On 9 November, fox hunter Chris Mardles, 26, former whipper-in of the Pytchley with Woodland Hunt, was sentenced to 18 months in prison at Nottingham Crown Court. He had pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm after trampling a hunt saboteur with his horse.
The attack occurred in September 2020. The saboteur suffered life-threatening injuries and was airlifted to hospital from the scene. He had a collapsed lung, six broken ribs, a broken collar bone and a shattered shoulder blade.
Northants Hunt Saboteurs stated:
“This attack could have killed our member and for that we are glad to see some justice has been served.
Chris’s defence team even tried to claim that the horse was not a deadly weapon for which the judge completely refuted.”
The sabs celebrated the result. They wrote:
“We would like to think that today’s victory and the hard work we have put into pursuing this case can now set a serious precedent for the future so that if we are to see more brutal violence handed out to saboteurs across the country, then this outcome can play its part in holding the law to account and forcing their hand to put violent fox hunters behind bars where they truly belong!
This is a historic moment in the war to end fox hunting and we can all raise a glass tonight knowing that at last a red coated fox hunter will be eating cold porridge for breakfast!”
Attack after attack
Indeed, Mardles’ sentence is a triumph in a society which usually favours hunters. Too many times, we have seen hunt staff getting away with obscene violence against wildlife monitors and hunt saboteurs. This same saboteur has been violently attacked a number of other times by hunters. He suffered two broken ribs when he was attacked during a Cottesmore Hunt meet in September 2021. Leicestershire Police dropped the case in November of that year, citing “evidential difficulties”.
- In December 2022, a monitor from Weymouth Animal Rights was attacked by two masked up men, who repeatedly beat him with a metal bar over his head and body. The monitor had lacerations that were stitched and glued by hospital staff.
- In January 2023 a hunt monitor in his seventies was attacked with a catapult and ball bearing by South Dorset Hunt supporters.
- And in February, a hunt saboteur was trampled by Cottesmore huntsman Sam Jones. Wynnstay huntsman Chris Woodward pleaded guilty in July 2023 after he rode his horse at a Cheshire Monitors volunteer during a fox hunting meet on 7 January 2023. Woodward’s fine? Community service and the payment of court costs.
These incidents are, sadly, just a few examples of recent hunt violence.
Meanwhile, Protect the Wild’s Glen Black has previously summarised how police and CPS inaction has given hunters and their supporters the green light to carry out attacks on saboteurs and monitors. Black highlighted a number of other incidents of violence where hunters have acted with impunity. He wrote:
“On 18 March 2017, people from the Middleton Hunt assaulted members of Sheffield Hunt Saboteurs, West Yorkshire Hunt Saboteurs and East Yorkshire Coast Hunt Saboteurs. Body camera footage showed multiple people engaged in prolonged attacks on sabs, including one man sitting on top of a sab and repeatedly hitting them. Despite multiple cameras showing the incident, the CPS offered no evidence against four defendants, thereby causing the case to collapse.
Another notable incident was Mark Doggrell’s trampling of a sab in 2014. Video footage showed the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale huntsman riding into a member of Dorset Hunt Saboteurs from behind before galloping away. The sab suffered a collapsed lung and broken ribs. The CPS dropped charges against Doggrell, citing “insufficient evidence that the incident could have been foreseen”.
Are the tables turning?
The injured sab released a statement about the imprisonment of Mardles. He said:
“I have lived with the consequences of the attack for over three years in the full knowledge that if this had been the other way round, I would have felt the full force of the law against me immediately. My personal anger is surpassed by the anger I feel towards those who continue to terrorise and kill wildlife with impunity.”
Although activists are celebrating the victory, it is with a caveat: the court could have handed Mardles a harsher sentence if it had wished. Section 20 – unlawful wounding – carries maximum sentence of five years. Considering Mardles’ victim could have died, 18 months seems extremely lenient, especially as he is likely to be released sooner.
But the result will, hopefully, give hunters a wake-up call that they’re not untouchable.
- Donate to Northants Hunt Saboteurs, who put their lives on the line to sab hunts.
- For more information about assault please see our Protectors of the Wild page Assaults and the Law