A report on the first season of the implementation of the new offence of aggravated trespass from May 1995.
This report was written to assess the impact of the new offence of aggravated trespass at the end of the first hunting season in which it was used. It does not deal with other sections of the Act so references to the CJA or to “the act” should be taken to refer only to s68-69 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, rather than the law as a whole.
- The history of the CJA
- Hunting’s response: smears, propaganda, and the strategy of tension
- Defying the climate of fear: sabs carry on sabbing
- How the CJA has failed: figures from the 1994-95 season
- An incomprehensible law
- Nick ’em all: arbitrary arrests
- The cost of the CJA
- Fighting back
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 came into force on Thursday 3rd November 1994, just in time for the opening meets of most foxhunts, although hunting had been going on in the form of cubhunting since August. It contains, among many other measures, two sections, s.68 and 69 which created the new offence of “aggravated trespass” to deal with hunt saboteurs. Far from being the death-knell of protest at hunts, as many predicted, hunt sabs’ activity this season has if anything increased as people became galvanised and determined to protect not only the wild animals which are hunted for sport, but also their right to do so.
As we shall see, the Act has proved in practice to be what we predicted it would be – a dismal failure. Many forces have refused to implement the new provisions, regarding them as unnecessary and unworkable, while those forces that have attempted to implement them have had their fingers badly burned both in the courts and in the field. In the meantime, sabbing has continued as normal, with over 150 hunts hit this season, plus dozens of shoots.
The 1986 Public Order Act was described by the then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, as “spelling the end of the road for hunt saboteurs”. In 1986, as in 1994, the new legislation was preceded by months of speculation and trepidation, with widespread predictions of doom for any non-mainstream protests. In the year or so following the introduction of the Act, saboteurs bore the brunt of many of the new public order offences, with literally hundreds of people being arrested and charged under s. 5 of the Act. (Our legal officer at the time described this as the new police ‘mantra’ – “Section 5, my son, section 5”). It quickly became clear that the police did not really understand the new act – they had been told that s. 5 made saboteurs illegal and so launched mass arrests of sabs under the section, irrespective of whether any offence had been committed, leading to some very bloody noses in the courts. Many of the cases were dropped; some reached court and the majority of defendants were acquitted; of those who were convicted at magistrates’ courts, a high proportion were successful in overturning the verdict on appeal. By the end of 1989, there were nearly 100 civil cases against various police forces, resulting in over £¼ million being paid out to saboteurs in 1991/92 alone. Section 5 is still used against saboteurs but in much-reduced circumstances and in most forces has gone out of fashion as the catch-all “saboteurs’ offence”. Indeed, as a testament to the failure of s.5, as a proportion of arrests per season it is far outstripped by the old standby breach of the peace, a centuries-old common law power.
As in 1994, in 1986 hunts were cock-a-hoop about the new powers and put heavy pressure on the police to mount large-scale arrests of saboteurs en masse. Many did back then and got their fingers burnt. Partly as a result of that, many police forces adopted a more constructive approach to policing hunts, designed to avoid problems arising for all sides, rather than the “nick-’em all” approach favoured by the hunts and the Home Office.
HUNTING’S RESPONSE: SMEARS, PROPAGANDA, AND THE STRATEGY OF TENSION
This new positive approach by some police forces did not go down well with many hunts who felt they had a right, as decent pillars of the wildlife-slaughtering community, to see their opponents bundled up and carted off by the police in the name of all that is right and proper. So, spearheaded by the BFSS (British Field Sports Society), they launched a 3½-year propaganda campaign of smear and innuendo, costing well over £1 million, to get new, tougher legislation against saboteurs.
The strategy of tension …
sabs in hospital, new laws in parliament
In case the glossy booklets, invented schlock-horror stories, and faked photographs weren’t getting the point across, in 1992 hunts all across the country introduced “stewards”, private security guards or in some cases their own home-grown thugs. The scheme was a great success from the individual hunts’ point of view – they had ready-made private armies to beat up any who dared oppose them – but also fed into the national campaign to secure legislation against sabs. Despite the fact that this unprecedented wave of violence at hunts was caused by their own “stewarding” scheme, the BFSS were able to point to hunts all across the country where there were violent attacks every week – never mind that they were violent attacks by hunt supporters and stewards on saboteurs. The media happily lapped up hunt press releases about violence at hunt meets without bothering to inquire about who had caused it and who had suffered – it was overwhelmingly saboteurs who were ending up in casualty units and hospital beds.
The BFSS finally got their reward for this “strategy of tension” with Michael Howard’s speech in Didcot on Saturday 6th November 1994 when he labelled saboteurs “thugs, wreckers, and bullies” and announced “I am blowing the whistle on their antics”, citing several spurious tales from BFSS propaganda in support of his new measures. Within half-an-hour of him uttering those words, a hunt master at a meet less than 10 miles away rode his horse over a saboteur. On the same day three saboteurs were treated at Lancaster Infirmary for head injuries after a sustained attack by mounted and foot supporters with staves, riding crops and whips; a hunt supporter in Hertfordshire tried to impale saboteurs and their van on a 6-foot baling spike attached to his tractor; in Hampshire, saboteurs were attacked by hunt members with whips.
Interestingly, this season stewards have been withdrawn from all but a handful of hunt across the country, with the bloodsports press saying they are no longer necessary since the introduction of the CJA. Does this mean that the new law has put a stop to saboteur activity? Hardly – as we shall see below, sabs are active as ever. The more cynical may perhaps feel that instead, stewards are no longer needed as they have served their purpose. The strategy of tension worked and the law was passed. Unfortunately for the BFSS, it just doesn’t work the way they wanted.
The Home Office, the bloodsports lobby groups, and, regrettably, even many supporters of the right to protest widely predicted that the new measures on aggravated trespass would spell the end of the road for hunt saboteurs and others wishing to make peaceful protests against hunting. This is understandable: anti-CJA groups were trying to demonstrate the extent of the draconian attacks on civil liberties and the right to protest the bill represents; while the Home Office and bloodsports groups obviously wished to give the impression that anti-hunt protesters would now automatically be going to jail in order to intimidate would-be protesters.
Almost alone, the HSA said that although the Bill was undoubtedly intended to be one of the most repressive pieces of peacetime public order legislation, in practice it was so badly put together and so ill thought out that it would prove to be largely unworkable. The only way the new provisions could succeed would be if people were to be intimidated by the mythology of the Act and give up their protests, making its implementation unnecessary.
However, saboteurs are made of sterner stuff than that – quite apart from the fact that we do not give into bullies, be they hunt thugs or Home Secretaries, if we give up and go home it is ultimately the wildlife we protect that will suffer. So we carried on as we have done for over 30 years, going out week in, week out, to save wild animals from a grisly death at the hands of the “sportsmen” who kill for fun. We knew from the start we would be in the front line of the CJA and so it has proved – over 90% of those arrested under the CJA have been hunt saboteurs – but we refused to be intimidated. Over 150 fox, hare and deer hunts have been hit by saboteurs this season, most of them several times over the course of the season, and some of them every week, not to mention dozens of rough, wildfowl, and gamebird shoots, with thousands of animals saved as a result. We estimate that over the season as a whole over 1,000 hunting days have been hit by hunt sabs. If this is what Michael Howard calls “blowing the whistle” on our activities, he really should look at getting a louder whistle.
HOW THE CJA HAS FAILED: FIGURES FROM THE 1994-95 SEASON
There have been some 154 saboteurs arrested or reported for summons for alleged offences under s68-69 of the Criminal Justice Act in the hunting season 1994-95.
Some of the arrests made under the CJA would undoubtedly have taken place anyway under breach of the peace legislation, but the majority can be attributed to “novelty factor” or to areas where the police adopted a policy of broad-scale arrests of saboteurs, such as Essex, Hampshire, the Kettering and Corby divisions of Northamptonshire police, the Kirkby Moorside area of North Yorkshire, and in the latter part of the season, Sussex. It quickly became apparent that this hard-line approach was untenable and as the season wore on, many areas abandoned or modified it.
The track record of the Criminal Justice Act so far is not exactly inspiring: of the 154 people arrested or reported for summons, only 11 have been convicted and one bound over, while 67 cases have been dropped before reaching court. This translates to a pitiable “success” rate for the Home Secretary of 7.1%, with 43.6% of cases being dropped. At the time of writing, we are still awaiting the results of 76 cases, but with just under half the cases already in the results are not encouraging for supporters of the CJA. Even if the conviction rate doubles, which seems unlikely as some of the most laughable arrests have yet to be dealt with, we do not anticipate seeing these figures highlighted in any of Mr Howard’s shiny new “league tables” for “measuring” police performance.
One of the most ridiculous aspects of the whole CJA farce has been how unworkable it is in practice. Irrespective of the approach or policy of a given area, officers on the ground have obviously struggled to come to terms with when an offence is being committed and when it is not. In the hard-line areas, this has issue has been “resolved” by arresting anyone who looks like they may be identifiably a saboteur who is found in the vicinity of the hunt. Thus, many of the people currently facing charges of aggravated trespass (and several of those convicted for the offence) were not even trespassing when the offence was supposedly committed.
An Inspector has to ask sabs to interpret the law “because the CPS won’t tell us”
Few, if any, of the officers who are expected to police the new offence have any real grasp of what the offence actually is or any idea of what the law says. Thus, in January 1995 Hampshire police arrested a man for aggravated trespass when he was on a public road! This sort of ignorance is not just confined to junior ranks. In November 1994, an Essex officer of the rank of Inspector tried to stop a saboteur from walking down a public road on the grounds that “that would be aggravated trespass”. Several saboteurs arrested in Northamptonshire in the same month were on a footpath which was legally defined as a highway (and therefore excluded from those categories of land on which the offence of aggravated trespass may be deemed to be taking place) under the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the very act used in the CJA to define those classes of land! In January 1995, in Northamptonshire, the senior officer present had to have the act explained to him by a saboteur he had been attempting to arrest erroneously. (The officer had quoted a draft version of the bill which had subsequently undergone several revisions in committee stage and when the saboteur quoted the current act admitted he did not know what the law said and as such could not lawfully make an arrest.) In December 1994, a saboteur was asked to give his definition of several key terms in s. 68 by an officer in command of operational policy for a entire police division because “the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] won’t tell us”. The local CPS took the view that the act was so badly drafted it was impossible to give specific definitions and advised the officer to tell his men to arrest saboteurs who were “causing trouble” and then let the courts decide what the act actually stipulated. We are happy that our legal expertise is so highly valued by such a senior officer, but cannot help but feel that there must be something wrong with a law that is so open to doubt that the CPS refuse even to give the police an opinion on how it might be used in practice.
The act is so poorly drafted that it can apparently be perfectly lawful to conduct oneself in one way in one part of the country, yet in the next county can lead to being hauled up in front of a court, depending on the whim of the officer in charge on the day or even the officer who happens to be present at the time. We do not feel it is unduly idealistic to state that the rule of law should apply evenly across the kingdom.
“NICK ‘EM ALL, LET THE COURTS SORT ‘EM OUT”: ARBITRARY ARRESTS UNDER THE CJA
While most police forces have quite sensibly approached the CJA with caution, recognising it as a shambles, some have viewed it as an excuse to arrest anyone who opposes hunts more or less on a whim. Several forces approached the new legislation with gusto, viewing it as an opportunity to create “no-go” areas for sabs.
Essex police seem to regard the act as a de facto excuse to ride roughshod over the rights of individuals and the rule of law, arbitrarily arresting saboteurs, denying rights of access on footpaths, sealing off roads without lawful authority to anyone deemed potentially inimical to the hunt, attacking anti-hunt protesters and whatever else occurs to them at the time.
In other force areas, it has been more difficult for saboteurs to know where they stand. Sussex police seemed quite happy for saboteurs to continue as normal until February 1995 when they began arresting saboteurs for merely being present at a hunt. In Yorkshire, the deciding factor seems to be geographical rather than chronological – of the 30 arrests that have taken place in the 3 force areas that make up Yorkshire, 19 have been at the Old Ampleforth Beagles. In case anyone should be in any doubt as to the singularity of these arrests, they were all carried out by officers from Kirkby Moorside police station who seem to exhibit a peculiar enthusiasm to protect the hunt whose Master, Simon Longworth, knocked a woman’s teeth out in a vicious assault in August 1994. Why should this one police station take such a hard-line approach that is apparently unnecessary in the whole of the rest of the county? The behaviour of sabs at the Old Ampleforth has been no different from that at other hunts, nor have the Old Ampleforth had a disproportionate attendance – sabs in the area have been attending hunts all over the region twice a week throughout the season – indeed, if anything, when sabs have been present at the Old Ampleforth, it has often been in smaller numbers than at other hunts. Quite simply, the CJA has enabled officers from Kirkby Moorside to carry out a vendetta against local saboteurs and they have pursued it with vigour, apparently determined to cow sabs in the area into submission. Their efforts to make Kirkby Moorside a “no-go” area for anti-hunt activity have been in vain and sabs will continue to attend hunts wherever animals are killed for sport.
CJA policy in Kettering –
“Fuck off or you’re nicked” (start of season)
“We probably made a bit of cock-up at the start” (end of season)
In Northamptonshire, the Kettering and Corby divisions to the east of the county started the season determined to use the new act to wipe out sabs in their area. On the first day that sabs were present at the Woodland Pytchley Foxhunt after the act became law, they were told they would all be arrested. In the event five people were arrested, three of them after a farcical operation involving a fire engine called out to retrieve them from a tree! This incident is especially outrageous in the light of the fact that none of the three people it was so vital to arrest that a fire engine had to be called away from its proper business for some hours on Guy Fawkes’ Day, often one of their busiest days of the year, were prosecuted for any offence. The arrests were arbitrary, unnecessary and carried out at great cost to already hard-pressed resources on largely vindictive grounds. The following week, sabs were told two of them would be allowed to accompany the hunt to video them, as long as they did not attempt to interfere with the progress of the hunt. The sabs followed the agreement to the letter, with all but two of the group staying away from the hunt on the road while two followed the hunt with a camcorder. Both were arrested, for following police instructions. Not surprisingly, the CPS refused to prosecute the two men. In fact of the 7 people arrested at these first two meets of the Woodland Pytchley Foxhunt, only one was ever prosecuted. One of the officers who gave evidence at his case admitted that the objective had been to arrest as many saboteurs as possible. As the season wore on, it became clear that Kettering police had little or no idea how to police a hunt and were entirely unfamiliar with the provisions of the law, as time and again it had to be explained to them. This did not prevent them from swaggering up to sabs at meets and declaring that they would all be arrested. On one occasion a sergeant ordered the driver of the sabs’ vehicle to leave the area immediately on pain of arrest and not to return for the rest of the day, on the grounds of aggravated trespass! He would not even allow the driver to pick up his colleagues, effectively forcing them to stay at the hunt, but told the driver to “Fuck off or you’re nicked”. It is difficult to see how a vehicle driving along public roads can commit the offence of aggravated trespass or how isolating ten sabs at a hunt is conducive to effective policing of public order. Early in 1995, Kettering changed their attitude as the first lot of arrests began to be thrown out by the CPS. By February most of the cases had been dropped and Kettering police were now forced to admit that they had “made a bit of a cock-up” of policing the first part of the season.
Hampshire police have apparently yet to see the light. At a meet of the Meon Valley Beagles, on 2nd January 1995, sabs overheard the astonishing order over the police radio to arrest anyone who could be identified as a saboteur. In the event, only 7 people were arrested as there were not sufficient officers to arrest any more. Five days later, Hampshire officers arrested 10 people at the Garth & South Berks Foxhunt on an entirely random basis. Two of the sabs were arrested for committing aggravated trespass on a road, others were pulled out at random. Two months later, the sabs were told unofficially that they would be receiving a letter of apology for their appalling treatment. At the time of writing, four months after the arrests, they have still not had any communication from Hampshire police.
Sussex police seem to have caught on to the new game rather later in the season, only making the first CJA arrests at the Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray Foxhunt in mid-February. However, they more than made up for their late start with a pre-planned ambush at the hunt’s penultimate meet. Sabs had only just arrived at the hunt when they were ordered by a lone police officer to leave the area via an obscure track. Although they had committed no offence, they complied with this request but found the track blocked by a police Land Rover; their van was quickly surrounded by some 25 police officers who had apparently been lying in wait down this track. The police then used crowbars and other implements not usually carried by officers on routine patrol to break in to the vehicle and stripped it down, confiscating everything they could lay their hands on and arresting the occupants. It subsequently transpired that officers had been given orders days before the hunt to arrest a prominent local saboteur (“take out the ringleader”) and then arrest as many other saboteurs as possible.
Some fifty officers from two forces were deployed to deal with the Garth & South Berks meet discussed above. On top of the cost of paying for these officers’ wages, there are the dozen vans, land rovers and other vehicles deployed in the operation, the logistical support, time taken to coordinate the operation by officers on the ground and at area level. Then those arrested have to be locked up, processed etc. All this consumes many hundreds of police man-hours at a cost of several thousand pounds – for one day’s foxhunting. Essex police are even more profligate with the public purse: on at least two occasions this season they have deployed over a hundred officers and brought in officers from other forces. These officers have been backed up by riot vans, mobile cell units, coordinating vehicles, the force helicopter (in itself costing several thousand pounds a day to run) and large amounts of logisical support not visible in the field. The bill for operations on that scale runs into the tens of thousands. All this money has to come from a limited budget and all the resources deployed have been diverted from more serious police functions, like dealing with crime.
Crime budgets slashed …
but thousands spent on a single day’s hunting
Irrespective of the Home Office’s attempts to juggle the crime statistics by “declassifying” whole categories of crime (common assault being the most obvious example), it is manifestly obvious to most people in this country that real crime rates are worse than ever. Yet the Home Office have imposed swinging budget cuts on the police, causing an ever greater squeeze on the available resources to deal with crime. In the same period, the government has launched several major reviews of “core” police functions and introduced risible schemes such as league tables to “focus” police activities to these “core” functions. Against this background, it is wholly unacceptable to be taking officers, resources, and thousands of pounds out of ever-smaller budgets away from crime to help hunts kill for fun. Does anyone seriously believe that the public support all this money, time and effort being wasted on hunts when it could be spent on tackling burglars, muggers and the like? We do not believe that this is what taxpayers work so hard to pay for.
It became apparent early on that some forces, as outlined above, were attempting to use the CJA to smother any opposition to hunting and impose “no-go areas” for sabs. Saboteurs have never given into bullying, be it in the traditional form of hunt thugs with pickaxe handles, or in this newer form of Home Office policy. It was obvious that simply sending ever larger numbers of sabs to a particular hunt was not the best answer to oppressive CJA policing, as it could be easily dealt with by simply drafting in more police and arresting even more sabs.
Instead, a more subtle approach was devised. Rather than have a large number of sabs at one hunt, an essentially static situation that the police can just “throw numbers” at, sabs would hit several hunts in the same force area on the same day, forcing the police to respond on the hoof to several calls simultaneously and so continually divide their available resources. The strategy was first tested in Northamptonshire in December 1994, with three hunts and a shoot being hit at opposite ends of the county. One vehicle of sabs arrived first at the Woodland Pytchley in the east of the county, where Kettering police adopted their usual aggressive approach and tried to call in back-up as another three sab vans arrived. Unfortunately, by this time sabs had also arrived at the Grafton and Bicester with Whaddon Chase Foxhunts in the northwest of the county. Not only were Kettering not able to get their back-up, and hence unable to carry out any arrests, but to the west the two hunts had to share one police van between them which had to ferry between the two as best they could.
The strategy was used several more times in various parts of the country to great effect, perhaps most markedly in Essex in January 1995 when sabs effectively imposed a blanket ban on bloodsports in the county for the day, hitting three hunts and a pheasant shoot. Essex police were caught entirely off-guard and and struggled to cope as reports came in from all across the county as their command system more or less collapsed. Police coverage of the hunts was, to say the least, patchy and appallingly coordinated: while the Essex Farmers’ and Union Hunt initially got only a couple of traffic patrol cars, police numbers at the hunt eventually climbed to some 60 officers and the force helicopter; meanwhile the Essex Hunt received only four officers and the Essex and Suffolk only about eight. The shoot had to make do with “spares” from the Essex Farmers’ and Union Hunt. The police made no arrests at any of the four locations and all three hunts and the shoot had given up by 2 p.m.
The CJA was introduced with a fanfare of gloomy prophecies for the future of hunt saboteurs. We were told that few, if any, hunts would be hit in the 1994-95 season and that anyone who attempted to sabotage hunts would be immediately arrested and could face several months in jail. The reality has turned out to be very different and this season has in fact been considerably better than we could have dared hope.
Most importantly, the prediction that we would not be able to carry on saving animals’ lives has been completely blown out of the water. Sabs have hit over 150 hunts this season, plus dozens of shoots, saving thousands of animals’ lives, with arrests at only a small proportion of the hunts attended.
Even where arrests have taken place or saboteurs been reported for summons, the overwhelming majority have been dropped before getting anywhere near a court. The conviction rate of 7.1% speaks for itself as a damning indictment of the new offences of aggravated trespass. Of the few cases in which convictions have been secured, all but two are subject to appeals, potentially slimming down the “success rate” still further. The much-vaunted jail terms have not been used – the heaviest sentences to date have been £200 fines and some of those convicted have received conditional discharges. In a season that has seen sabs at over 1,000 separate hunting days, less than £1,000 has been imposed in fines across the country as a whole. That’s less than a pound for every hunting day lost to saboteurs.
Most police forces have been very wary of the new act, as it is so badly put together as to be almost impossible to put into practice. Those that have attempted to implement it have had a very bad time of it. They have seen case after case being thrown out by the CPS and far from deterring sabs from their area, the hardline approach has served mainly to single out that force for increased saboteur activity. These forces have been hit twice for their hardline policies – in the field and in the legal arena. They have also had to expend considerable resources in implementing these policies, with precious little reward in the way of convictions. In times when police forces across the country are having millions slashed off their budgets how can any force justify spending several thousand pounds on one day’s hunting?
“Most politicians’ understanding of policing is akin to a dog’s understanding of lamp-posts”
(Chair of the constables’ committe speaking at the Police Federation annual conference, May 1995)
The new offence of aggravated trespass has failed in its primary aim: sabs are as active as ever and will continue to be so. The only people being punished by the act are the police who are expected to try and work with this shambles at the cost of dealing with crime, and the public who are expected to pay for it while seeing crime steadily increase.
The act is, quite simply, a mess. It is unsupportable in principle; unworkable and ruinously expensive in practice. Even the 1986 Public Order Act did not fail so spectacularly so quickly. The blame for this shambles must be laid firmly at the door of the Home Secretary who introduced the act at the behest of the hunting lobby for the sake of a few cheap cheers at the party conference. He did not bother to look at the real problems of public order policing at hunts and failed to think through any sort of policy for dealing with it. He should be made to admit his failure and repeal the act. We will continue to intervene to protect wildlife until bloodsports are banned; it will take a better man than Michael Howard to stop us.