Collusion in the Countryside

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Wiltshire Hunt Sabs speak to the Hunt Saboteurs Association.

A week last Saturday, Wiltshire and Reading Sabs paid a visit to the closing meet of the Avon Vale Hunt. We have sabbed this hunt numerous times this year, and really are hurting them on and off the field, without a single punch being thrown – well, from our side anyway! We are reliably informed there are five ongoing investigations into the goings-on with this hunt. Alongside a Hunting Act investigation, there are investigations into assaults on sabs: in January, a Bristol sab was punched in the head by an Avon Vale terrier man who had been stopped digging out a fox from a badger sett. The saboteur was knocked unconscious and spent several nights in hospital with a brain bleed, precisely the sort of serious injury that can have tragic consequences and as ironically highlighted by Avon Vale fox hunting Tory MP for North Wiltshire James Gray in the ‘One Punch Can Kill’ campaign.

We also know there are numerous investigations by Wiltshire Council, DEFRA and Environmental health following covert filming of the Avon Vale kennels last year, which identified numerous breaches of the law around category 1 waste in relation to their fallen stock operation, and even the local planning department are investigating a new building and incinerator which we discovered when we put a drone over their kennels recently, seemingly in breach of planning laws.

In addition, local people have been reporting illegal hunting by this lot for years: hounds trespassing through gardens, rioting on deer, blocking badger setts, digging foxes out and even one report of the huntsman screaming at a child on a footpath to move aside as the hounds were on the scent of a fox – all in recent weeks.

We also are aware of a recent summons to neighbouring hunt the Beaufort, with the huntsman and whipper-in due in court to answer Hunting Act charges, which we also can’t say much on, alongside a couple of Hunting Act investigations into the Royal Artillery this season including two dead foxes, out of control hounds rioting on deer and, only two weeks ago, it was revealed that covert footage has led to a Hunting Act investigation into yet another Wiltshire Hunt. The casual observer could be forgiven for concluding there is something fishy about this ‘trail hunting’ malarky.

Back to the Avon Vale, historically this particular scummy hunt have been caught out digging a badger sett, with the current huntmaster Stuart Radbourne even convicted of this very crime back in 2013 alongside grunting terrierman Ben Pethers, when former Conservative PCC candidate Jonathon Seed was their huntsman and master. A local journalist even once witnessed Jonathon Seed riding down a hunt saboteur with his horse causing injuries including broken ribs. The police were also present that day, and no action was ever taken against Seed, who was at the time also a Conservative Wiltshire Councillor. Let’s hope justice prevails soon when he returns to court next month to explain himself as to why he stood for PCC when he was disbarred, causing a re-run costing us over a million pounds.

With so many criminal investigations and allegations ongoing, we would have expected at least a modicum of police suspicion that these gangsters could possibly have been killing foxes, and also aren’t opposed to throwing the odd punch – or ten – at those of us who try to stop them and just maybe they have been doing exactly this for decades. Instead, what we have faced from the police is an unleashing of bias and abuse of power as our publicly funded police service is being used to protect a violent criminal hunt to carry on breaking the law.

We have documented so much of this already in our hit reports, as have so many groups such as those who recently came to Wiltshire last month to do a ‘mass sab’ of this hunt in solidarity with our injured saboteur. An injury to one is an injury to all. On that day, we saw an astronomical police presence devoted to following sabs around, acting in excess of their powers by forcibly removing sabs from fields – with no legal basis, even arresting one sab for having a whip in their possession (an offensive weapon?) – thank goodness the hunt horses are so high, otherwise they’d have had to arrest the whips and riders on horseback too…wouldn’t they? The police, seemingly unable to trump something up on that arrested saboteur, eventually released them from custody that evening with ‘no further action’.

Fast forward to last Saturday week, there were only 12 of us in the field. A small but determined presence of sabs intent on saving our local wildlife from this bunch of vile killers. Once again, Wiltshire Polices’ overtime budget for the day must have exceeded their entire annual sexual offences investigation pot. We counted 12 different vehicles on us all day, we heard the helicopter overhead too. Two unmarked Vauxhalls, each with sinister looking blue-bibbed, unfriendly weirdos who kept smarmily asking at every opportunity if we’d like to give them our details.

What really was weird though, was they actually got out and followed us into the fields all day. Clearly unprepared for what followed, they did their best to keep up, bless ‘em. Some were seriously flagging, and a couple even asked us for a lift as we left the field to join our landy. Being so unprepared, we could almost forgive them for failing to deal with the many assaults that occurred as about 8 -12 hunt terriermen (who also turned out in force) illegally blocked public rights or way by assaulting and pushing sabs right in front of them. Police made it clear they were not going to be dealing with any hunt violence that day, that they were purely there to ‘prevent a breach of the peace’, ironic that in ignoring the violence they did exactly the opposite of what claimed to be there to do.

We also had several officers tell us we could remedy the situation by ‘leaving the area’ whilst simultaneously acknowledging we were there lawfully. Can you imagine them telling someone being assaulted on the high street that they should go home and leave the assailant in peace? One officer – of two who followed us around all day with a zoom lens camera – proudly stated that he didn’t have the first clue about hunting or why the terriermen had little dogs stuffed into the boxes on their quad bikes.

We even had one of the blue bibbed weirdos pen up an uninvited exchange with a hunt sab who was stood next to a hunter by using their given name several times loudly and completely unnecessarily. A truly “I’m going to tell them your name because I can” moment.

But what was most concerning of all, was that not a single officer appeared to have the first clue about hunting, with many of them even inadvertently acting ‘on point’ for the hunt. We even had to instruct three officers who were waltzing ahead of the hounds who were parallel and flushing deer, that they were at risk of turning a deer or fox back to the hounds. Those officers gracefully accepted the instruction, but it beggars belief how ill-prepared they all were, and how so many of them felt it was okay to just flaunt themselves around continually asking for our names and numbers.

When questioned why 20-30 officers had camera’s trained on just us, we were informed they also had a solitary drone in the sky ‘for the hunt’ though they had nothing at all focusing on the countryside yobs on quads. We did clock the drone unit grey van in the morning, but it disappeared around lunchtime never to be seen again. Needless to say, we caught up with the hunt around 3pm trying to spook a fox out of a thick bramble hedgerow in which no one would ever lay a trail anyway.

So, we are a little flabbergasted at what we have witnessed lately as a response from our local police force. You could be forgiven, if you are following our social media pages over the last few weeks, for not realising that Wiltshire Police is one of the smallest police services in the country. With barely over 1,000 officers to serve over 700,000 people, only the City of London police has fewer officers.

It is also one of the worst performing forces in the country when it comes to sexual violence too, with Home Office statistics showing 87% of rape investigations dropped due to difficulties gathering evidence, or difficulties in identifying suspects. “Difficulty identifying suspects” indeed – maybe they wanna start with their own HR department records.

Ironically latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) also show that Wiltshire Police recorded the lowest number of crimes of any force in the country – sounds good, right? Well, that is until you read it again, paying special attention to that word “recorded”. Our local Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) recently published these findings (with slightly more enthusiasm than when the rape stats were released) with great gusto across local media and social media outlets. But this seemingly proud moment for Wiltshire Police was met with derision from many people from the county, who took to social media to let the force know that this was because we have all but given up reporting crime here in Wiltshire and it really isn’t that proud moment they think it is.

Our newly elected Conservative PCC, Philip Wilkinson – himself a last-minute stand in for disgraced countryside criminal Jonathon Seed who was unable to take the post himself because he has failed to declare previous convictions for driving off having caused an accident drink driving – has spent a lot of effort into a survey, asking residents weighted questions what matters to them. According to him fox hunting only accounted for a handful of responses. Hardly surprising when we have a force that has all but given up investigation of sexual violence amongst other crimes against the person.

So, given his recent claim that fox hunting isn’t on the agenda, it sits at odds with what has been going on in Wiltshire recently, and for that we do take some credit. But clearly this is all completely baffling for our local plod, but they truly have not got the first idea how to deal with the shitstorm that has erupted here since the infamous ‘Lacock protest’.

Lacock was a last-minute event organised by us, our friends at Bath Hunt Saboteurs and Gloucestershire Animal Rights. It is the traditional Boxing Day meet of the Avon Vale Hunt who are kennelled just up the road in Spye Park. Suffice to say a lot of hunt violence occurred, and all of it as two Wiltshire Police Officers assigned to the protest took an extended tea break just as the worst of the violence erupted, with protestors and hunt saboteurs alike forced to defend themselves from an onslaught of Ridgelined (the terriermens current overcoat of choice) flat-capped thugs who reigned down punches and pints on the protestors.

What transpired in the days and weeks following was that one of those two officers was herself affiliated to the hunt. She had ridden with the hunt regularly, though it is unclear when she joined the police force. We have seen evidence of her going ‘cubbing’ with them as late at Autumn 2019 (the hunting season in which Covid ‘broke’). She was not just an ex-rider, we are also told her own horse was at the hunt on the 27th December 2021, being ridden by a friend of hers, who – we have been told – is also the partner of the violent terrierman responsible for the brain bleed in our Bristol hunt sab. She was so engaged in socialising with her hunt friends, she literally stood back-turned, as sabs were being assaulted behind her.

The days and weeks after Lacock were interesting – we collated dozens of videos of the day from protestors and members of the public who got in touch with us. We went through each one with a fine toothcomb and identified 12-15 hunt ‘instigators’, at least 9 of whom committed unprovoked acts of violence. Of course, they will argue our mere presence is provocation enough – and who can blame them, after all they have spent decades of their entitled lives believing themselves to be immune from the law – and to be fair, they have been!

We have even identified numerous former Wiltshire Police including a former Royal Protection and Firearms instructor who were involved with this hunt both pre and post ban.

At Lacock, supporting the hunt we also noted a former Wiltshire Police officer who was a DCI based at Chippenham, and still goes out hunting – not just a supporter, but as a whip for the Wiltshire & Infantry Beagles. A recently retired Trowbridge Police Sergeant was also a regularly with the Royal Artillery Hunt. The police connection to hunting is strong in this country.

Dozens of people made complaints to the PCC, who in turn decided to reject many as ‘ineligible’. Something like 11 eventually were accepted, and to date we are aware of only two having had responses – both identical, and both downplaying the relevance of the officer’s hunting hobby as a factor. They did however identify intelligence failing, in the (lack of) planning of the event.

There are ongoing court cases against three instigators of the violence, we note there are also a couple of ‘appeasement’ cases against non-hunters who were in fact victims of violence, but for obvious reasons we aren’t going to say much on this – we will save that till after the trials. But you know, the police have got to get that balance right to appease their Countryside Alliance members. What we will say though is that there are still at least 6 violent offenders who have never, to this day, been sought for their role in the violence – their actions along including throwing beer over victims, pushing people to the ground, punches and scratches to the face, and a headlock assault, all carried out by hunters on non-violent protestors, and all caught on the same video that police have used to bring charges against the others.

The PCC has also been caught out on numerous occasions, most recently he has claimed without any evidence to have witnessed sabs in ‘balaclava’s screaming at kids on ponies’. We’ve asked him to put up or shut up, but we aren’t holding our breath. So all that remains is to wonder what is going on in Police HQ, they seem to truly have forgotten they are supposed to protect all citizens equally, and that’s before we start on the enforcing the laws on hunting. With the police precept adding yet more pounds to our council tax bills next month, isn’t it great to know this is how our money is spent – with one bunch of uniformed criminals protecting another.

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