Another hunter sentenced for animal cruelty, but escapes prison

Greg Baker, former huntsman of the Llandeilo Farmers Hunt, has been found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to animals. Five horses and one hound suffered from severe abuse under his care.

The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) and South Wales Hunt Saboteurs stated that the RSPCA had raided Baker’s property, and found that the horses were:

“severely underweight and suffering from lice infestations and rain scald – a painful condition caused by prolonged exposure to the elements. One of the horses – a Shetland pony – weighed just 60 kg when rescued. She put on 20 kg when provided with basic care and nutrition by the RSPCA.

Additionally, a foxhound was found to have a prolapsed penis and had to be treated with methadone – the highest level of pain relief licensed for dogs – despite Baker’s protestation that no such anaesthetic was needed.”

New sentencing guidelines are meaningless

Like numerous hunters before him, Baker has escaped prison. He was sentenced to a 20-week suspended sentence, as well as 150 hours of unpaid work. He must also pay a £150 surcharge. Despite the extreme cruelty towards the horses and hound in his care, he didn’t receive a ban from keeping animals. Having walked away from prison, and without the ban, the court system has failed animals. After all, there is no guarantee that Baker won’t inflict more pain on other mammals.

In May 2023, new sentencing guidelines were introduced in England and Wales after the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 can into force. The Sentencing Council announced that sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty offences – including causing unnecessary suffering – that were committed on or after 29 June 2021 had increased to a maximum of five years in prison. Cases involving prolonged incidents of serious cruelty should be assessed at the highest culpability, while if a case affects a significant number of animals – like in the case of Baker – this should be treated as an aggravating factor.

When the new guidelines were introduced, Sentencing Council member Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean, said:

“Animal cruelty is a serious offence and animals can experience untold suffering at the hands of people who they trust to look after them, including being left in appalling conditions or forced to fight each other for money.

“The new guidelines will guarantee that courts have the powers to deliver appropriate sentences to offenders who mistreat animals.”

Getting away with it

Like Judge Dean stated, courts now have the powers, but since the new guidelines came in, we are yet to see any consistency in properly punishing hunters.

For example, in July 2023, Aaron Fookes – who was whipper-in of the disgraced Avon Vale Hunt – pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. The conviction came after a video was leaked, showing Fookes pulling out a fox from a freshly-dug hole in December 2022. He then dropped her into the pack of hounds to tear apart. The footage caused nationwide outrage. Despite this, Fookes was given an 18-month community order for his offence under the Animal Welfare Act, and was told to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.

And in December 2023, Kent Hounds terriermen, who caused horrific injuries to dogs, also walked away with suspended sentences of 23 weeks. The RSPCA raided their home in January 2023. The charity’s officers found that the men had used superglue to glue up their terrier Fudge’s lip after he was maimed while fox hunting. The dog was also found to be missing a number of front teeth. Another dog, a lurcher called Rose, was discovered with an oozing nail bed, scars across her face, and a large part of her tongue missing.

On 31 May, Sam Staniland, ex-huntsman for the Essex and Suffolk Hunt, will appear in court, accused of six charges under the Animal Welfare Act. The hunter has pleaded not guilty to all six charges. The accusations all involve different incidents of setting dogs on badgers or foxes.

It is clear that fox hunters are a menace to wildlife, and that judges across the country need to step up and sentence them appropriately. If Staniland, too, walks away with just a slap on the wrist, it will prove that yet again, judges protect their own.