On 6 December 2022, Ollie Finnegan pleaded guilty to illegally hunting with dogs after WhatsApp messages, found on his phone, incriminated him.
Finnegan was the huntsman for the Quorn Hunt on 7 January 2022. Police seized his phone after receiving reports of the Quorn illegally hunting a fox that day.
ITV’s Rupert Evelyn attended court. He tweeted:
Meanwhile, Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs commented:
“With the offence allowing a fine only, rather than a custodial or other sentence, and fines being means-tested, Finnegan will only have to pay £656 fine, £65 surcharge and £620 court costs. He currently earns £24,000 a year working for the Cheshire Hunt as huntsman.”
Finnegan had sent WhatsApp messages to the huntsman that day. One of the most damning messages said:
“Only found a brace [of foxes]. First one went to ground, The second went 5 fields to a real thick cover which we weren’t aloud in and had to stop [the hounds].”
Police found lots of other messages on his phone, a number of which dated back to other hunting meets. On 17 September 2021, Finnegan had texted the hunt master the day before a meet, giving the coordinates of an artificial earth. Artificial earths are built and maintained by hunts to encourage foxes to make their homes and breed in a hunting area. Then the following day, Finnegan messaged the hunt master to talk about how the meet went. He said:
“Found 2 brace [of foxes], seen another 2 brace, very busy all night. Hounds hunted well considering the heat.”
Just like last year’s leaked Hunting Office webinars, these messages show clearly what hunt staff will openly brag about when they think they’re having a private conversation. Finnegan’s messages give the public yet more evidence of what we already know: that hunts consistently break the law, not following scent trails but deliberately hunting foxes.
If it hadn’t been for police seizing his phone, Finnegan may well have got away with hunting a fox yet again. Rupert Evelyn tweeted:
But as was pointed out on Twitter, in reality it is the constant pressure from hunt saboteurs and monitors that actually force police to act in cases like this:
i doubt @leicspolice would have investigated at all if local hunt sab groups hadnt been providing constant pressure to do so. in reality senior police are often involved with their local hunts and when police do attend to reports of illegal hunting they typically protect the hunt
— ＨＯＴ ＧＵＴＳ (@Real_hotguts) December 7, 2022
Obvious examples of the connection between the police and hunts are PC Laura Hughes of Wiltshire Police, who is a member of Avon Vale Hunt, or Police and Crime Commissioner Phillip Wilkinson, who has referred to hunt saboteurs as “black clad, balaclava wearing thugs”.
Finally, a conviction
Up until now, Finnegan – like many hunt members across the country – likely thought he was untouchable. After all, he was previously cleared of illegal hunting with the Quorn Hunt in August 2021. Back then he, along with whipper-in Rhys Matcham, insisted the hunt had laid an artificial scent for hounds to follow. That case was dropped part way through with the CPS stating there was no prospect of conviction, even though League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) footage had shown a fox emerging from a covert.
And then back in 2019, when he was whipper-in for the Meynell and South Staffordshire Hunt, Finnegan once again pleaded not guilty to illegal hunting, despite more LACS footage incriminating him and five others. The case against him was dismissed after two of the hunt members pleaded guilty. At the time, the hunt said: “the Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence against all four and abandoned the case against them.”
Landowners should act
When the Hunt Saboteurs Association leaked the Hunting Office webinars two years ago, this led to a number of the UK’s major landowners permanently banning hunting on their land. It remains to be seen whether local landowners will take action against the Quorn Hunt, or against Finnegan’s current Cheshire Hunt. If they have any sense, they should also enforce bans: after all, land owners can also be prosecuted under the Hunting Act. As for Finnegan, it remains to be seen whether he will keep his position at the Cheshire Hunt. Although his punishment is a measly £656, his reputation is permanently tarnished.
Featured image via ITV News/screenshot