The Avon Vale Hunt are to appear in Swindon Magistrates Court on Animal Welfare and Hunting Act charges.
Wiltshire Police recently announced that 3 members of the Avon Vale Hunt have been charged with wildlife offences. These charges relate to the much publicised horrendous video taken on 20th December 2022 at a known badger sett location in West Wiltshire.
The video was filmed by hunt member Harry Mayo, who laughed excitedly and encouragingly as he and Master and Huntsman Stuart Radbourne held back the hounds with whips and voice calls as Whipper-in Aaron Fookes lifted the first fox out of the badger sett. The fox had been located in the sett by a ginger terrier in the control of terrierman Alex Warden. Mayo can be heard telling the hunt that “it’s a brace [two foxes]” as Radbourne now begins exciting the hounds with ‘whoops’ towards the first fox, before running to his horse so he could continue the chase onto the second fox, which had bolted in terror.
Those who do face charges do so as follows:
- Aaron Fookes, 29 of Spye Park, Lacock – charged with Hunting a Wild Mammal with dogs contrary to S1 Hunting Act 2004, and causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal contrary to Section 4 Animal Welfare Act.
- Alex Warden, 25 of Wood Road, North Bradley, charged with Hunting a Wild Mammal with dogs contrary to S1 Hunting Act 2004, and causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal contrary to Section 4 Animal Welfare Act.
- Stuart Radbourne, 39 of The Common, Bromham charged with Hunting a Wild Mammal with dogs contrary to S1 Hunting Act 2004.
Fookes and Radbourne are both due to appear at Swindon Magistrates Court on July 5th. Warden is due to appear on July 7th.
Another (fourth) member of the hunt was sat in the badger sett assisting the terrierman in getting the terrier and fox out, but despite this hasn’t been charged. Nor has the cameraman Mayo, whose name and presence has been given by numerous sources. Nor are there any charges for the watching and cheering spectators, including Radbourne’s current girlfriend watching from her horse, holding his horse for him. There are no charges either for Warden’s partner Melissa Hyde, who stood lovingly over him as he retrieved the terrier from the hole, or other Avon Vale inner circle members such as Danny Chenoweth seen on the video holding Fookes’ horse. All have been identified and yet none have even so much as been questioned as to their role in this organised crime spree.
All of those others present encouraged and assisted criminality, which is a common law offence. It is inconceivable that they were unaware or even unused to this type of crime happening on a regular basis on hunting days with the Avon Vale. In fact, the senior master of the hunt – Mike Smith, present only as a car follower on this day, was permanently barred from the BHSA, and as the BHSA stated during disciplinary proceedings “we consider that this was unlikely to have been an isolated incident”. Why the Police and CPS have failed so miserably in securing charges against those, who without their support, these crimes could not happen, is anybody’s guess.
As the very recent HSA exposé of Old Berks Huntsman Oli Thompson tormenting a fox when he was at the Avon Vale in 2020 also confirms, this hunt have been breaking the law with impunity. Even police officers, who in their free time rode with them, turned a blind eye to their mates’ criminality and cruelty.
We guess we should be grateful the case has made this far at all. Recent cases in Wiltshire have not been so fortunate, with a combination of Wiltshire Police, Ministry of Defence Police and CPS errors ensuring wildlife criminals at the nearby Vale of White Horse, Beaufort and Royal Artillery Hunts have got away scot free for offences under the Hunting Act, even where damning evidence was so carefully captured on video. The catalogue of police and CPS errors include serving summons late, police officers not turning up to court, and the CPS failing to notify witnesses to attend. You could not make it up.
You may also recall during the height of this investigation into hunt crime by the Wiltshire Rural Crime team, Wiltshire Police chose to appoint a fox-hunting police officer, PC Knight, into the same Rural Crime Team. PC Knight having ridden, followed and supported this same hunt, along with The Beaufort Hunt, for years.
A second hunting officer is PCSO Badder, a Wildlife Crime Officer who has ridden with the Avon Vale for years. As had PC Hughes, before she was tasked by her managers to manage a protest in Lacock against her best mates at the hunt (read more about this here). So to say the odds were stacked against any hunt crime even making it to court, would be a fair assessment.
Concerningly the Police/CPS have opted to charge the main protagonist of wildlife crime at the Avon Vale Hunt – Huntsman and Master Stuart Radbourne, only with Hunting Act offences. Despite his presence, his role in holding the hounds back until the fox was dug, his seniority on the day – not just as Huntsman, but also as the only Master present – he has not been charged with Animal Welfare Offences, unlike Warden and Fookes who face both. The key here is that the Welfare Act provides much harsher sentencing options, including a ban from keeping animals and even custodial sentences. Wiltshire Police and Wessex CPS never fail to disappoint, but now it is down to the courts to do their job.
What this case really highlights though, irrespective of convictions, is that fox hunting is prolific and has never gone away, as we as hunt saboteurs only know too well. As for the Avon Vale, convictions or no convictions, there are rumours that the some of the hounds have been retained by Radbourne & friends. Although the kennels, which belong to the hunt and are held in trust by four notable and wealthy fox hunting businessmen, including the owners of the Fullers Pub chain and Wadworth Brewery chain, are said to be empty, for now at least.
A Hunt Saboteurs Association spokesperson said:
“The sickening video showing the Avon Vale throwing live foxes to the hounds exposed what Hunt Sabs have been saying all along – trail hunting is a lie. The Avon Vale Hunt, as vile as they, are not alone in this behaviour. We are aware of more video footage circulating and ask that it be sent to us in complete confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org.“