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Wynnstay Hunt hounds running in a line across an open field towards a line of trees on the left hand side of the image.

Huntsman found not guilty after video dropped ‘at the eleventh hour’

Wrexham Magistrates’ Court found Chris Woodward not guilty of illegal hunting. Woodward, huntsman of the Wynnstay Hunt, was filmed behind a pack of hounds chasing a fox. But monitors say that the not guilty verdict came after the CPS dropped this evidence from the trial “at the eleventh hour”.

Dropped and shocked

Cheshire Monitors published footage showing hounds from the Wynnstay Hunt chasing a fox across an open field on 7 February 2022. In the video, Woodward rides closely behind the pack taking no action to stop the hounds chasing the fox. The incident occurred in Pickhill, near Wrexham, and was filmed by an independent member of the public.

 

However, the person that filmed the video chose not to stand as a witness in the trial. Cheshire Monitors told Protect the Wild that this came down to the witness’s anxiety over repercussions from the hunt.

As a result, on 22 November, the day of the trial, the CPS dropped the independent monitor’s video from evidence. This left the case resting solely on footage provided by Cheshire Monitors. However, as the group explained, its video was intended only as supporting evidence. The group said the decision to drop the primary footage came a shock, with their member was only informed “as she was about to enter the dock”.

Magistrates subsequently found Woodward not guilty of an offence under the Hunting Act.

“50/50 case”

Protect the Wild contacted the CPS about its decision to drop the footage as a result of the cameraperson refusing to take the stand. A spokesperson said:

A range of evidence was placed before the court during the trial hearing, including video evidence. It is not the role of the CPS to decide whether someone is guilty or not guilty, but to make independent decisions about whether to authorise charges and present them for a criminal court to consider.

Cheshire Monitors told Protect the Wild that it “believed this was only a 50/50 case” from the outset due to the lack of the primary witness. As a result, it is most frustrated not by the outcome, but by the way the case was handled. “The main issue wasn’t the police or the CPS, it was the ridiculous timing of the refusal to use the main film right at the eleventh hour,” it said.

Pressuring the Wynnstay Hunt

Sabs and monitors following the Wynnstay Hunt have witnessed cruel and allegedly criminal behaviour numerous times. It’s worth noting that Woodward’s trial was not only for the February 2022 incident but also for a second, earlier incident on 13 November 2021. This case was brought by North Wales Police itself after officers witnessed Woodward chasing a fox. However, the huntsman was also found not guilty of this charge.

A member of Cheshire Monitors runs alongside Chris Woodward, huntsman of the Wynnstay Hunt as he rides with his pack of hounds.

It seems the trial didn’t stop Woodward from carrying on as normal, though. Just four days after the trial, Cheshire Monitors said the Wynnstay Hunt killed a fox in front of its members. And on 29 November, a week after the trial, North Wales Hunt Saboteurs reported that Woodward hunted a fox in front of police. And a month earlier, on 20 October during cubbing season, Cheshire Monitors said the hunt killed a fox near Ellesmere, Shropshire. The Wynnstay Hunt is also linked to two men convicted of digging out an active badger sett in August 2021.

Cheshire Monitors said that the failed prosecution against Woodward, as well as the incidents mentioned above and many others, had made it “even more determined to get this hunt prosecuted and get justice for the foxes they kill”.

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Featured image via Cheshire Monitors