Ledbury Hunt

Ledbury Hunt continues to get away with murder.

In early December 2022, the ex-huntsman of the Quorn Hunt, Ollie Finnegan, pleaded guilty to hunting foxes after his own WhatsApp messages incriminated him. The Quorn had been visiting Gloucestershire for a joint meet with the Ledbury Hunt on 7 January 2022. But it was only Finnegan who was prosecuted, while staff from the Ledbury Hunt got away scot-free.

Hunt saboteurs, who were on the ground when the hunting took place, told Protect the Wild that Finnegan had initially tried to deny that he was even at the meet, but hunt sabs could prove exactly whose land Finnegan was hunting on at the time. The sabs submitted statements to Gloucestershire police, while their footage showed the hunt blatantly chasing a fox during the joint meet. In turn, Leicestershire police seized Finnegan’s phone, and found messages where the huntsman himself spoke about his repeated hunting of foxes.


In response to Finnegan’s guilty plea, the Ledbury Hunt stated that it had absolutely no idea that any illegal hunting was taking place, even though it was taking part in the meet. The hunt said that it was

“entirely unaware of any prosecution and is baffled by the alleged content of any private messages between the Quorn huntsman and another party.

The Ledbury Hunt had laid trails and was intent only on legal hunting as it has been since the Hunting Act came into force.”

If you think it’s hard to believe that the Ledbury were following an artificial trail at exactly the same time and in exactly the same place as when their Quorn friends were hunting a real fox, you wouldn’t be the only one. Laughably, the hunt insisted that the WhatsApp messages only contained “alleged content”, rather than real content, even though they had been found on Finnegan’s phone by the police and then made public.

Both Three Counties Hunt Sabs and Herefordshire Hunt Sabs were on the ground, monitoring the hunt that day. Three Counties Sabs told Protect the Wild:

“Throughout the day Finnegan was accompanied by Ledbury huntsman Mark Melladay and other Ledbury hunt staff.”

In fact, the sabs’ eyewitness account proves that Melladay was equally complicit:

“A fox was hunted around that area and ran over a badger sett that had been blocked. In Carter’s Grove one fox ran out just below the housing estate with hounds not very far behind. A second fox went back into the wood again and was marked to ground, escaped down a hole. If sabs had not been present, we have no doubt that the fox would have been bolted/forced out of the hole by terriers to be hunted again. [Ledbury huntsman] Mark came on to look for some stray hounds.”

The sabs continued their account:

“Another fox was hunted just to the east of Limbury Hill, where hounds were heard marking in old buildings where they were not allowed and they were told to leave. Both Mark and Ollie were well behind hounds who were a risk to themselves and others as they hunted that fox. A 999 call was made during these events and the Gloucestershire police attended.

Another four freshly blocked active badger setts were found to be blocked as we checked them in the dark after they had gone home.”

Fox hunting at the Quorn/Lebury joint meet
A fox is hunted at the Quorn and Ledbury joint meet on 7 January 2022. The fox is trying to escape from Carter’s Grove, which is land owned by David Redvers, joint master of the Ledbury. Photo by Three Counties Hunt Sabs

A badly worded law

It seems that the only reason why Melladay and his Ledbury Hunt got away with hunting that day was because of the terribly-worded hunting law, which has so many loopholes that it is barely worth the paper it’s written on.

A person can get away with hunting through the loophole of ‘no intent proven’. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) states that a hunter has a defence if:

“Defendants claim that although their dogs may indeed have hunted a wild mammal, there has not been proof that they intended their dogs to do so, or that they could have done anything to stop them since they were far away from the dogs when the chase took place.”

The Quorn Hunt’s Ollie Finnegan was the huntsman who was officially in control of the hounds that day, so it’s quite likely that Melladay might have got off using this defence.

On top of this, there is an even more tenuous defence of having no connection with the offender:

“Defendants claim that they were not aware that someone else was committing an offence under the Hunting Act, and the fact they may have been recorded together with the offender is coincidental.”

This is, no doubt, what the Ledbury Hunt had in mind when it released a statement, saying that it had laid an artificial trail, that it was “unaware” of the prosecution against Finnegan, and “baffled” by his phone messages.

However, the Crown Prosecution Service outlines the evidence that will help to prove that a hunter is guilty:

  • Eye-witness accounts of a wild mammal being hunted;
  • Video and photographic evidence of the hunt or the wild mammal;
  • Admissions
  • Earth-stopping – Earth-stoppers are people who go out the night before a hunt and block up fox, rabbit, badger holes in order to prevent a fox going to ground.
  • Roles undertaken by suspects in the hunt;
  • In the absence of a dead wild mammal, evidence in the form of the suitability of the environment and the presence of mammal droppings; and
  • Documentary evidence such as circulars about a planned hunt, for example.


While the footage of the Ledbury huntsman Mark Melladay wasn’t as strong as that of Finnegan, there was ample evidence – eye witness accounts, video evidence of the fox being hunted, the blocking of badger setts in the area – in order to investigate Melladay, too. But unlike Leicestershire Police, who seized Finnegan’s phone, Gloucestershire Police didn’t seize Melladay’s phone, which might also have provided crucial evidence to prosecute him.

Herefordshire Hunt Sabs told Protect the Wild:

“The Hunting Act is flawed, and the criteria that video footage must meet to obtain a conviction under the Act is ridiculously tight. This is why the Finnegan case was so interesting. Our footage alone would not have secured a conviction, but with police willing to think and act outside the box, seize his phone and download his WhatsApp messages then suddenly our evidence could be used to back up the phone evidence and put him in court.”

Three Counties Sabs believes that Gloucestershire police’s wildlife crime team is under-funded. Protect the Wild had an email exchange with the force, asking why no action was taken against Melladay, or any of the hunt staff at the Ledbury. It finally came back with this statement:

“The decision around what is sufficient evidence to prosecute is one made by the Crown Prosecution Service which is taken by specialist lawyers in wildlife offences. This specific case has been dealt with in court and we cannot go into further details regarding individuals. Gloucestershire Constabulary has a dedicated Rural Crime team that is committed to tackling illegal hunting. We would encourage anyone with evidence of any act of illegal hunting to contact us.”

Recklessness clause

Three Counties Hunt Sabs argues that a ‘reckless’ clause needs to be added to the Hunting Act, and this would give police more powers to prosecute. There are many examples of recklessness by hunts. The group told Protect the Wild:

“Too often hunts use the excuse of ‘oops, we lost control of the hounds and they killed a fox, or they went onto a railway, or onto an A road’.”

A ‘reckless’ clause would, in theory, mean that hunts couldn’t wriggle out of a potential prosecution by saying that they were trail hunting, and that the hounds picked up a scent of a fox by mistake.

The sabs continued:

“We should also ask why the hunt staff are being prosecuted and not those who give the orders. Those hiding behind hunt staff need to also be prosecuted: the masters, the committee and so forth. So many people are involved in this who think that they are untouchable. This is an organised criminal conspiracy to torment wildlife for fun it is not just one person responsible.”

Hunting animals twice a week, every week

Meanwhile, the Ledbury Hunt has continued to get away with murder. Three Counties Sabs pointed out that:

“The Ledbury are still fox hunting and breaching the Hunting Act and the Protection of Badgers Act at least twice a week from September to March.”

The sabs showed Protect the Wild a long list of wildlife crimes committed by the Ledbury, including the blatant hunting of foxes, as well as the blocking of badger setts. In the 2021/22 season, the group discovered that at least 42 badger setts had been interfered with: an offence under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. On top of this, the sabs witnessed hounds running onto housing estates and into people’s gardens, as well as onto A roads. The incidents have been reported to both Gloucestershire Police and West Mercia Police.

Herefordshire Hunt Sabs told Protect the Wild:

“The Ledbury have traditionally wielded a lot of influence locally. Until recently the local press were in their pockets; some of the local landowners were too sacred to refuse them access to their land, and no doubt the hunt had influence over the police too. They thought they were untouchable. It’s great watching all this change.”

The sabs continued:

“By rights David Redvers, joint master of the Ledbury who owns Carter’s Grove where one of the foxes was hunted to ground, should have been charged under Section 3 of the Hunting Act for allowing illegal hunting to take place on his land. We think the police missed a trick there. They knew it was his land.

However, we’ve managed to get the full implications of the case onto social media and the local press regarding the Ledbury, and they have been playing it very safe ever since. That’s a huge change.”

The Ledbury Hunt will, no doubt, be much more wary of being caught as the 2022/23 hunting season continues. This is, of course, down to the hard work of the saboteurs on the ground who are holding the hunt to account.

Support the hunt saboteurs who were responsible for ensuring that Ollie Finnegan was convicted of illegal hunting. Donate to Three Counties Sabs here and Herefordshire Sabs here.


Featured image of the Ledbury Hunt. Photo by Herefordshire Hunt Sabs