Fernie Hunt's William Hanson at pre-hunt meet on Boxing Day 2021

Fernie Hunt: Magistrates find huntsman not guilty of illegal fox hunting

Leicester magistrates found a huntsman of the Fernie Hunt not guilty of illegally hunting a fox. The verdict came after the prosecution was unable to prove intent.

BBC News reported that magistrates in Leicester found William Hanson not guilty on 28 March. Hanson is huntsman for the Fernie Hunt. He was charged in June 2022 following an incident on 8 January 2022 in Peatling Magna, Leicestershire. Hanson plead not guilty on 13 July of the same year.

Members of the public said they witnessed the Fernie Hunt chasing a fox through the village. Local paper Leicestershire Live quoted a witness at the time saying they say saw “hounds and… a large crowd of onlookers” following a fox across a pub car park. The fox, hounds and riders then disappeared from the public’s view. It appears CCTV footage from this pub was used as part of the prosecution’s evidence.

‘Disorientated’ by rain

Harborough FM reported that the prosecution said Hanson had “deliberately forced a fox from trees and allowed it to be chased”. It also said the defence claimed the hounds were “disorientated” by rain.

Meanwhile, BBC News said that hounds started chasing the fox while the hunt was sheltering from bad weather. The pub’s CCTV then showed:

“the fox, hounds and some riders in and around the car park of The Cock Inn.

“This showed Mr Hanson had led the pack out of the village in under two minutes.”

However, the report said that while footage showed hounds pursuing a fox, the prosecution couldn’t prove Hanson had hunted the fox “deliberately”.

As a result, magistrates found him not guilty of a Section 1 offence under the Hunting Act.

Locals Against the Fernie Hunt told Protect the Wild:

“It was incredibly disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, that Will Hanson was found ‘not guilty’ of hunting a wild mammal with dogs… Unfortunately, cases like these demonstrate time and again that proof of intent is a significant challenge in bringing successful charges against hunting criminals. The Fernie will no doubt relish this triumph over the law, which shows yet again, that until the act is sufficiently strengthened, they can continue to get away with wildlife murder.

We need a new law immediately

As with other court cases against hunts, the defence was able to exploit loopholes in the Hunting Act. In particular, the need to prove intent raises the bar for prosecution incredibly high. This is despite widespread acknowledgement by police that hunts across the country continue engaging in illegal hunting of foxes, hares, deer, mink and otters.

It’s time for a new law. Not one that tightens existing legislation, but one that shuts every single hunt down permanently.

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