No Justice for British Wildlife or Hunt Saboteurs

In Britain hunting with hounds has for generations been done for pleasure, particularly that of the landowners.  But for many years it has been a very divisive subject, with one side citing ‘tradition’ and the other cruelty towards animals.

Back in 2004 the British Parliament finally passed a law curbing the hunting of foxes and other wildlife with packs of hounds.  Unlike nations that have vast areas of wilderness Britain is a small and crowded island and the majority of its people are against this form of hunting.

The supporters of hunting insist that the ‘townies don’t understand the country way of life’, but many people living in and rooted in the countryside loathe the hunts, whether those people are seeing hounds killing foxes by tearing them apart or having hounds invade their gardens, or are farmers dealing with horses galloping through their winter-sewn crops, gates left open and animals disturbed.  Or indeed, causing chaos while chasing a fox up the street and though the cemetery!

Many wanted the Hunting Act to simply ban hunting with dogs, and it is not as tough as it should be, many pro-hunting MPs lobbying to have the Act weakened, if not totally voted out.  The pre-vote debate was accompanied by extremely violent protests outside Parliament by supporters of the Countryside Alliance.  Much was made of the police using batons to beat back the protesters.  Little was made of the protesters using metal barricades to attack the police.  Hunting is a violent business and many of its followers are equally violent.

Since 2005 it has been illegal for a full pack of hounds to hunt a fox yet 10 years on, and with the government being pressured to repeal the Act, the Hunts have blithely carried on hunting just as they used to, full packs chasing a single fox across the countryside.  Trying to get the inadequate law complied with are the hunt saboteurs, disrupting hunts, getting between foxes and hounds, misdirecting hounds with false scents and noise, and filming what they can of illegal activity.

Far from being the peaceful bucolic countryside so beloved of tourists from across the world, war is being waged in the fields and along the quiet lanes, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Dorset and Somerset ‘territory’ of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt.  On one side are the foxes and the hunt saboteurs; on the other the hunt masters, the huntsman and hunt followers of various kinds.

The ‘Sabs’, dedicated to protecting wildlife, are being targeted by people intent on ignoring the Hunting Act.  The hunts believe the countryside belongs to them and they have the right to act as they please, regardless of law – a powerful lobby that seems to have a stranglehold on the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The Sabs film everything, although their evidence of laws being broken is rarely followed by a prosecution of the guilty hunt.  And they film incidents of their vehicles being smashed, themselves being assaulted, badly beaten and in several cases hospitalised with their injuries.  In the 1990s two sabs were killed yet no prosecutions followed. The situation hasn’t improved, as the lack of law demonstrates.  And now the CPS has refused yet another case on ‘insufficient evidence’.

The ‘insufficient evidence’ consists of a film of a woman being deliberately galloped over by the BSV huntsman Mark Doggrell.  Several other sabs witnessed the event.  Having sent the woman flying, Doggrell galloped on without a backward glance (don’t be misled by the sound of a hunting horn in this video.  The Sabs were blowing the horn, trying to confuse the hounds.)

This happened during an evening cubbing meet in August near the Hunt’s kennels.  ‘Cubbing’ takes place at the start of the fox hunting season, when the hunts take out the juvenile hounds and train them to kill foxes by targeting fox cubs barely independent of their mother.  Worse, it was a meet for children on their ponies.  So – give young dogs a taste for blood and teach children that 20 hounds ripping apart a young animal half their size is fun.

When contacted after the incident, the investigating police officer said that, although he’d welcome additional evidence, he felt the police already had enough to prosecute.  The additional evidence, from a farmer who needed to remain anonymous, was that the BSV masters met with Doggrell that evening and concocted the statement he should give to the police.

During the meeting they reportedly said that they “couldn’t afford a hiccup this early in the season,” the implication being that they would have no one to take his place as huntsman, the man who looks after the hounds.  Arrested and charged, he was soon seen back in the saddle.

Doggrell’s prepared statement said that the woman had deliberately jumped in front of his horse.  The video clearly shows that she did not move from where she and her companion were standing with their backs to the oncoming horse.

The woman lost consciousness shortly after being struck.  She had seven broken ribs, a punctured lung and ‘trauma’ to her shoulder.  It was feared at the time that her spine had also been injured.  An air ambulance attended the scene, partly because riders and horses blocked the normal ambulance from accessing the injured woman.

Mark Doggrell is a violent man.  Last November he reportedly assaulted a young man at the local Hunt Ball, breaking his nose.  Years ago while in his teens, after an argument with a young gamekeeper, he took an axe to the gamekeeper’s front door only, so local gossip had it, to be met on the other side of the broken-down door by the gamekeeper’s shotgun!  Running someone down with your horse is par for the course.

Since this incident the Dorset Hunt Sabs have been the target of ‘Anti-antis’, groups of violent masked men dressed to look like Sabs and allegedly shipped in from other hunts.  They appear at any BSV meet and attack the legitimate Sabs, the most recent incident involving 30-40 of them.  The BSV tells everyone that these thugs are the Sabs, spreading the propaganda that the Hunt is squeaky-clean innocent and the Sabs are criminals.

After the CPS decision the Sabs released the video to the press.  According to the Sunday Times, “Michael Felton, senior master of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt, said the incident occurred during a legally permitted drag hunt that did not involve any live foxes being chased.”

Well, sorry, Mike, this was a ‘cubbing’ meet, and the Hunt was witnessed drawing a cover to flush out the foxes. There is a deal of difference between fox hunting and drag hunting when hounds simply follow a pre-laid scent, giving riders and their horses a good run across the country.  The BSV wouldn’t be seen dead engaged in drag hunting, but it is a convenient excuse to be wheeled out on all occasions where the hunt and the full pack are seen chasing a fox.

The Countryside Alliance, with strong links to the National Farmers Union and founded during the campaign against the Hunting Act, gives the impression that all ‘real’ country folk support hunting.  Not true.  Many farmers dislike the hunts but are afraid to ban hunting on their land because of the attacks they suffer from hunt followers.  As one farmer said, “my life wouldn’t be worth living.”

The hunts have never stopped breaking the law, taking full packs out and killing foxes, assaulting and injuring Sabs while apparently safe from prosecution.  And the war against people trying to stop hunting has reached a new and more violent stage.

The situation is not helped by the CPS refusing to prosecute what appeared, from a police point of view, to be a clear case.  How much ‘sufficient evidence’ is needed? And one has to ask: who owns the law?  The hunts?  The landowners? The Countryside Alliance? Certainly not the people fighting to get the law complied with, and who should be protected by the law, not simply left to recover, as best they can, from their injuries.

Considering that the huntsman presented the police with a false statement about the incident which was shown to be utterly untrue by the video, the police quite rightly treated the case as ‘criminal assault’.

A CPS spokesman said: “The law would require us to show either an intention to cause serious harm or that serious harm could have been foreseen.”  Had Doggrell ‘not foreseen serious harm’, he would at the very least have looked back to see what had happened rather than galloping on.

The injured woman, still suffering from the effects of her injuries, is now demanding that the CPS reinvestigate her case, and Sabs and their supporters are planning a demonstration at the hunt’s point-to-point race meeting in early March. That should prove an interesting event because, due to the infamous badger culls in which Sabs have played a vitally important part in preventing the needless killing of badgers, membership of the Hunt Saboteur Association has soared.

And they all want justice.

Lesley Docksey is a lover of animals, campaigns and writes on war/peace, climate change, and the environment. She is the former editor of Abolish War. Read other articles by Lesley.