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Hare courser has penalty increased after appealing sentence

Ryan Thomas Spence, 33, of Redcar, became the first offender in North Yorkshire to be given a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) for hare coursing offences last year.

Spence, described as a ‘prolific courser’, was handed the banning order following a North Yorkshire Police investigation which saw him convicted of hunting wild mammals with dogs (contrary to the Hunting Act 2004) on farmland near Kirkbymoorside in February 2022.

In September 2022, at Scarborough Magistrates Court, he was issued with the CBO, fined more than £1,000 and received a six-month driving ban.

Two days ago (23rd Feb) Spence appeared at York Crown Court after appealing the sentence but not only was the original sentence upheld, his driving ban was increased from six months to two years, and will now run from the date of the appeal.

Criminal Behaviour Order

Criminal Behaviour Orders have largely replaced the better-known ASBO (Anti-social behaviour order), and are available following a conviction for any criminal offence in the Crown Court, magistrates’ court or youth court.

Spence’s CBO will remain in place for five years, beginning from September 2022, and prevent  him from:

  • Trespassing on any land with a dog, firearm, or any item capable of firing a projectile
  • Straying from any highway, bridleway, or public right of way onto any land
  • Driving, or be in, a motor vehicle or mechanically propelled vehicle other than on a publicly maintained road without written permission of the landowner
  • Being part of a group involved in the hunting of any wild mammals with dogs or firearms or any items capable of firing a projectile.

Three dogs Spence used to commit his crimes and who were with him when he was arrested are being rehomed.

North Yorkshire

Hare coursing is an appallingly cruel, illegal ‘sport’ where hares are chased by dogs across open fields until caught and killed. Coursers will often livestream an ‘event’ and huge sums of money can be waged on which way the hare will turn and how long the poor animal will survive.

In a police press statement, Inspector Clive Turner, from North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force, is quoted saying: “The message is crystal clear – we will respond robustly to any poachers who set foot in North Yorkshire. Poaching is a serious offence which, in addition to being a wildlife crime, causes damage to property and misery in rural communities.

“Anyone thinking of committing these offences in our area can expect hefty fines, lengthy driving bans, the forfeiture of their property and court orders to put a stop to their criminal activity. With the addition of a CBO, a realistic prospect of a prison sentence can be expected for breaching the order.”

Coursers are violent thugs and Protect the Wild of course welcomes the conviction of Spence and the strong words of Inspector Turner, but we do have to question why the same rigour is not being brought to bear on criminal gamekeepers and raptor persecution.

Packed with grouse moors and shooting estates, North Yorkshire is widely recognised as being one of the worst areas in the country for crimes against birds of prey.

The region was described as a ‘black hole for raptors’ in August 2020 by the Yorkshire Post which printed a list of SIXTEEN raptor persecution incidents from just January 2018 to July 2020. In December last year news broke that Hen Harrier chicks in a nest being monitored by Natural England fieldworkers (!) had been stamped to death earlier in the year. Nidderdale AONB, in the Yorkshire Dales, is home to the infamous Nidderdale Cocktail and has been dubbed the ‘poisoning capital of the UK’.

There are many, many more incidents of raptor persecution in the region, many of which are never investigated or brought to court. Just last week Raptor Persecution UK posted a blog titled, “Red kite found poisoned on Swinton Estate – North Yorkshire Police refuses to investigate”

As we say, Protect the Wild welcomes the conviction of any and every hare courser, but it is incredibly frustrating that – on the face of it – one set of criminals do appear to be treated differently to another when the outcome – dead animals and lawbreaking – is essentially the same.

We would be happy to hear from North Yorkshire Police if they would like to talk to us about this vexing question…

Reporting hare coursers

We can all play a part in convicting people like Spence, and North Yorks Police do go on to

“remind everyone about the importance of calling in any suspected poaching. If it’s a crime in progress, please dial 999 so we can take immediate action – or if you have information about who may be responsible, call us on 101 or report it online via our website.”

Protect the Wild would re-iterate that, but please remember that hare coursers are typically extremely violent individuals and will attack you if you get too close or see you taking down details about them.

If possible though, and only if it is safe to do so, please record these details (on a phone or in a notebook if you have one) if you witness hare coursing:

  • Never put ourselves in danger, but can we see who is involved and what they look like (e.g. the number of people, their gender(s), age(s), the clothing worn, tools being carried)?
  • Can we hear them – if so what are they saying, are they using any names etc?
  • If any dogs are involved how many are there, what colour are they, do we know what breed they are (even information like ‘terriers’ or ‘lurcher-types’ can be very useful).
  • The make, colour and registration number of any vehicle (we can take photos of a car if we think it is being used or might be used to commit a crime). Does it have any obvious dents, branding or markings, spotlights, bullbars etc.