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John Holliday

Another not guilty verdict: a stark reminder that the Hunting Act is broken

John Holliday, ex-huntsman of the Belvoir Hunt, was found not guilty of illegal hunting on 11 July. His case is a stark reminder that the Hunting Act needs scrapping and replacing with a proper anti-hunting law.

Holliday was on trial for killing a fox on 15 January 2022. Nottingham Hunt Saboteurs reported:

“The court decided that the evidence didn’t prove intent from Holliday. Members of our group were there that day and tried desperately to save the poor fox as it was chased and killed by a pack of hounds being actively hunted by Holliday. Such incidents show again that the Hunting Act isn’t fit for purpose and the only people who are willing to save wildlife are hunt sabs.”
Horrific footage, caught by sabs, surely should have been enough to find Holliday guilty. The distressing video shows the hounds picking up a scent and hunting a fox, while hunt staff do nothing to stop them. The fox lays dying on her back, gasping her last breaths as she bleeds to death.

Intent

The fact that this footage – which couldn’t have shown the horrors of fox hunting more blatantly – wasn’t enough for a conviction, should make us all outraged. Holliday walked away from court innocent because of the biggest loophole of the Hunting Act: intent.

In order for someone to be found guilty of illegal hunting, the prosecution needs to prove that the person intended to hunt a real animal with dogs. Protect the Wild has previously explained:

“To make an arrest and get a conviction police need to be sure and prosecutors need to prove that: an animal was actually hunted (‘searching’ for an animal, according to a 2009 High Court Judgement, is not ‘hunting’); hunters knowingly engaged in illegal hunting and the hunting was provably ‘intentional’; that the hunting wasn’t exempted – for example, that they weren’t ‘trail hunting’ (following a pre-laid artificial scent)…

“Police and prosecutors also need to prove ‘intent’. It may seem obvious to us that a fox hunt going out with hounds, terriermen, and a pack of supporters is hunting, but did they intentionally leave the kennels or meeting place to hunt a fox? According to the same High Court Judgement referred to earlier, the accidental or inadvertent hunting of a wild mammal with one or more dogs is not an offence under the Act.”

We need to ban hunting outright

There have been numerous calls from animal rights campaigners for the Hunting Act to be tightened. But what we really need is a new law, explicitly banning hunting with dogs. England and Wales need to take a leaf out of Scotland’s book, which recently passed the Hunting With Dogs (Scotland) Act 2023. This Act replaced the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, which – like the Hunting Act – had so many loopholes that it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

Scotland’s new law limits the number of dogs that can flush out mammals to two. While this isn’t ideal, it does, at least, provide tighter legislation against Scottish hunts, which previously pretended to flush a fox to guns, and used it as a smokescreen in order to carry out traditional fox hunting. On top of this, the Scottish law prevents hunts from saying that they were trail hunting. This excuse is used by hunts all over England and Wales, and it enables them to get away with murder.

Protect the Wild is campaigning for brand new legislation to ban hunting and hunts for good. We need to do more than allow hunts to continue in a slightly different form – we need to get rid of them altogether.

We commissioned Advocates for Animals to help us develop new legislation – The Hunting of Mammals Bill. The carefully-worded Bill will:

  • add a ‘reckless’ hunting clause by making it a crime to ‘intentionally or recklessly’ hunt a wild mammal with a dog.
  • finally ban so-called ‘trail hunting’ by making it a crime to hunt any mammal with a dog using any animal-based scent (so hunts will no longer be able to claim it is a ‘legal activity’).
  • make it a crime for a landowner to ‘assist’ a hunt by ‘knowingly causing or permitting’ a hunting crime to take place on their land.
  • include ‘searching’ for an animal in the definition of hunting.

 

The Bill will also increase ‘search and seizure’ powers, as well as make hunts, and officers within hunts, liable for the crimes they have committed.

Join the campaign

The Hunting of Mammals Bill will stop hunting in its tracks, and finally give wildlife much-needed protection from illegal hunting. Please support it and help us make it law. You can read the Bill in its entirety by downloading a pdf version here. You can sign our petition for a proper hunting ban here.

As for Holliday, he retired from hunting a couple of weeks after the Belvoir Hunt murdered the fox. The Belvoir said that he had “gained a reputation as one of the world’s most pre-eminent huntsmen.” He should have been found guilty for his final actions, but at least the court case will have caused him some stress during his last days in the industry. Meanwhile, the criminal Belvoir Hunt will continue to terrorise foxes as the 2023/24 season approaches. The Hunt is known for continually breaking the law, and made national headlines when League Against Cruel Sports monitors were hospitalised by men associated with the hunt in 2016. One monitor suffered a broken neck when they were attacked by six men.

Nottingham Hunt Sabs, whose evidence was key in forcing Holliday stand trial, will continue to go out fight hunting in the East Midlands. You can support them by donating here.

Featured image via Countryside Alliance / YouTube screenshot