Harassment and the Law

Sabs, monitors, and other activists/campaigners are often subjected to harassment and intimidation, especially when out in the field (an example is the ‘nazi salute’ in our featured image given by repellent Wynnstay Hunt supporter Ian Jones to Cheshire Monitors). In some cases the harassment may lead to an assault taking place ( > Assault and the Law).  

In the UK the terms ‘harassment’, ‘intimidation’ and ‘abuse’ are often used interchangeably as the experience for victims can overlap, and on this page we’re using ‘harassment’ as something of a catch-all term.

So what is harassment? The Sentencing Council says that harassment is classed as an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and (where the offending is racially or religiously aggravated the Crime and Disorder Act 1998). It is a form of anti-social behaviour intended to cause a person alarm or distress, putting that person in fear of violence. The harrasing or intimidatory behaviour must occur on more than one occasion (often described as ‘a course of conduct’), and is repeated and unwanted. It does not have to be the same kind of behaviour on each occasion. 

Why would, for example, hunts harass monitors? The main goal of harassment is to persuade victims either not to do something that they are entitled or required to do or to do something that they are not obliged to do.

Common harassment incidents include:

  • sending texts, voicemails, letters or emails
  • making comments or threats
  • standing outside someone’s house or driving past it.

To obtain a conviction for criminal harassment, the prosecution needs to prove three elements beyond all reasonable doubt:

  • the defendant has pursued a course of conduct
  • the course of conduct amounted to harassment of another person
  • the defendant knew or ought to have known that the course of conduct amounted to harassment.


NB: The law on harassment/intimidation is complex and we are only able to offer a general overview here. For more information read local government advice “Detailed information on legislation related to intimidation offences” and/or contact a solicitor specialising in harassment cases.



Yes. Depending on its form and seriousness, harassment can be a civil wrongdoing (so will be handled by an individual or their lawyer in a civil court) or a criminal offence (meaning it can be handled by the police through the criminal court).

  • When an individual is found guilty of harassment in a civil court, the maximum penalty is imposing a fine and restraining them from continuing to harass their victim. If the harasser persists with their harassment, despite having been restrained by the civil court, the civil court judge can then send the harasser to jail for contempt of court.
  • The criminal courts can send a harasser to jail and a conviction in the criminal court will result in a criminal record.

Police response to reports from sabs and monitors of harassment by hunts and their supporters have sometimes been disappointing (and in facts in some cases the police have apparently harassed campaigners on behalf of hunts – see eg ‘West Midland Hunt Sabs targeted by Thames Valley Police‘ and West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs persistently targeted, harassed and assaulted by police‘).

However, the recommendation is that any concerns about behaviour or conduct which leaves us worried about our safety or that of any other individual should be reported to the police. If there is an immediate safety concern call 999. Non-urgent concerns can be reported to a local force by calling 101 or reported online using the Police UK reporting form.

What should happen when harassment is reported is that:

  • The police take initial details about the incident/s and provide a crime reference number.
  • They should then carry out an investigative assessment to determine whether the incident/s need to be investigated further.
  • We may then be asked to provide further information (and/or be interviewed as part of providing that information).


Not every incident will result in an investigation and the decision to investigate is made  based on a number of factors – a decision not to investigate does not mean the incident is not a crime.

  • We should not be deterred from reporting future incident/s because of previous decisions.


Systems and practices used to record initial details vary between police forces, but this variation DOES NOT affect our legal rights. Further information about our rights and how the police should respond can be obtained from Know Your Rights.

Any concerns about police conduct or decision making can be made to the police force directly or to the Independent Office for Police Conduct in England and Wales, the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner in Scotland and the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland.


No. Harassment might be a silent act and does not have to involve threats.

To constitute harassment, the harasser’s action only needs to cause the victim alarm or distress (and must be an action that took place more than once).

The Sentencing Council Guidelines specify two forms of harassment, one less serious than the other. Harassment involving putting people in fear of violence is the more serious offence. It involves two or more harassment incidents that leave the victim fearing that violence will be used against them.

If the offence is harassment (or stalking) it is a ‘summary only’ offence dealt with by the magistrates’ court.

  • the maximum sentence is six months’ custody
  • if racially or religiously aggravated, the maximum sentence is two years’ custody


If the offence is harassment (putting people in fear of violence) or stalking (involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress):

  • the maximum sentence is 10 years’ custody
  • if racially or religiously aggravated, the maximum sentence is 14 years’ custody


 On conviction of harassment, a magistrates’ court can also make a restraining order (a court order which prohibits an abuser from doing certain things such as contacting an individual or attending their place of work or home address), breach of which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment.

According to the Intimidatory Offences Definitive Guideline the court should assess culpability and harm.


1 – Culpability: The level of culpability is determined by weighing up all the factors of the case. Where there are characteristics present which fall under different levels of culpability, the court should balance these characteristics to reach a fair assessment of the offender’s culpability.

A) Very high culpability – the extreme nature of one or more culpability B factors or the extreme culpability
indicated by a combination of culpability B factors may elevate to category A.

B) High culpability:
• Conduct intended to maximise fear or distress
• High degree of planning and/or sophisticated offence
• Persistent action over a prolonged period
• Offence motivated by, or demonstrating, hostility based on any of the following characteristics or presumed characteristics of the victim: age, sex, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity

C) Medium culpability:
Cases that fall between categories B and D, and in particular:
• Conduct intended to cause some fear or distress
• Some planning
• Scope and duration of offence that falls between categories B and D

D) Lesser culpability:
• Offender’s responsibility substantially reduced by mental disorder or learning disability
• Conduct unlikely to cause significant fear or distress
• Little or no planning
• Offence was limited in scope and duration.



2 – Harm: The level of harm is assessed by weighing up all the factors of the case.

Category 1:  Very serious distress caused to the victim
• Significant psychological harm caused to the victim
• Victim caused to make considerable changes to lifestyle to avoid contact.

Category 2: Harm that falls between categories 1 and 3, and in particular:
• Some distress caused to the victim
• Some psychological harm caused to the victim
• Victim caused to make some changes to lifestyle to avoid contact.

Category 3: Limited distress or harm caused to the victim


When an offence is decribed as ‘aggravated’ it means that the crime is made more serious because of certain actions or circumstances like the use of violence or the impact the crime had on the victim (technically any circumstance attending the commission of a crime or tort which increases its guilt or enormity or adds to its injurious consequences, but which is above and beyond the essential constituents of the crime or tort itself”).

Aggravating factors in harassment offences may therefore increase the severity of a sentence. Relevant examples include:

  • the offender has relevant previous convictions
  • the victim is particularly vulnerable
  • particularly violent or offensive material formed part of the harassment
  • the harassment (or stalking) had an impact on others, particularly children
  • the offender shouts racist abuse or makes racist comments
In the June 2023 charging of Ian Jones, a Wynnstay Hunt supporter who repeatedly gave a ‘seig heil’ nazi salute while claiming that Cheshire Monitors represented a “Fourth Reich” persecuting hunts, and saying “You will not hunt, you will not live, we will gas you all”, the judge decided that his language was an aggravating factor. The judge added an extra six months to Jones’ condtional discharge. It is not relevant if the reason for the offence was unrelated to race, using the language is enough for the offence to be aggravated.

Harassment of wildlife activists and campaigners is sadly all too common. While web pages on preventing harassment are largely written from a gender perspective, the fact is (despite what some police forces might tell anyone trying to stop wildlife crime) it is NOT the individual’s responsibility to have prevented harassment by hunts by, for example, staying at home, or to know how to respond to it.

As is so often pointed out, there is no “right” or “perfect” response to harassment, but as witnesses we can make a choice to actively and visibly take a stand against harassment when we see it.

So what can we do? What became known as “Hollaback’s 5 Ds” (Direct, Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay) are different methods we can use to support someone who is being harassed. They rely on some intervention which – depending on the situation – may or may not be appropriate: do not put yourself in danger in other words…

  • Direct: Set a boundary with the person doing the harassing, and then turn your attention to the person being harassed.
  • Distract: Create a distraction to de-escalate the situation. Even starting a conversation with the person experiencing the harassment might be enough to distract a harasser.
  • Delegate: Find someone else to help as well. Asking them to document a situation, intervene directly, or go and find a person in authority while we monitor a situation are simple ways to create support when intervening.
  • Document: If we witness harassment, use a phone to record the incident to create documentation to share with the person who was harassed. That will give them the evidence they will need if they decide to report the incident.
  • Delay: Harassment may happen too quickly for an intervention to take place at the time, so might be ‘delayed’. ‘Checking-in’ afterwards can remind the person that we are there for them and that we’ll support them regardless of what they choose to do (or not to do) next.

Harassment is a summary only offence – a defendant (the person who committed the assault) must appear in court within six months of the date of the incident. The six months’ limitation runs from the date of the last incident comprising the course of conduct.

  • It is advisable that if you have been the victim of harassment to report it as soon as possible. 

The Public Order Act 1986 (parts of which are currently being re-written by the government to stifle legitimate protest) was introduced to abolish “the common law offences of riot, rout, unlawful assembly and affray and certain statutory offences relating to public order” and aimed to create “new offences relating to public order; to control public processions and assemblies; to control the stirring up of racial hatred; to provide for the exclusion of certain offenders from sporting events; to create a new offence relating to the contamination of or interference with goods; to confer power to direct certain trespassers to leave land; to amend section 7 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875, section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, Part V of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 and the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985; to repeal certain obsolete or unnecessary enactments; and for connected purposes“.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) says that offences contrary to the Public Order Act 1986 largely relate to threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or display of visible representations, which:

  • Are likely to cause fear of, or to provoke, immediate violence: section 4;
  • Intentionally cause harassment, alarm or distress: section 4A; or
  • Are likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress (threatening or abusive words or behaviour only): section 5.


Public Order Offences include:

Section 4 (causing fear or provocation of violence): A relatively common charge is Threatening Behaviour or intending to cause someone to fear or to provoke violence. The Prosecution will need to prove that an individual:

  • Used threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour towards another person;
  • And intended to either cause them to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against them or to provoke them to use immediate unlawful violence.


Section 4a (Intentional Harassment, Alarm, or Distress): frequently used by police to charge for incidents that take place in the street, often when people have become abusive or argumentative, but there have been no threats of using unlawful violence. The Prosecution must prove that an indivdual:

  • Used threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour, towards another person;
  • intended to cause them harassment, alarm or distress; and
  • that they did cause that person harassment, alarm or distress.


Section 5 (disorderly behaviour): a summary only offence that does not carry a custodial sentence. The Police will need to prove that an individual:

  • Used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour;
  • Within the hearing or sight of somebody likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.


 Violent Disorder: A serious Public Order Offence where the Police and Prosecution would have to prove that an individual:

  • Was part of a group of three or more persons;
  • Was using threatening unlawful violence; and
  • The conduct of the group taken together would cause a reasonable person at that place to fear for their personal safety.

Affray: The most serious Public Order Offence that can be committed by someone acting alone. The Prosecution must prove that an individual:

  • used or threatened unlawful violence against another person, and that if a reasonable person saw that behaviour they would fear for their personal safety.
  • Police and Prosecution reportedly often charge suspects involved in a violent offence in a public place with affray. The charge is not always appropriate because in many cases it is a “one on one” incident, and an innocent bystander who was present would not be scared that they were also at risk.

There is ample evidence on social media of hunts and their supporters making a ‘threat to kill’ to monitors and sabs. But when is it a criminal offence?

Making a threat to kill is a crime under Section 16 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. In order to convict someone of a threat to kill, though, the prosecution would have to prove:

  • A person made a threat to kill
  • without lawful excuse
  • intending that the person to whom the threat was made, would fear that the threat would be carried out, and that
  • the threat could be to kill the person to whom it was made, or another person.
It is a difficult offence to prove, as suspects will often claim in interview or court that they didn’t mean what they said and they didn’t intend the other person to believe the threat would be carried out.

Factors that tend to suggest higher culpability (or blame, which is assessed with reference to the offender’s role, level of intention and/or premeditation and the extent and sophistication of planning) include where the defendant has a visible weapon; where threats were made in the presence of children; where threats were made as part of a history or campaign of violence, or where threats were made in the context of significant violence.

No criminal offence is committed where there was no intention of making the person genuinely fear that they might really be killed and the court can consider evidence of the previous history between parties in determining whether the defendant intended for their words to be taken seriously.

  • If the prosecution is able to prove that a threat of violence was used but not a threat to kill, there could be a conviction for a less serious offence such as common assault ( > Assault and the Law).

Commonly faced by wildlife activists, the definition of threatening behaviour is ‘intentional behaviour that would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities fear of injury or harm’ (such as Hunt Master Kim Richardson threatening to shove a hunting horn “down your f*****g throat”).

Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986, or ‘Threatening Behaviour’ as it is often referred to, contains two primary elements. To be convicted of this offence, the guilty party must intend to cause harassment, alarm or distress to another person. The offender is determined guilty if they are found to have intended to cause such offence by the use of words, behaviour or written signs and other representations.

According to the Local Government Association, public intimidation is defined as:

“words and/or behaviour intended or likely to block, influence or deter participation in public debate or causing alarm or distress which could lead to an individual wanting to withdraw from public life”.

This includes actions of abuse, harassment and intimidation such as:

  • verbal abuse;
  • physical attacks;
  • being stalked followed or loitered around;
  • threats of harm;
  • distribution of misinformation;
  • character assassination;
  • inappropriate emails, letters, phone calls and communications on social media;
  • sexual harassment or sexual assault;
  • and other threatening behaviours, including malicious communications such as poison pen letters, indecent or grossly offensive emails or graphic pictures that aim to cause distress or anxiety.”

Abusive phone calls can be part of a pattern of harassment, and describe any kind of unwanted telephone call that’s intended to cause upset, grief and alarm.

Ofcom (the communications regulator in the UK) advises that:

  • If you receive such a call you should immediately call your phone company and ask for their nuisance or malicious calls team.
  • It doesn’t matter whether you know the caller’s identity or not.
  • Tell them what the caller said. In some cases, particularly if the caller is threatening, your phone company will advise you to call the police.


A person who makes indecent, grossly offensive, obscene or threatening calls to another, via the telephone system network, is guilty of an offence under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

It is also an offence under that section to persistently use a telephone network for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety, or to use it to send false messages for that purpose.

Where there is persistent misuse of the telephone network, abusers can be made to pay compensation to the victim and fined an amount Ofcom deems to be appropriate, up to £2,000,000.

In some cases (e.g. where the malicious calls are one element of a wider charge, such as breach of an injunction, where there have been threats to kill etc.) the defendant could be held in contempt of court or charged with grievous bodily harm or actual bodily harm under the Offences Against the Person Act.

It is also an offence to send an indecent, offensive or threatening letter or other form of electronic communication to another person in the terms of:

  • In England & Wales, s1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988
  • In Northern Ireland, Article 3 of the Malicious Communications (Northern Ireland) Order 1988


Cyber and digital stalking is using the internet, email or other electronic communications to stalk someone. They may occur as part of a wider stalking campaign or may be conducted entirely electronically.

There is currently no legal definition of cyberstalking, but it is recognised as being different from harassment as it involves fixated and obsessive behaviour.

Cyber stalking can be a prelude to physical violence. The police should take all incidents reported to them  seriously.

Norfolk Police, for example, say that there are a number of ways that a perpetrator may stalk or harass someone through the use of technology.

This includes but is not limited to:

  • Sending unwanted messages, whether this be via email or social media, which may be obscene or threatening in nature.
  • Identity theft.
  • E-mail hacking – either by attacking the mail server or attacking the sign-in page with password cracking software.
  • Social media account takeovers, changing of passwords and information.
  • Using social media including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube etc. to monitor someone.
  • Fake social media profiles being set up in an individual’s name, posting malicious content etc
  • Using others to gather information or target the person – online communication can also make it much easier for a third party to become involved.

We’ve used an image of Wynnstay Hunt supporter Ian Jones giving a ‘nazi salute’ to Cheshire Monitors as our featured image. Jones pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment in court. He was fined and the term of a conditional discharge was upped from twelve to eighteen months because of his repeated and deliberate references to the ‘reich’ and ‘gas’.

Repellent as his actions were, is giving a ‘nazi salute’ illegal in the UK?

It’s difficult to find specific information, but it seems it is not illegal per se, no, but as a hostile gesture that is inextricably linked with fascism and anti-semitism it is considered an aggravating factor (ie, the crime is aggravated or made more serious).

  • The decision of the judge – which we of course applaud – proves the value of recording incidents like this and of keeping calm in the face of deliberately provocative behaviour.



Typically though (and again from what we can find) a ‘nazi salute’ is considered a factor in a hate crime.

What though defines a hate crime?

According to the Crown Prosection Service (CPS):

“The police and the CPS have agreed the following definition for identifying and flagging hate crimes:

“Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility* or prejudice, based on a person’s disability or perceived disability; race or perceived race; or religion or perceived religion; or sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation or transgender identity or perceived transgender identity.

“These crimes are covered by legislation (Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and section 66 of the Sentencing Act 2020) which allows prosecutors to apply for an uplift in sentence for those convicted of a hate crime.”



Any crime can be prosecuted as a hate crime if the offender has either:

  • demonstrated hostility* based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity; or
  • been motivated by hostility* based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity.
*The CPS says that hostility “is not defined in the legislation. Consideration should be given to ordinary dictionary definitions, which include ill-will, ill-feeling, spite, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment, and dislike.”

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault, or what we should do if we’re arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in over thirty simple, mobile-friendly pages just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault or harassment, or what we should do if we’re arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in thirty five simple, mobile-friendly pages and over 400 FAQs just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

  • Punishment must fit the crime. Conditional discharges and paltry fines are not a disincentive for criminals.

A common complaint is that even if wildlife criminals are brought to court the fines or sentences they get are pathetic and not a disincentive. In most cases judges are giving out the penalties they are allowed to under the law. Changes can be made though. In 2022 the maximum sentence for ‘causing uneccesary suffering’ went from six months to five years. That was the result of targeted public pressure and campaigning. We need to identify where changes should be made and push hard for them.


  • Wildlife crime must be notifiable and statistics accurately compiled so that resources can be properly targeted.

Police forces are required by law to inform the Home Office of any notifiable offences, which then uses the reports to compile the crime statistics known as ‘recorded crime’. Currently, wildlife crimes are not ‘notifiable’ though. Without them being notifiable, no one knows how many wildlife crimes are being committed across the UK and where the hotspots are (though ‘grouse moors’ is one obvious response). As we have stated many times on this website, law and legislative enforcement is hugely underfunded and under-resourced. Some of this has undoubtedly been through political choice, but if we at least know which crimes are being committed and where, the resources that are available can be placed where they are needed most.


  • There must be changes to make it far easier for all of us to play our part in ‘Recognising, Reporting, Recording’ wildlife cime.

As even a quick glance at the Protectors pages makes clear, laws protecting wildlife are hard to understand. Major pieces of legislation like the Hunting Act 2004  and other laws are riddled with exemptions which strongly favour the hunting, shooting, and agricultural industries. Some date from a century or more ago and don’t reflect the modern world. These need to be updated. While there has undoubtedly been efforts made by successive governmants to use ‘plain english’ to explain legislation, any government wanting to tackle wildlife crime needs to make understanding what is and what isn’t a crime far more easily understood and put resources into a reporting system that the public feel confident using. Crucially, the public need to be sure that if they do report a crime it will be acted upon.


  • We have to protect the environment and wildlife properly.

Laws protecting wildlife and the environment need to be revised to reflect the 21st century and the biodiversity and climate crises we are in. Animals (and plants) are not an add-on or a ‘nice to have’ – they have shaped the systems that life depends on, and our laws need to reflect how critically important they are.


If you’d like to support just one legislative change, Protect the Wild has launched ‘The Hunting of Mammals Bill: A Proper Ban on Hunting‘ – please sign our petition calling for a proper ban on hunting with dogs.

We would like Protectors of the Wild to be the ‘go to’ free resource, packed with the kind of information that really does help all of us become ‘eyes in the field. But we can’t possibly think of every question that might need answering or every situation someone might find themselves in! And while the information in these pages is largely taken from Government online advice and was compiled in 2023, perhaps we’ve missed something out.

If you could provide us with legal advice get in touch. Or if you find a mistake or a gap please let us know. That way we can continually improve Protectors of the Wild – for the benefit of animals and all of us. Thanks.

‘Protectors of the Wild’ is a project of Protect the Wild. We have a dedicated email address for anyone wishing to get in touch with a specific Protectors query or with additional information etc. Please use the form on our Contact Protectors page or email protectors@protectthewild.org.uk. Thank you.

Much of the information we give in these pages is very technical or to do with legislation which can be revised without much notice. While we have worked very hard on these pages and we take keeping our information accurate and up-to-date very seriously, Protect the Wild are not legal professionals. Just to make sure no-one thinks we’re offering professional legal advice, we feel obliged to include the following disclaimer on every page.

  • Please think of the ‘Protectors of the Wild’ pages as a ‘first stop’ before seeking legal advice. We provide information not professional opinion. The information provided by Protect the Wild should NOT be considered or relied on as legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Any of the material on our website may be out of date at any given time, and we are under no obligation to update such material. Protect the Wild assumes no responsibility for the accuracy and correctness of any information, or for any consequences of relying on it. Please do not act or refrain from acting upon this information without seeking professional legal advice.