Avon Vale dig out

GUILTY: Former Avon Vale Hunt thugs charged with illegal hunting

Two ex-members of the Avon Vale Hunt pleaded guilty to illegal hunting at Swindon Magistrates Court on Wednesday 5 July. Aaron Fookes, who was whipper-in, and Stuart Radbourne, who was hunt master, were charged along with a third man, terrierman Alex Warden, after they were caught on video terrorising two foxes.

Fookes also pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal (ie an animal under his control). Meanwhile, the third man, Warden, pleaded not guilty on 7 July to both charges of illegal hunting and to causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal. He has chosen to have a jury trial.

Gruesome footage

The video sparked national outrage when it was leaked and aired by the Hunt Saboteurs Association and ITV News back in February. It shows three men leaning into a freshly-dug hole. One of the men pulls a terrier out. Fookes pulls out a fox (at which point she becomes legally ‘protected’ by him) then drops her into the pack of hounds to tear apart. A second fox then escapes from a hole, and some of the dogs chase her. The person filming shouts: “Brace! There’s a brace!” (a ‘brace’ refers to two foxes), while hunt staff laugh.

The fact that the footage was so damning will have given Fookes and Radbourne little choice but to plead guilty. On top of this, Radbourne was previously convicted of interfering with a badger sett back in 2013. In that incident, Radbourne was seen “waist-deep” in dirt.

As for Fookes, the Sentencing Council recently published new guidelines for magistrates who are sentencing people who have caused unnecessary suffering to an animal under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The new animal cruelty guidelines increased the maximum penalty from six months to five years custody. This will, no doubt, have been on Fookes’ mind when he decided to plead guilty because judges are more lenient with defendants if they plead guilty, rather than being found guilty in a trial.

Facing the consequences…Well, sort of

The press reported that Fookes and Radbourne’s solicitor said that “press coverage of the incident has ‘utterly destroyed the lives of the defendants'”, and that both had been left jobless. Undoubtedly, the two had thought they would get away with their gruesome act with total impunity. After all, the majority of people murdering foxes have faced little consequences for their actions since the Hunting Act came into force in 2005. But we’ve seen in the past two years how the situation is changing – albeit slowly. More and more hunt staff are finding themselves in the dock, whether it be for illegal hunting, or for harassing hunt monitors and saboteurs.

Yet their punishments were measly. Fookes was given an 18-month community order for his offence under the Animal Welfare Act, and must complete 200 hours of unpaid work. He was fined £833, plus £42.50 costs and a £330 surcharge, for illegal hunting. Radbourne, meanwhile, was fined a mere £384 and told to pay £42.50 costs, along with a £154 surcharge.

Going to trial

As for Warden, it is unclear why he has decided to opt for a jury trial. Maybe he thinks he will get a pro-hunting Wiltshire jury. Or maybe he has been advised that the evidence against him isn’t damning enough. But the footage clearly shows Warden retrieving his terrier from the hole.

Wiltshire Hunt Saboteurs wrote on Facebook:

“Alex [Warden] can be seen in the blue jumper [in the video]… he put one of his many terriers into the badger sett in order to locate the hunted fox, just before convicted wildlife criminal Aaron Fookes pulled the animal out to throw to the hounds. At some point during that fateful day of the 20th December 2022, he felt proud enough of his actions to post and tag a photo of himself with the AVH close to the scene of the crime.”

Warden has been granted bail, and isn’t allowed to ‘trail’ hunt in the county of Wiltshire where the Avon Vale was based. He will have a case management hearing on 4 August.


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