already in the 14 years since the act was passed seems rather odd to me. It’s just the sort of thing that might lead people to make use of social media and ask difficult questions about the integrity of rural policing.  

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30 Replies to “Guest blog – Hunting Crimes in Devon (2) by Ian Carter”

    1. But you are certainly the 'right' person for Devon. Well done, Ian for applying yourself to this problem in a manner that may be effective.

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    2. This sort of activity with its associated criminality happens in lots of counties not just Devon. Are you suggesting that because Ian objects, as do many of us, to the obvious transgressions of the hunting act committed routinely by hunts that we should move to areas with no hunts rather than insist that the police apply the law of the land as they are sworn to do?
      I have always hated hunting with dogs, I accept the need in some circumstances to fox and other predator control. Lets be blunt hunting is not about that, traffic kills more foxes its about the joy of the chase. Personally after 14 years of this dogs dinner of a piece of legislation it is time it was revisited with a real ban put in place with NO loopholes.

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    3. Richard - Yes, good point. Maybe 'wrong' for 70-80% of the people who live here.

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  1. Very good, well reasoned article. Like Ian, this response from the police does not fill me with confidence that law breaking by hunts will be dealt with properly.

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  2. Maybe this is the wrong blog for you, particularly if you have a pro/hunting agenda?

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  3. I have already secured 1 conviction against the Fitzwilliam Hunt (subject to appeal) and have another in the pipeline against the Thurlow which goes to court in January. In both cases we secured excellent video evidence and crucially had police officers who were willing to take the case seriously and investigate properly.

    However by and large the police are uninterested and the hunts know this. This is due to the poorly written legislation and the poor chance of actually securing a conviction.

    The hunts have a huge level of entitlement and really don't ever believe they will be prosecuted. The Fitzwilliam have instigated an injunction against me and my colleagues in an effort to remove us from the land they hunt on so they can continue to break the law unimpeded. They genuinely believe they are above the law.

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  4. We need a new law that covers organized crime . This would be a serious crime an allow public surveillance videos of raptor persecution and hunting with dogs.

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  5. Perversely there are now less Foxes as a direct result of the hunting ban. But it was never about the foxes was it?

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    1. That's mainly to do with excessive persecution from gamekeepers and the huge reduction in their natural food source - rabbits.

      Many hunts still rear foxes to hunt, most have artificial earths in their country and will encourage foxes so they have something to hunt come the season and know where to find them.

      But then again hunting was never about pest control was it.

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    2. So fewer foxes with ‘trail’ hunting than when fox hunting was legal? It was obviously never about pest control then. Just the sheer fun of killing presumably. Or is there something I’m missing?

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    3. Richard (not Ebbs!) what data do you have to support your assertion that there are now less foxes as a result of the hunting ban?

      And if you were correct (got to say I am extremely doubtful for all sorts of reasons but moving on...) wouldn't that rather undermine the standard pro hunting line of argument that hunting is needed to control fox numbers because fewer foxes is good? One thing is certain, cars kill far more foxes than all forms of legal and illegal control combined, at a population level hunting casualties are little more than statistical noise (I'm not an animal rights activist in case it wasn't already obvious).

      But I guess you are partly right about one thing. It wasn't JUST about the foxes - in my case it was my own interactions with the arrogance and entitlement of the hunt that switched me from vaguely sympathetic indifference to active opposition.

      Because for me its now about the Rule of Law - before the ban it was their assertion of some divine right to hunt over land I was responsible for, despite our explicit demand that they stop. Now, as they continue to hunt over land against the landowners' wishes, and openly boast about breaking the law to do so, its about are why the hell aren't they being locked up? if Hunts want to campaign against a law they consider to be unjust good luck to them, but the fact that they can break the law with impunity is disgraceful.

      Can you think of another arena where rich powerful people have boasted about breaking the law with utter impunity... oh yes, how about sexual harassment? But in the end, at last, that hasn't ended so well even for the entitled men, now has it? There will be a reckoning, there always is eventually.

      When that day dawns, don't blame the commie vegan animal rights mob. Blame the arrogance of the pro hunting crowd that alienated everyone else. Remember that the "country sports" lobby had so many chances to put their house in order but chose to act as if they were above the law instead. Remember that those of us with no great ideological or political position warned you this day was coming if you didn't change, and you responded with contempt.

      There will be a reckoning, there always is eventually.

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    4. I'd like to see the proof of that rather than any supposition on the part of pro hunters such as yourselves, where can I find it?

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  6. I've experience of hunting on land they are specifically forbidden from, although it was a long time ago. Put sheep in the fields, the first hound to make them run is a legitimate target for sheep worrying so shoot it. Take it from me they won't come back, although at the time I was assaulted it was well worth it.

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    1. deliberately put sheep in a field so you have an excuse to shoot a hound!

      brave man

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      1. In the case that actually happened the sheep were already in the field and the hunt had been told to stay away more than once. They didn't. Braver than chasing a fox or stag with a pack of hounds whilst wearing fancy dress and pretending its a sport.

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  7. Ian for certain there are less Foxes
    Think it completely wrong to put blame on police,they have been asked to police a useless piece of legislation that should have better rules.The politicians who set it up were rubbish.Blame them and the judges who will not convict huntsmen.That means it is a waste of time for police to catch them.

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  8. We are obviously on polar opposite sides of the debate and I doubt whether there is any chance of changing opinions on the matter, but just a few points:

    Just like birding, there was hunting and there was hunting, many different facets to essentially the same thing. Some hunts were fundamentally about killing as many foxes as possible, especially but not exclusively those in the sheep country of the uplands, the west and the north, some were mounted packs, some were foot packs with no horses involved, some were gun packs where hounds flushed foxes from cover to be shot and if not shot hounds would continue to hunt them across country.

    For other hunts yes killing foxes was important but giving the mounted followers a good ride across country was equally important, after all these mounted folk paid subscritions for the not inconsiderable upkeep of the hunt. In this type of country fox numbers have now been hit hard, not just by game keepers but by quite a recent development, the dedicated fox shooter, using rifle, lamp and quite commonly thermal imaging and night vision. Against the modern fox shooter, of which there are now a great many, the fox stands little chance. Many landowners took pride in having a fox on their ground to hunt, even on heavily shot game shooting land. So they were tolerated, controlled at times by various means but not eliminated, as they were both on one hand a problematic animal, but on the other also a sporting one. Now the hunt cannot hunt them there is no reason for a landowner to tolerate any at all so they are persecuted much more heavily than before on previosly hunted ground. An estate I beat on, a large non commercail pheasant shoot, used to harbour at least a dozen, proabbly two or three dozen foxes. Now none, literally none, the hunt does not go there so there is no reason for the gamekeepers to put up with them, so they are shot and snared until there are none, zero. This has happned time and time around the country. The greater fox population has certainly not benefited from the hunting ban, it has caused many thousands more to be killed.

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    1. The BTO’s data on fox numbers certainly seem to back up what you say - a noticeable decline in recent years. I think snaring is a hideous form of control, arguably worse, and more indiscriminate, than hunting - but legal, at least for now. I agree with your take on sport hunting of foxes but it does make a desperate mockery of the argument, trotted out repeatedly, that hunting is needed in order to keep fox numbers in check. That’s always been lie used solely to mislead people in this debate.

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    2. I notice you're not addressing the habit of many hunts to work land where the landowner has explicitly told them they are not permitted.

      I notice that you've also not addressed the fact that hunting with hounds is both widespread and illegal. Making a case for a change in the law, as you have, is one thing, flouting the law is quite another, and boasting about flouting the law really gets up people's noses. And when rich powerful well connected people boast about flouting the law and can do so without consequence, it brings the law into disrepute, and that's something that *should* concern all of us.

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  9. Some excellent points, observations and experiences being described here but please, and at the risk of bringing disapprobation down on myself, please can we describe it as 'fewer foxes'. This 'less' foxes is driving me mad...sorry!

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    1. Sorry, Bimbling, I'm holding my hands up in shame! You're quite right.

      I'm hoisted by my own petard!

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  10. JBC sums up my views on this pretty much.

    With regards to the difficulties of policing hunting with dogs I can't help feeling that arrest rates for, say, drug dealers or burglars would soar if the criminals announced in advance where they were meeting, wore highly distinctive and idiosyncratic clothing and blew on horns to announce where they were as they went on their rampage in large raucous crowds...

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  11. Can we expect to see a more robust response from the police regarding masked and armed urban based extremists running amok in the countryside?
    Can we see them unmasked so when they commit their offences of criminal damage aggravated trespassing and threatening and abusive ehaviour they can be identified and the appropriate police action taken?
    Also when they deliberately entice hounds onto busy roads and cause accidents will their gizmos and hunting horns be confiscated and the the idiot prosecuted?
    Also if as the extremists keep telling everyone there is so much illegal hunting taking place why has there been less than 30 successful prosecutions of registered Hunts in over 13 years?

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    1. Oh my and here we have it, the first person playing Countryside Alliance bingo, every claim straight out of their standard misdirection and lies handbook.

      Backup some of the claims with some evidence (there isn't any) and there's been so few prosecutions of hunt because of the reasons already stated.

      Have a look at your own side for violence and masked up thugs and terrier men.

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  12. BTO data. What does the acronym stand for?
    I would like to check this for myself.

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