HSA news release 7th June 1995
Court case reveals off-duty cop took part in mob attack
Northumbria police today suffered a humiliating defeat in a case of aggravated trespass against five hunt saboteurs heard at Hexham Magistrates Courts. The five saboteurs were arrested on 19th November 1994 at the Tynedale Foxhunt, about an hour after the start of the hunt.
While the police were arresting them, up to half a dozen hunt "stewards" were attacking other sabs, smashing a van windscreen and injuring three people. Frighteningly, one of the men involved in this vicious mob attack was an off-duty police officer.
Over 25 saboteurs have been arrested for aggravated in the Border areas of Scotland and the Northeast of England. One man was given a conditional discharge in January and the cases against all but one of the remainder have been dropped. It seems that officers in the region have been arresting saboteurs more or less on a whim without worrying whether any offence has been comitted until the possibility arises of a court examining their actions, when all charges are hastily dropped. If the experiences of their colleagues in Hexham are anything to go by, it is just as well.
The prosecution case began to fall apart at the seams from the start when the supposed owner of the land where the trespass had taken place, a Mr Parry, gave evidence. It transpired that not only did he not own the land in question, but that he did not know who did, and, for good measure, that he did not even know the joint master of the hunt who had just given evidence that he had given her permission for the hunt to be on the land. Neither the prosecution nor the court were able to enlighten the court as to who did own the land, raising the interesting possibility that the hunt were themselves trespassing on the land, as they can hardly have had the owner's permission to be on the land if they didn't know who owned it.
Things got no better for the prosecution as they lined up no less than seven police officers to give evidence. All seven had been in the same van all day and had witnessed the same event, but seem to have had quite staggeringly different recollections. While the first officer swore that he had seen "up to 30" sabs "jumping around" in the field, blowing horns and "causing a racket", his fellow officers said they had not been able to see any sabs at all. Indeed, one claimed that he had seen nothing in the field even with the use of binoculars. The officer in charge of this myopic bunch was a sergeant who was even more keen to distance himself from any first-hand knowledge, claiming that he had had "absolutely no contact" with saboteurs all day. This version of events was somewhat undermined when it turned out he had in fact arrested two of the defendants and he was made to come back to the witness box to explain how he could have achieved this seemingly remarkable feat. He was, sadly, unable to do so but did now remember he had in fact arrested the two men, although the reason why also seemed to have temporarily escaped his memory. Hexham police obviously believe strongly in an equal opportunities policy for their teams at hunts - the team leader appears to have been afflicted with severe learning difficulties while his teams's visual deficiencies were apparently supposed to be compensated for by the officer who could apparently see further than a pair of binoculars.
Not surprisingly, the magistrates took just half an hour to find all the defendants not guilty. Given the quality of the "evidence" against the sabs, they had little choice. Hexham has been described as "the hunting capital of the Northeast" - the local MP is Peter Atkinson, a former deputy director of the British Field Sports Society and the man who blocked the private members' bill on veal exports by reading out the London phone directory - and the magistrates are notorious for convicting saboteurs more or less on sight. It gives some idea of how laughable the prosecution case was that even Hexham magistrates were forced to acquit.
More worrying is the behaviour of the officer involved in the mob attack on the sabs' van and subsequently what would appear to be an attempt to cover up his role in it. Saboteurs reported the attack to the police on the scene who took no action at the time but promised to investigate. A few weeks later the woman who had been driving the van when the windscreen was smashed received a letter from the police telling her the attack couldn't have taken place as the vehicle sabs had identified as carrying the thugs belonged to an off-duty police officer and he was not in the area on that day. This version of events was somewhat undermined when officers gave evidence in court that they had in fact been called to the hunt in the first place by their off-duty colleague "who was there to drive the stewards around for the day". Saboteurs are now demanding the officer be investigated for his part in the vicious attack.