Guest blog – Hunting Crimes in Devon (3) 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’ve been meaning to write this for a while but was inspired to finish it by watching Chris Packham’s video, filmed at a New Forest fox hunt on New Year’s day [and then Mark sat on it for weeks]. It follows two guest blogs on the same general subject; Fox hunting crimes (in Devon 1) and Hunting crimes in Devon (2).

As we know, most hunting crimes occur out of sight of prying eyes and go unrecorded. But enough come to light to give us a sense of the scale of criminality involved. I thought I’d have a look at some of the incidents that have happened in my local area (all within a few miles of the house) over the last few years.

A few quick caveats:

Not all the incidents can be categorised definitively as crimes, as will become clear, but they all involve events that merited legal investigations – readers can judge each for themselves and look up the individual cases if they want to delve more deeply.

I’ve included non-hunting crimes where there is a clear association with hunting events or organisations although there are limits as to what has been included due to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. My justification for this approach is a belief that if hunting crimes are being committed regularly, with little chance of individuals being brought to justice, this can easily lead on to other, even more serious, criminal acts.

I’ve not included a whole raft of incidents involving reports of animals being hunted illegally (several of which I’ve seen for myself) routine trespassing onto private land to hunt, violence between hunt supporters and monitors, livestock being killed and riding lessons being disrupted as the hounds move through. There is simply not the space to list them all. I’ve chosen to focus on a few incidents that I think help to shed most light on the criminality associated with hunting. 

  • In 2007, a Tiverton staghounds huntsman was cleared of allowing his hounds to kill a pet border terrier cross in the owner’s garden in East Worlington (our nearest village). The death of the dog, and injuries to the women trying to defend it (in her own garden) are not disputed. The hunt offered compensation and hunt solicitors initially tried to insist that this was paid on condition of silence. Perhaps that trick might have worked but for the fact that the dog owner was a magistrate and understood the law. At the ensuing court case the judge commented that ‘dogs will be dogs’ as he dismissed the case. The hounds involved were killed by the hunt.
  • A regular contributor to this blog lives a few miles north of here and, we are told, has an arrangement with the police whereby they turn a blind eye to his indiscretions in respect of the Hunting Act. This approach to committing crimes doesn’t always work and he was recently jailed for 18 weeks. His initial conviction for harassment was in 2015 after a hate campaign against the then head of LACS. He received a suspended sentence and a restraining order which he went on to breach in September 2017 by continuing his campaign of hatred and threatening behaviour. One message mentioned that he owned a gun and knew where he could find his victim. Perhaps unwisely, he was threatening a QC who was well informed about the law in this area.
  • There has been an ongoing case involving the Eggesford fox hounds a few miles to the south of here. They have repeatedly been caught trespassing on Popehouse Moor SSSI and Wheatfield Farm, an award-winning business based on wildlife-friendly farming and eco-lodges. Guests staying in the eco-ledges enjoy watching the local foxes but are less keen on watching hounds rampaging past, trying to pick up fox trails. Presumably they are also less likely to re-book and visit again. In despair at the effects on her business the owner has complained repeatedly to the hunt, reported incidents to the Police, campaigned on Facebook, and written to the local MP – all to no avail. Each time the hounds hunt across this farm (where no trail has been laid, obviously) they just say ‘ooops, sorry about that’ and no further action is taken.
  • In 2012 a senior huntsman from the Tiverton staghounds (the same one who was involved with the death of the pet dog) committed a serious crime after the hunt’s July ball in a village just a few miles down the road from here, for which he was jailed for four years. Apparently, this incident led to a rift in the local stag-hunting community – some leaving in disgust and others rather more sympathetic towards him. After the events at the ball, senior members of the staghounds went ahead with a testimonial to mark his retirement and he was apparently presented with £3,500 as a parting gift.

A few general points emerge from these cases.

Firstly, from a personal perspective, it’s interesting how events close to home have a disproportionate impact. Whenever I go past the garden where the pet dog was killed I think about that incident and the distress it must have caused. And whenever I come across the hunt when out and about it makes the day that little bit less enjoyable knowing what they get up to. The staghounds are so regularly encountered on their Saturday and Wednesday hunt days that I’ve taken to avoiding going out on those days, or at least steering clear of the areas around Meshaw, Worlington, Rackenford, Kings Nympton and Chulmleigh where they so often hunt. I know other locals who do the same – forced to change their behaviour in order to fit around the hunt.

Two of these cases provide a vivid reminder that hunts continue to do pretty much as they please with little fear of prosecution. In one case a pet dog is killed by the hounds, in the owner’s own garden, with the owner sustaining injuries as she tries to save it. The hunt admitted what had happened – they had no choice. Yet even then, apparently, no offence was committed! How slim must the chances be of being held to account for illegally hunting wild animals if you can get away with killing a pet right outside the owner’s front door?

The other case involves a landowner who has repeatedly made clear that hunting should not take place on their land because they object to it in principle, it is protected as an SSSI, it adversely affects their eco-tourism business and no trails are ever laid across it for trail hunting. They have complained repeatedly and tried just about every time-consuming avenue available to resolve the issue. Even then, the trespassing continues with no more than a casual apology each time it happens. There can surely be only two explanations. The hunt is either (i) unable, or (ii) unwilling, to control the hounds and prevent them from picking up and following the trails of wild animals on private land. Whichever explanation is true, how can they possibly then maintain that they are not acting illegally? Why don’t the police view this as an offence – if not the first time then the second, third or perhaps fourth time? And if this landowner can’t prevent illegal hunting, what chance will a less vocal and determined landowner have in preventing unwanted hunting from taking place on their land? Absolutely none at all.

It’s notable that two of the highlighted cases involved victims with expert knowledge of the legal system. Even then, one is offered hush money to try to cover up the incident. You can only wonder how many other cases never see the light of day because the victims do not have legal expertise, or wish to avoid local publicity, or perhaps agree to accept hush money and keep quiet.

It’s difficult to draw firm conclusions from a small number of cases. But human nature being what it is, I can’t help wondering if the most serious crimes referred to above would not have happened but for a sense of invulnerability that comes from being able to act with impunity and little chance of being held to account. If you can get away with breaking the law repeatedly in one area then it must surely change your attitude towards the law more generally. There is good evidence for this in other areas of the law. In one case an individual has boasted about his understanding with the police in relation to hunting laws – perhaps he thought they would also understand his campaign of hatred? In another the individual had a police caution for assault (but escaped prosecution), and then watched as his hounds killed a family pet, again with no legal consequences. It would be very surprising indeed if those events didn’t influence his mindset in respect of the more serious crime that resulted in a four year jail sentence.

For how much longer can our apparently accountable Police force continue to sit back and watch these illegal activities play out without taking meaningful action?

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24 Replies to “Guest blog – Hunting Crimes in Devon (3) by Ian Carter”

  1. I am not legally qualified, but under my understanding of the law of trespass, it is not possible to prosecute an offender as trespass is a civil offence. The course open to the victim of trespass is to sue the perpetrator for damage or loss. This requires that the perpetrator knows there action will cause damage to the victim and proceeds any way. It seems to my unqualified eye that a fox hunt would reasonably be expected to know that intrusion into an SSSI where the business is built around allowing customers to enjoy wildlife undisturbed, hence a case to recover losses incurred by the trespass would be reasonable. I would appreciate comments from anyone with legal expertise to say yay or nay!

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    1. I have always been led to believe that for persistent trespass you take out an injunction, which may be costly, having never done it I don't know. If that injunction is broken it is akin to contempt of court. Trespass is always a civil matter if you cannot prove damage, which I suspect the lady in question could, but this would be disputed so an injunction may be the better route.
      You can of course shoot dogs for sheep worrying, its been done with hunts!

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      1. The Fitzwilliam took out an injunction against myself and my colleagues to prevent us from trespassing and gaining evidence against them.

        We fought them and took them to the High Court in London. The judge threw out most of their requests and agreed that their hunting would appear to be illegal.

        They offered us a deal after this and dropped our names from the injunction but continued with one against "persons unknown" which would appear to be a pointless exercise since to serve an injunction on someone you have have to know who they are. It ended up costing them over £120K for nothing.

        Simple fact is that's still small potatoes for Sir Philip Neylor-Leyland (owner of the Fitzwilliam Hunt) as he's worth in the region of £180M. This is the problem, the landed gentry simply don't believe they have to abide by the same laws as we do and will use all their wealth and influence to make sure of that fact.

        We still sab them mind and they're not happy about it.

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      2. Any references to the shooting of hounds for worrying sheep?
        As for trespass being only a civil matter, there are exceptions..https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN05116/SN05116.pdf

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  2. I think it's fair to say that the Hunting Act is probably one of the least well policed bits of legislation out there. The reasons are twofold.

    1. The legislation is very poorly written and due to this and the loopholes contained therein make the burden of proof required to gain a prosecution excessively high, although it can be done with good evidence and a police force willing to robustly investigate. I've been a key witness in 2 cases which were both successful, the Fitzwilliam (https://bit.ly/2D65rI2) and recently the Thurlow (https://bit.ly/2G49yFp) although as expected both are appealing as they always do, usually in an effort to get a more sympathetic judge.

    2. The power wielded by the hunts themselves and their links with senior police officers and MP's would appear to make them untouchable. Prime example of this was with my local hunt (the Oakley) and one of the main characters within the hunt (an ex Master), a Detective Chief Inspector (https://bit.ly/2LilrIE).

    The response to hunting incidents varies hugely from force to force. Some forces are openly pro hunt and have WCO's who are hunters and have been recorded advising local hunts on how best to deal with monitors and saboteurs. Some have very senior CA officials riding with them and even though they've had to destroy hounds due to the contraction of bTB from the feeding of tainted meat, Defra still don't believe this is a risk to farm animals. This same hunt was also filmed dragging a fox from a false earth and throwing it in front of the hounds on NYD this year and yet the relevant police force has yet to announce any arrests or indeed that any further action is to take place.

    The police will only be forced into taking proper action against these criminals when the law is changed and public opinion demands it. While the current Government are in power the law will never be changed, but I live in hope that this is something the people can, and will do something about.

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    1. One also needs to bear in mind the many cases where the law simply doesn't make sense. Where it is clearly flawed then people are clearly entitled to break it. To enforce the law in such circumstances would make its absurdity apparent and this would damage overall respect for the law.

      The reality is for example that people are perfectly entitled to continue pursuing wild game with dogs provided they do so in a humane manner and in the context of non lethal management. The Devon and Cornwall Police fully accept this and allow it to continue.

      The law is a crass instrument made by crass people. The police have a hard job to do deciding who should be allowed to break it - however in some cases it's pretty obvious.

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  3. This all comes back to having the will to stop these crimes. The police lack the will to take concerted action, because they know the current Westminster Government is not at all bothered about enforcing the law in this area of Countryside crime. Indeed had they had a sufficient majority from the last election they would repeal the hunting act as stated in their manifesto.
    I don’t believe we will see any significant improvement in law enforcement or improved wildlife protection until this Tory Government is completely replaced.

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    1. Alan - I'm all for replacing this government but I suspect there are other factors at play as well. One would certainly be how high a priority this would be whatever government is in place. Second, is resources. And third, I think, is will - local police forces are embedded in the community and can be pulled in many different directions.

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  4. You cannot have one section of society openly flouting the law and expect everybody else to behave themselves.
    Its no coincidence that there is such unrest in this country and massive issues to do with violence and knife crime.
    What would you expect when you have ex police officers tearing small mammals to pieces with packs of dogs as well as all the other obvious issues of corruption and total lack of respect for everybody else.
    The police and judges should be setting an example to society.
    Not behaving like animals or turning a blind eye to unacceptable behaviour.
    This government needs to go, sooner the better.

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    1. Daniel - I very much agree with your first sentence and the word flouting is important.

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    2. I suggest that people murdering people are not influenced to do so by the flouting of the law by a relatively small proportion of the rural population. So I do not agree with your second sentence.

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    3. "You cannot have one section of society openly flouting the law and expect everybody else to behave themselves."

      I don't expect everybody to behave themselves.

      If people genuinely do not believe in a law and flout it openly then in the instances where the authorities choose not to enforce it those people can indeed flout it with impunity. They are "above the law".

      It's like that with the Hunting Act - I simply do not believe that its provisions if obeyed would reduce any cruelty to wild mammals - therefore I am entitled not to obey the law.

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  5. Glad to see the psychological aspect of this being explored.
    Considering it is a vital influence on our lives and can often affect our health, i am astounded that it is virtually never taken into account on a range of issues.

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  6. Sorry Filbert, I disagree.
    These people may be a small minority of our population but they are mainstream news. They are mainstream news because everybody knows they are out breaking the law.
    Couple that with all the violent assaults by huntsmen and their supporters that have been filmed and put on youtube for example and its there for all to see.
    People actively chasing and tearing animals to pieces and violently assaulting those that believe that the law should be obeyed. Serious assaults, men punching woman, people being trampled by horses and run over by quad bikes.
    Then everyone see's that these hunters and their supporters get away with it, again and again.
    A lot of these people are off high standing in society, or their hunting friends are off high standing. They should be setting an example.
    So when the rest of us get to see that its ok to behave in that manner, as there is no consequence, what do you think happens?
    You get a break down in law and order and a lack of respect for others in society in general.
    If its ok to punch a woman in the face then surely its ok to stab someone if they have a knife too?
    This, in my opinion is the message that is given to society every time they are filmed breaking the law and they get away with it.
    If I encouraged my dog to tear my neighbours cat to pieces in the street, would that be ok?
    I guarantee a hunt would get away with it.
    Until that changes and the law is for everyone then our communities and society in general is on a downward spiral!

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    1. Then you'll have to disagree. Your pile of whataboutery cuts no ice.

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      1. I agree with you Filbert. However deplorable the hunting crimes there is no evidence to suggest that knife crime is remotely influenced by or connected to it. I doubt whether those involved in the recent stabbings of young people in London and other cities are even aware of the hunting act, the extent to which it is or isn't complied with or why, or what other criminal acts may be associated with it.

        The problem with making unwarranted connections in this way is that all it does is undermine genuine arguments about the issue. It simply makes it easy for the hunts to dismiss opposition as hysterical and unfounded.

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  7. “The primary object of an efficient police is the prevention of crime: the next that of detection and punishment of offenders if crime is committed. To these ends all the efforts of police must be directed. The protection of life and property, the preservation of public tranquillity, and the absence of crime, will alone prove whether those efforts have been successful and whether the objects for which the police were appointed have been attained". Sir Robert Peel.

    This was drummed in to me as "The Primary Objects" and was the first thing I had to learn, word perfect, when I joined the Metropolitan Police many years ago. Police officers are expected to go about their duties 'without fear or favour'. Some of the scenes I have seen in recent years concerning police action/inaction at hunts and their approach to wildlife crime generally have led me to believe that police forces, up-and-down the country are not upholding these 'Primary Objects' and the individuals concerned are a disgrace to their uniforms.

    The standard of policing today reflects to a great extend the morality of the nation. That is not to say that there are not a great number of 'good' police officers. However, if a police officer is not able to perform their duties 'impartially', whatever the circumstances, then they are corrupt, easy as that! The general standard of 'policing' today shames me. My father, who was a senior police officer and 'straight as a die', will be spinning in his grave!

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  8. In his evidence against me the [Giles - I don't think you really want me to post this comment - Mark]

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  9. It would be completely wrong to target Giles Bradshaw [Mark writes - rest of this comment deleted as the poster does not have a valid email address. Giles - this was you, I bet].

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  10. So NOT shooting deer leads on to more serious crimes? That's laughable!!!!

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