A Slap On The Wrist For Avon Vale Fox Hunters

It’s a family affair; Fookes (on horse), with violent thug Ryan Walpole-Johnsen (Centre) and Fookes father (left), back left is Danny Chenoweth, also present at the dig out in December 2022, Chenoweth was not made to answer for his part in the crime. Johnsen also attended court in support of his gang mates.

Once again the courts have confirmed that the Hunting Act laws are not fit for purpose.

Stuart Radbourne (L) wearing the Avon Vale Hunt tie.  Aaron Fookes who threw the fox to the hounds (R). Image from Wiltshire 999’s.
Aaron Fookes who threw the fox to the hounds (L), Stuart Radbourne (R) wearing the Avon Vale Hunt tie. Image from Wiltshire 999’s.

Two members of the notoriously violent Avon Vale Hunt have pleaded guilty to wildlife offences yesterday, at Swindon Magistrates Court. The convictions relate to the horrific video leaked to the Hunt Saboteurs Association in February, in which the whipper-in and terrierman had dug a fox out of a badger sett and threw them to the baying hounds being held back by the huntsman as a second fox bolted in terror from behind the first.

They were sentenced as follows:

  • Aaron Fookes, 30 of Townsend Green, Henstridge, Somerset received an 18-month Community Order, and must complete 200 hours of unpaid work for the Animal Welfare Act offence, and was fined £833 for the Hunting Act Offence. He must also pay costs of £42.50 and a £330 surcharge.
  • Stuart Radbourne of The Common, Bromham, who only faced Hunting Act charges for his role was fined £384 and ordered to pay £42.50 costs and £154 surcharge.
  • A third defendant, Alex Warden 25, of Wood Road, North Bradley is due to appear in Salisbury Magistrates on Friday, charged with Animal Welfare and Hunting Act offences.

This case has had huge public interest and drew horrified reactions across the country. Millions have seen the video, and many of those have voiced horror over what was witnessed – the brutal truth behind the smokescreen of ‘Trail Hunting’.

The moment the callous Aaron Fookes grabs the terrified animal from the hole and throws to the hounds as Radbourne sends them forward.
The moment the callous Aaron Fookes grabs the terrified animal from the hole and throws to the hounds as Radbourne sends them forward.

As horrific as the actions within the video are, this case displays the empathy-devoid traits of the individuals who run these heinous Organised Crime Groups. To partake in the act itself is quite something, but to film it as a kind of ‘trophy’, to laugh, to share it, and to not feel an ounce of pity for the animal you have brutalised is quite something else on top. It is naturally beyond the comprehension of most of us.

Swindon Magistrates had an opportunity to take note of that national public horror and to apply heavy sentences to deter these countryside criminals. Instead, they dished out lenient sentences reflecting the general failure of the law to get a grip on the horrific wildlife crime carried out by hundreds of trail hunts around the country during the hunt season.

The reactions to the sentences have been as expected – horrified at the level of leniency at which these despicable individuals have received in sentencing. Several news outlets have reported the case, and not one has made any mention of remorse on the part of the defendants, instead the defendants solicitor who spoke on their behalf, offered only wallowing self-pity for his clients who have been on the receiving end of public horror over what they had done. The sentencing in this case, particularly for the Hunting Act offences, is no deterrent at all.

The smirking Radbourne – the Huntsman and Huntmaster in control of the hunt on the day of the crime for which they are charged – even turned up to court yesterday wearing the tie of the disbarred Avon Vale Hunt, mocking the very laws under which he stood charged.

Radbourne rides at a hunt saboteur from Bath Sabs during a hunt killing spree.
Radbourne rides at a hunt saboteur from Bath Sabs during a hunt killing spree.

Radbourne, the now twice-convicted wildlife criminal, was only ever going to receive a fine under the sentencing guidelines. Even though the guidelines allow for a Level 5 (unlimited) fine, and even after the court was shown the video footage all they could bring themselves to punish this animal abuser with was a paltry £384 fine.

Radbourne may well have pleaded poverty since losing his easy cash-cow income stream providing the Avon Vale hunt horses, but he sits upon land and property worth millions, it was also noted in court that this was not a first wildlife offence for Radbourne.

The court was told details of this repeat offenders past, having previously been caught up to his neck digging out a badger sett in the presence of then-Huntsman and Master Jonathan Seed, the disgraced ex-Police and Crime Commissioner candidate. In fact we know that he is one of the most prolific of all fox hunters, and that this video does not even scratch the surface of the crimes carried out by this emotionally-stunted huntsman. Why then did the court treat this prolific animal abuser so lightly?

Radbourne making friends with the local constabulary.
Radbourne making friends with the local constabulary.

Fookes, guilty of Hunting Act charges, was also convicted under the Animal Welfare Act; what he did on the day, was so absolutely repulsive, he most certainly deserved the full weight of the law. The sentencing guidelines for the Animal Welfare Act, can include prison and in fact have recently been updated to allow for up to 5 years in prison for unnecessary suffering offences.

In this case Fookes showed deliberate and gratuitous attempts to cause suffering, he displayed sadistic behaviour, and also took a leading role on the day. According to the guidelines, Fookes meets the highest level of culpability, yet he received a sentence that reflects a much lesser crime for a much lower level of culpability.

It’s a family affair;  Fookes (on horse), with violent thug Ryan Walpole-Johnsen (Centre) and Fookes father (left), back left is Danny Chenoweth, also present at the dig out in December 2022, Chenoweth was not made to answer for his part in the crime.  Johnsen also attended court in support of his gang mates.
It’s a family affair; Fookes (on horse), with violent thug Ryan Walpole-Johnsen (Centre) and Fookes father (left), back left is Danny Chenoweth, also present at the dig out in December 2022, Chenoweth was not made to answer for his part in the crime. Johnsen also attended court in support of his gang mates.

Hunt Saboteurs did their utmost to make sure Wiltshire Police got this case to court. The video was reported, and evidence was provided, and we waited for the police to do their jobs. Locations, names and videos were handed over, and in the midst of the investigation, the Wiltshire Rural Crime Team, decided to employ one of Radbourne’s many police friends, fellow-fox hunter Cheryl Knight to their team, an Avon Vale and Beaufort Hunt Stalwart, who had been riding with and supporting both these hunts for years. In came more of the same; the same old networks that have given these criminals a free pass to break the law with impunity for two decades.

Another Wiltshire Police Wildlife Crime Officer Maria Badder, is also a long time friend of convicted wildlife criminal Stuart Radbourne.
Another Wiltshire Police Wildlife Crime Officer Maria Badder, is also a long time friend of convicted wildlife criminal Stuart Radbourne.
Hunt Saboteurs from Wiltshire Hunt Sabs located the badger sett, and found blocked setts, spade marks, boot prints,  hound and horse prints galore.  This sett has been targeted for years, innumerable wild animals have been cruelly wiped out by this hunt here.
Hunt Saboteurs from Wiltshire Hunt Sabs located the badger sett, and found blocked setts, spade marks, boot prints, hound and horse prints galore. This sett has been targeted for years, innumerable wild animals have been cruelly wiped out by this hunt here.

The police could have gone so much further, for these crimes to take place they require the explicit and implicit support of landowners, hunt riders, and all of those who do business with them. Those others present on the day many of whom we have previously alluded to, as well as the landowner, are also co-conspirators of these criminals. They are rarely, if ever, touched.

Finally there’s the terrierman, yet to face court at time of print, Alex Warden, who put his terrier down the sett to locate the fox, as his loving fiance – primary school worker and Wiltshire Council employee – Melissa Hyde – joined him and watched as Fookes expertly lifted out the first fox and offered it to the hounds. Warden is due to appear in Salisbury Court on Friday, 7th July, but whatever the outcome, trail hunts will still be back out this autumn killing and covering it up, and hunt sabs will still be out to stop them, even if the law won’t.

Terrierman Alex Warden and fiance Melissa Hyde who put the terrier down the sett to locate the fox.
Terrierman Alex Warden and fiance Melissa Hyde who put the terrier down the sett to locate the fox.
Alex Warden identifies himself at the scene of the crime.  Note the date.
Alex Warden identifies himself at the scene of the crime. Note the date.

A Hunt Saboteurs Association Spokesperson said

“It is high time the law caught up with public opinion and banned fox hunting and its many smokescreens outright. What the Avon Vale case has shown is that, even when there is absolute proof of illegal hunting and animal cruelty offences, where repeat offenders are so confident that they feel they can share around trophy videos of their kills, still the law fails to mete out justice, to act to deter these criminals, and protect the innocent.

These sentences are a joke, and do not reflect the level of depravity and culpability witnessed in the video. This shows that even when there are successful prosecutions under the Hunting Act the laws and the sentencing powers are not fit for purpose. The next government must strengthen these laws, and the sentencings powers which accompany them to make sure these wildlife crime gangs can never again believe their sickening acts will go unpunished”

Get involved!

Find out how you can be part of our campaign to strengthen the Hunting Act

Spread the word!

Please share our news

Sign up for our Newsletter

* indicates required