Sam Staniland, huntsman for the Essecx and Suffolk Hunt, during a cubbing meet in September 2022.

Hunter accused of six charges of animal cruelty

Sam Staniland, ex-huntsman for the Essex and Suffolk Hunt, was in court on Monday 18 December, accused of six charges under the Animal Welfare Act. The hunter pleaded not guilty to all six charges.

He was accused of:

  • Causing unnecessary suffering to a foxhound by failing to prevent the dog from fighting a fox on 17 October 2022;
  • Causing animal fighting to take place on 17 October 2022;
  • Failing to protect a female Patterdale terrier from suffering between 6 and 21 April 2023. The terrier had injuries on her skin, muzzle, and nose;
  • Failing to prevent three Patterdale terriers from fighting foxes and badgers between 21 March and 21 April 2023;
  • Failing to prevent dogs fighting a badger on 11 February 2021;
  • Failing to prevent two lurcher dogs from fighting a badger on 17 October 2022.


The charges relate to terrier work carried out by Staniland while at the Essex and Suffolk Hunt. His phone was seized in January 2023 when his house was raided by police accompanied by the RSPCA. The raid on Staniland took place along with a number of other hunters across the south-east. Later on in the year, his work premises were searched, too.

The prosecution barrister, acting on behalf of the RSPCA, stated that there was video evidence of a vet examining the injured dogs at the time. The examination showed that one dog had lost two teeth, consistent with dog fighting. Three of the dogs needed treatment for injuries to their muzzles.

Staniland’s barrister argued that the dogs, who were seized by the RSPCA and subsequently rehomed, should be handed back for an examination by the defence’s own vet. But the prosecution argued that one charge related to an infected nose, and that the infection had now cleared, so another examination would be pointless.

Staniland’s defence barrister briefly outlined some of the defence arguments: that some of the dogs had acted alone, and were not set to fight by Staniland. The barrister also stated that Staniland disputed his own identity in one of the videos put forward as evidence.

A criminal hunter

Staniland has already been convicted under the Hunting Act. He pleaded guilty to illegal hunting after he was filmed cub hunting with his former hunt, the Meynall and South Staffordshire, in October 2018. He was fined a pitiful £350.

It will come as little surprise that hunt monitors and saboteurs regularly see the Essex and Suffolk Hunt acting illegally. Week in, week out the hunt is caught chasing foxes and deer. Protect the Wild previously covered a number of the Hunt’s illegal exploits when Staniland was huntsman (see here or here). Hunt monitors have also caught the hunt’s terriermen meddling with badger setts, too, illegal under the Protection of Badgers Act.


essex and suffolk terriermen
Terriermen. Image Suffolk Against Foxhunting

Terrier work

Staniland’s latest court appearance highlights, once again, the use of terriermen by hunts. These men are used by hunts to:

  • Dig/flush out foxes that have gone underground to find safety;
  • Block up fox dens and badger sett holes to ensure foxes can’t go underground;
  • Intimidate and harass monitors and saboteurs disrupting the hunt.

Hunts across the country insist that they are trail hunting – that is, that they are not chasing foxes at all; that their hounds are actually following an artificially-laid scent. But it is obvious that if this was the case, a hunt wouldn’t need terriermen to dig foxes out from underground.

Will the court fail animals once again?

Staniland, disappointingly, isn’t charged under the Hunting Act, nor is he charged under the Protection of Badgers Act. But his numerous charges under the Animal Welfare Act could mean that he faces a prison sentence if found guilty.

In May 2023, the Sentencing Council announced that sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty offences committed on or after 29 June 2021 had increased to a maximum of five years in prison. These offences are section 4 (causing unnecessary suffering), section 8 (involvement in an animal fight) and section 9 (breach of duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The Sentencing Council wrote at the time:

“Cases involving multiple incidents or the use of significant force will also increase an offender’s culpability.

Where an offender’s actions have caused an animal to die or sustain life-threatening injuries, or have caused substantial pain or suffering, this may also attract a higher sentence than previously. Where a case affects a significant number of animals, involves images of the cruelty being shared on social media, or is committed in the presence of children, these will now be treated as aggravating factors.”

Protect the Wild readers will know that our courts fail wildlife time and time again. Let’s hope that, through being charged under the Animal Welfare Act, Staniland will be properly punished for the numerous animals he has harmed over the years.