BREAKING: Warwickshire Hunt charged under the Hunting Act

Warwickshire Police has been under the spotlight for many months, repeatedly criticised for its biased policing of the Warwickshire Hunt. Meanwhile, Warwickshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Philip Seccombe, has been accused by many of having direct involvement over the policing of his hunting friends.

Now, in a surprising U-turn, the police force has announced that it has charged the hunt of Hunting a Wild Mammal With Dogs. This is only the second time that a hunting body has been charged since the Hunting Act came into force.

Warwickshire Police’s Rural Crime Team announced:

“Benjamin Halsall, 23 from Whatcote Road, Shipston-on-Stour, has been charged with Hunting a Wild Mammal With Dogs under the Hunting Act 2004, along with Warwickshire Hunt Limited, from Kidlington, Oxfordshire.
Halsall and Warwickshire Hunt Ltd will appear in Leamington Spa Magistrates Court on 31 May 2024.
This follows an investigation by the Warwickshire Rural Crime Team into an alleged incident in the Idlicote area of Warwickshire on 9 October 2023, where dogs were allegedly involved in the death of a fox.”

On the day in question, Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs and West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs were on the ground. A Three Counties saboteur tried to prevent the fox from being ripped up, but was reportedly assaulted and thrown to the ground in the process.

‘A whiff of a cover-up’

Warwickshire Police – and no doubt PCC Seccombe – have been feeling the pressure these past months, with numerous articles and social media posts published about their incompetence. The scrutiny began when the Warwickshire Hunt was issued with a Community Protection Notice (CPN) – which is similar to an ASBO – for causing road chaos back in December 2022. In August 2023 the police backtracked, having negotiated with the hunt to come up with a secret protocol. It didn’t expand upon this protocol to the public, nor to MP Matt Western, who demanded numerous times to see the document.

Meanwhile, Seccombe insisted that the protocol could remain secret under Section 32 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which relates to court records. Section 32 essentially says that there is no right of access under the FOI Act to information contained in court records as it gives an absolute exemption from disclosure of such information.

While this supposed protocol was in place, the Warwickshire Hunt continued to chase foxes and hold up traffic, safe in the knowledge that the police would – apparently – do absolutely nothing.

Fast-forward to just a few days ago, and the police announced that the protocol has been dropped; that it was only a temporary measure, anyway. In response, MP Western used some much-needed strong words, telling Channel 4:

“Well, I think this is descending in terms of the level of farce. First of all, as you may know, they wouldn’t give me access – they still will not give me access – to the protocol. It still remains secret. They’re now suggesting that it was just a temporary thing, and they’re withdrawing it. It’s complete nonsense. I just fear that they are making this up as they go along. I mean, it does really have a whiff of a cover-up.”

Meanwhile, Action Against Foxhunting Midlands wrote:

“Are the Warwickshire Police making this up as they go along? As soon as demands to see the contents of the secret protocol intensified, the protocol disappeared. Chief Constable Debbie Tedds is still hiding and refusing to comment, clearly out of her depth it’s time she left! Is there a ploy to cover up corruption? The public have lost all faith in the Warwickshire police force and it’s time for change!”

Public pressure

It’s unclear why Warwickshire Police has made this sudden U-turn, not only prosecuting hunter Halsall, but also the Warwickshire Hunt Limited itself. But we can be certain that concerted pressure from hunt saboteurs and monitors, as well as people like Western, have had a massive effect. Their efforts have ensured that the Channel 4 has also covered the apparent secrecy of the police, bringing the story to a much wider audience.

It is extremely rare for a hunting body to be prosecuted under the Hunting Act, with police and the CPS usually spending their resources prosecuting individuals such as huntsmen. In fact, Protect the Wild is only aware of one other hunt being convicted: the Heythrop Hunt back in 2012, following a prosecution by the RSPCA. At the time, the hunt pleaded guilty to four charges of intentionally hunting a fox with dogs in the Cotswolds, while ex-huntsman Julian Barnfield and ex-hunt master Richard Sumner also pleaded guilty to the same charges. The hunt and the individuals were all fined.

Meanwhile, just days ago the same criminal hunter Barnfield – now executive director of hunt’s own governing body, the British Hound Sports Association – had the audacity to tell Channel 4:

“In 19 years we’ve learnt a lot since the ban came in, and still learning. So, we have adapted, we’ve changed. We’ve still got people that are not doing us any favours: we appreciate that. And we’re trying to weed those out and deal with it.”

With Barnfield et al. responsible for governing fox hunting, it is little wonder that most hunters continue to murder foxes with impunity.

As for Warwickshire Police, the force’s announcement that it is prosecuting the hunt is a significant action that has come too late.