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Illegal fox hunting and North East Hunt Monitors

South Durham Hunt: yet another hunt recorded breaking the law

The evidence that hunts don’t just break the law occasionally but break it routinely has never been seen by so many people. From Channel 4 exposes to numerous Facebook pages managed by monitors and sabs, the lie that fox hunts are just ‘out trail hunting’ has been exposed over and over again this so-called ‘hunting season’.

Protect the Wild has done our best to highlight this illegality, too. We’ve posted numerous articles about illegal hunting and we’ve posted powerful videos taken by some of the groups we have funded and that are part of our Support Network: examples include the blatant trespassing by the Derwent Hunt on a nature reserve recorded by the Helmsley Monitors and viewed 42k times; the scandalous behaviour of the Holderness Hunt and Huntsman Tom Wright trying to hide a badger corpse recorded by Hull Wildlife Protectors, again viewed more than 42k times; and drone footage of hounds from the Cheshire Hunt crashing through a hedge across a road and again viewed more than 42k times.

And now we’re posting an unequivocally damning record of the South Durham Hunt trespassing and illegally hunting foxes, recorded this time by the North East Hunt Monitors, another group we are proud to have supported this year.

The video (drone footage recorded in October last year but not shared until now because of a potential court case) doesn’t show a kill, but comes  with a very detailed explanation of what is happening (and is part of a series of videos showing the same hunt breaking the law).

  • It shows multiple trespasses on private and council-owned land the hunt doesn’t have permission to be on or hunt on;
  • hounds searching thick vegetation where a ‘trail – supposedly laid in advance of the hunt – would be impossible to have laid;
  • the Huntsman illegally not calling back the chasing hounds but urging them onto the line of two fleeing foxes using voice commands and a horn;
  • a rider ‘on point’ telling the Huntsman where the foxes have run, and other members of the ‘field’ signalling where a fox has run.

 

Again, the footage is not graphic but does show blatant hunting that may upset some viewers

 

 

Yet again, no conviction

This video is unusually long – which is the main point of reposting it here. Hunts repeatedly claim that evidence showing illegal hunting is actually just ‘trail hunting’ where the hounds have temporarily gone off the trail and/or where the hunt has temporarily lost control of them (a ludicrous ‘excuse’ given by the Derwent Hunt who were recorded entering and hunting inside a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve by the Helmsley Monitors).  Monitors and sabs know this is totally untrue, and this footage wholly nails that lie for what it is.

This is clearly ‘Hunting a mammal with a dog’ and ‘Permitting a dog to be used for hunting a wild mammal’ – both breaches of the Hunting Act 2004. It shows the South Durham Hunt actively involved in illegal hunting for many, many minutes. There is no trail laid, no effort to call the hounds off, no legitimate reason to be trespassing. It is deliberate, it is intentional, it is organised.

Yet, North East Hunt Monitors (NEHM) tells us, there will be no conviction. Even though monitors clearly witnessed the hunt taking place and were even able to list the riders that were present, once again, the footage was deemed to be ‘insufficient evidence’.

 

 

Protect the Wild hasn’t had confirmed why the case was dropped. We don’t subscribe to the ‘funny handshake’ theory, but even if there was some undue influence behind the scenes it’s more likely that because the identity of the individual hunt members involved in the illegal hunting couldn’t be confirmed from the overhead drone footage they couldn’t be charged (that has been the defence offered many times before by lawyers provided to hunts, and we would assume it’s the same here), and that once an illegal hunt begins only a person who engages or participates in the pursuit of an ‘identified’ wild mammal is guilty of an offence (that doesn’t mean identifying the mammal as a fox, but identifying which individual mammal is being hunted).

It’s also true to say that under the Hunting Act there is no offence of attempting to hunt – perhaps the lack of a recorded kill influenced the decision not to charge?

We have stated many times that we agree that the evidential bar should be high before any citizen is charged with a crime, but this incident should surely have gone to court. Even without a kill and even without clear facial identification, at the very least it’s very difficult to imagine how the South Durham Hunt could have defended Huntsman Richard Smith – who is responsible for controlling and directing the pack during the day’s hunting – from a charge of permitting the hounds to hunt a wild mammal.

 

 

NEHM make clear they have no issues with Durham Police at all. Members of the force went over the footage with them many times and were hugely disappointed when the case was dropped as they also felt there would be a reasonable chance of a conviction.

What it indisputably shows – yet again – is just how incredibly hard it is to get a conviction under the Hunting Act and why we want to see a Proper Ban on Hunting through the more robust and exemption-proof Hunting Of Mammals Bill. This would see ‘reckless’ hunting made an offence, and allow businesses (and many hunts are registered businesses) to be charged with hunting offences. It would also ban ‘trail hunting’ for good.

 

How do you know when a fox hunter is lying…

In the meantime, pro-hunt lobbyists are on a charm offensive. The British Hound Sports Association (BHSA) – which exists to protect hunting – has launched a series of ‘events’ to convince the public that hunts really are spending up to four days a week chasing wet rags across the countryside, a trap ITV News fell into when they interviewed several members of the Bedale Hunt who – with straight faces – explained that using non-animal scents for the very (very) occasional trail they laid was a higher risk to ‘quarry’ than aniseed!

The usual nonsense about ‘unemployment’, ‘rural tradition’ and community cohesion was trotted out to ITV’s gullible reporter – who had they spent any time at all on the internet would have ripped this nonsense apart. We have emailed her a pdf of our ‘Hunting: A Case for Change Report‘ so that she’s better prepared the next time she finds herself talking to a fox hunter.

The evidence is piling up and hunts are feeling the pressure like never before. A few carefully staged PR events will never alter the fact that so-called ‘trail hunting’ is a smokescreen for illegal hunting. And a dropped case certainly doesn’t mean that the South Durham Hunt wasn’t actively breaking the law – again.

 

Many thanks to North East Hunt Monitors for sharing their footage with us and for help with this post. For more information on the work of North East Hunt Monitors: