Fox running

SOUTH DORSET HUNT: Judge overturns conviction for hunting a fox

A Bournemouth Crown Court judge has just overturned a conviction against huntsman Mark Pearson.

The South Dorset Hunt’s master-huntsman was originally convicted of illegal hunting in October 2022. It resulted from an incident in which the South Dorset Hunt’s hounds killed two foxes near Bere Regis, Dorset, on 13 November 2021. Hunt saboteur group Weymouth Animal Rights (WAR) were there on the day, and its evidence led to Pearson’s conviction at Weymouth Magistrates Court in October.

However, the Dorset Echo reported on 6 March that judge Stephen Climie determined the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had “failed to prove” Pearson intended to hunt the foxes. The paper wrote:

“Judge Climie said it was ‘of significant concern’ that the CPS did not call an expert witness in the case and there was ‘not sufficient evidence’ to find that Mr Pearson was seeking to encourage the pack to hunt a mammal.”

And added that Climie said:

“We are sure (Pearson) realised there was a problem and he was required to take appropriate action to minimse the risk. He took some action. That action included horn calls which, in our judgement, may well have been intending to have the hounds be recalled. Having dismounted he was then on foot for some time before he reached the location of the marking.”

However, the judge also acknowledged Pearson didn’t do all he could to take hounds away from the fox’s scent. Climie said that the master-huntsman could have done more to “recall the hounds”, such as further horn blowing. This lack of action did not, however, amount to illegal hunting in Climie’s eyes. As a result, he said that the CPS didn’t show “culpable behaviour leading to conviction of a criminal offence”.

Judge Climie overturned Pearson’s conviction, which had originally led to a £6,810 fine.

Violent attacks

Since Pearson’s conviction, the South Dorset Hunt has made itself notorious through a series of nasty attacks on saboteurs and monitors. Two people with their faces covered attacked a member of WAR with a metal bar on 20 December 2022, sending him to hospital with extensive injuries to his head. Just a week later, on Boxing Day, a total of 17 tyres on vehicles belonging to WAR, North Dorset Hunt Sabs and members of the public were slashed. Sabs believed people associated with the South Dorset Hunt were responsible for all the attacks.

Then, on 12 January, Protect the Wild reported that someone from the hunt fired a ball bearing at a member of North Dorset Hunt Sabs. The sab group told Protect the Wild at the time that:

“One monitor was peacefully filming the hunt when he was hit by a ball bearing, fired from a catapult, by aggressive hunt supporters. Thankfully it hit his jacket, as if it had hit his head it could’ve done serious damage.”

The aggression hasn’t stopped. WAR reported on 2 February that members of its group were once again attacked and robbed of equipment by people from the hunt.

Weymouth Animal Rights monitor attacked with metal bar
Monitor attacked during a meet of the South Dorset Hunt, via Weymouth Animal Rights.

Repeatedly caught hunting

Unfortunately, the overturning of Pearson’s conviction is likely to bolster the confidence of this band of aggressive, violent rural thugs. In addition to its attacks, sabs have repeatedly shown Pearson to have chased and killed wildlife. Almost exactly a year after the killing of the two foxes, WAR reported on 6 November 2022 that Pearson had chased and killed a deer.

Then, less than a week later, WAR again reported the hunt had killed. That time, the South Dorset Hunt’s hounds killed a fox soon after leaving the meet at Broadmayne, an incident witnessed by a member of the public. And WAR said that on 3 December the hunt killed again, though it was unclear what animal lost their life that time.

Given the long list of violent attacks and creatures hunted and killed by the South Dorset Hunt, judge Climie’s decision that Pearson didn’t intend to kill two foxes couldn’t be further from the truth.

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