Person wearing red foxhunting jacket. We can see just the jacket and arms. They are holding a riding helmet and hunting whip.

Puckeridge Hunt escapes conviction despite judge finding its action ‘deeply suspicious’

Huntsman Arun Squire has escaped a conviction of illegal hunting. However, the judge recognised that it wasn’t his actions that got him off the charge, but the wording of the law itself.

Squire appeared at Stevenage Magistrates Court on 15 and 16 May on a Section 1 Hunting Act charge. It came after hunt saboteurs caught Squire encouraging the Puckeridge Hunt’s hounds to hunt and kill a fox on Boxing Day 2021. Suffolk and Essex Hunt Saboteurs said at the time:

“A fox was spotted by North London on their drone bolting west from Beeches Wood with the hounds giving chase in full cry. The huntsman was heard using voice and horn calls hunting them on

“The same fox had run into this wood to try to escape but unfortunately the hounds cornered and killed the fox.

“We arrived a minute later to the scene, with one of our Sabs managing to get the hounds off the Fox’s body.”

Meanwhile, North London Hunt Saboteurs uploaded drone footage showing hounds hunting a fox across an open field before mobbing the creature.

In court, people from the two sab groups as well as from South Cambs Hunt Sabs and East Herts Sabs gave evidence. However, despite the evidence, Squire escaped a guilty verdict.

“Deeply suspicious”

In its write-up of the trial, North London Hunt Sabs said the judge found Squire’s actions on the day “deeply suspicious”. Squire had claimed he let the hounds hunt on because he believed they were following a trail, which a hunt master claimed he had laid six hours earlier.

In an interesting moment of insight, the sab group said the Crown Prosecution Service’s barrister questioned whether a trail could last that long in adverse weather.

Suffolk and Essex Hunt Sabs said the judge doubted Squire’s innocence and that believed Squire was hunting illegally. However, the summary nature of Hunting Act offences meant that the prosecution needed insurmountable evidence against Squire. This wasn’t the case this time. And as a result, the judge acquitted Squire.

North London Hunt Sabs said:

“Even the judge commented, in his summing up, that if he had to decide the case on the balance of probabilities, rather than beyond reasonable doubt, he would have found the hunting illegal.

“The reason for this case failing lays squarely at the door of the inadequate Hunting Act”

It’s all over for the Puckeridge Hunt anyway

None of the sab groups involved saw Squire’s acquittal as a defeat, with all vowing to continue sabotaging hunts. However, that won’t be needed for the Puckeridge.

As previously reported, the Puckeridge Hunt essentially disbanded at the end of the 2022/23 season. It merged with neighbouring pack the Essex with Farmers and Union Hunt, and will start next season as the Puckeridge and Essex Union Hunt. At the same time, Squire has moved to the Spooners and West Dartmoor Hunt, a hunt that has its own history of criminal behaviour.

To some extent, then, sabs’ real damage to the hunt came latently by forcing it into an amalgamation. While it’s hard to lay out every factor that led to the two hunts merging, it seems hard to exclude the impact of an impending court case against the huntsman. A similarly indirect impact was seen in the recent court case against the Dunston Harriers, in which magistrates found the hunt not guilty but the impending court case allegedly “left its infrastructure in chaos”.

As the sab groups involved in Squire’s case pointed out, it’s clear that the Hunting Act isn’t fit for purpose. If the law wants to take on hunting as a whole, then England and Wales must follow in Scotland’s footsteps and draft an entirely new law. But until then, direct action against the hunting industry remains essential.

Donate to whichever sab group is closest to you to help them stay out in the fields: North London Hunt Saboteurs, Suffolk & Essex Hunt Saboteurs, South Cambs Hunt Saboteurs, or East Herts Sabs.