This was written by Alan Kirby of POWA in response to a scurrilous article about the Heythrop trial in the Western Morning News on 19-12-12, by Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance:-
The Heythrop are just one of several Hunts in the area covered by the group of volunteer monitors who captured the numerous pieces of film that forced the Hunt to plead guilty to as few charges as they thought they could get away with. But, though the monitors will say that all of them appear to engage in illegal hunting of foxes, the Heythrop is by some way the most blatant. Since they were providing the strongest evidence, it was natural for the monitors to concentrate on them.
Over the past few years monitors have passed similar evidence to the police no fewer than thirty times against the Heythrop and other Hunts to that which this time led the Heythrop to plead guilty. Every time but one they were fobbed off. On that occasion, the CPS accepted that there was adequate evidence to charge Julian Barnfield, the Heythrop huntsman, with
As seems to be commonplace when hunters are charged with anything, the trial was delayed. Then the Exmoor FH Huntsman, Tony Wright, appealed against his earlier conviction and the CPS postponed Barnfield’s cases pending its outcome. When the Judge, early in 2009, allowed Wright’s appeal, he also made a number of rulings on the interpretation of the Act that were favourable to the Hunt side, making it even easier than ever for Hunts to exploit the lax wording and numerous loopholes of the Act. Not only did the CPS feebly decide not to appeal against these rulings – many of which clearly contradicted what the framers of the Act intended – but they also used it as an excuse to drop all their pending cases against organised Hunts, including Barnfield’s charges. Rather than ‘failing’, as Bonner would have it, monitors would assert that these charges were speciously dropped, probably for political reasons. It might also be noted that we have evidence to show that David Cameron intervened in the case on Barnfield’s behalf – though this would surely not have influenced the CPS decision.
The monitors obtained more footage of what they were convinced was illegal hunting by the Heythrop, evidence that should be good enough to convict, in the 2010/11 hunting season. Having by now lost all faith in the police/CPS ability or willingness to prosecute, they turned to the RSPCA. The Society’s lawyers examined all the evidence and agreed that it was strong enough to sustain two charges against the Huntsman. It is part of the role of the Society to prosecute all and any cases of cruelty to animals where the evidence warrants – and they save the State a huge amount by taking on this role.
Again, the case was long delayed and by that time the RSPCA had been presented with a much larger file of even stronger evidence against the Heythrop, based on monitoring in the 2011/12 season, which their lawyers advised should be taken on. So, the two 2010/11 charges against Barnfield did not ‘fail’, it was simply that the RSPCA made a pragmatic decision not to pursue them because of the much larger case now pending against him and the Heythrop. I understand they remain ‘on file’.
Coming to the recent case, there were 45 charges taken into court against the Heythrop Hunt itself and four of its senior members, based on no fewer than 10 separate instances across the 2011/12 season. The Heythrop vehemently denied all the charges until, late in the day, they announced they would plead guilty to 12 of them. This was clearly a pre-meditated strategy, since it would have been obvious to them when they saw the filmed evidence, in the Spring, that their goose was cooked. By maintaining their ‘not guilty’ pleas for so long, however, they were able to avoid themselves having to rack up mountainous legal fees for the preparation of cases they actually had no intention of defending, while forcing the RSPCA into doing just that, adding to costs already quite high because of the meticulous examination of hundreds of hours of monitor footage and numerous statements necessary, not to mention the expense of disclosing all this evidence to the defence. And by agreeing to plead guilty to 12 charges, the Heythrop effectively forced the RSPCA into not proceeding with the rest.
As to the RSPCA employing high-charging external lawyers, anyone seeking to prosecute Hunts is effectively forced into doing this, because they know that the Hunt side will use the best money can by, backed as they usually are by the bottomless pockets of the Countryside Alliance, an organisation which, it seems, carelessly squandered millions in various always-doomed attempts to have the Hunting Act declared invalid. In this case, the Hunt itself could doubtless have called upon the largesse of their many multi-millionaire members and donors – had they thought they stood any real prospect of successfully defending the charges.
There is no doubt at all that Hunts up and down the country employ various ruses and exploit various loopholes to continue hunting live quarry much as they did before the ban, and bamboozle police forces into not acting against them, though the latter are usually reluctant to get involved anyway. The Heythrop case is by far from the first where the Hunts’ contention that they were ‘trail hunting’, and just suffered occasional ‘accidents’, has been exposed as a sham.
The difference in the previous cases – the Fernie in 2011 and the Crawley & Horsham and the Meynell this year – was that the presiding judges saw through their flimsy pretences and condemned the evidence they gave in that respect as the ‘cynical subterfuge’ that it was. Here, however, Judge Pattinson barely criticised the self-confessed offenders at all, and made his pro-hunt sympathies evident to everyone by criticising the Society and questioning the Act itself, neither of which were really within his remit. Numerous complaints about his remarks have already been submitted to the appropriate authority.
Nor did he seek, as one would expect a judge to do in such circumstances, to praise the immense dedication and courage necessary on the part of the volunteer monitors in collecting the huge volume of powerful evidence that showed conclusively that one of the most prestigious Hunts in the country had not just been repeatedly and blatantly engaging in the illegal hunting of foxes, but also lying
The long overdue Hunting Act was passed with overwhelming public support, and repeated polls over decades had showed large majorities for a ban obtained in all areas, classes and categories of the population, including rural dwellers. They expect the law prohibiting the chasing and killing of wild mammals for ‘sport’ to be upheld. The bulk of the tiny, but highly vocal, rich and powerful hunting minority, however, made no secret of their intent to disregard the law and continue their vile and vicious pastimes, much as they now seek to pretend they are ‘hunting within the law’.
In the reporting of the Boxing Day Hunts we shall doubtless once again be treated to the usual nauseating coverage of the meets, the ‘chocolate box’ portrayal of gangs whose one real intent and desire is to go out into the countryside to terrorise and slaughter wildlife for fun. Their accounts of numbers ‘supporting’ them will be reprinted without question, their assertions that they do nothing but innocently ‘trail hunt’ taken at face value, despite the ever growing evidence that it is all a massive fraud.
Somebody has to stand up for truth, justice and the rule of law in the hunting field, somebody has to defend the defenceless. The police will rarely do it, the CPS will rarely do it – and as for the media – don’t make me laugh. Thank goodness, then for the monitors, and the RSPCA. I close with a quote from Gavin Grant, their forthright CEO, who has refused to be browbeaten by the vitriol poured upon himself and his organisation by a panicked and affronted hunting lobby – ‘This was deliberate, repeated, intentional abuse of animals in breach of the law. That’s what it was and that’s what they were convicted of. These people are wildlife criminals.’