We are disappointed today to find out that the CPS have decided not to press charges against the Barlow Hunt after they killed a fox on 17th December 2019. The Barlow hosted a joint meet with the North Shropshire hunt at Sydnope Hall Farm, near Matlock, Derbyshire. The hunt had visited land owned by the Chatsworth Estate and then headed towards the Holymoorside area, where hounds picked up a scent and killed a fox in Cat Hole Wood. Sabs from Sheffield, West Yorkshire and Lincoln groups were present on the day and tried to call hounds out of the woods where the fox was being chased. Unfortunately, their intervention wasn’t enough and the fox was killed by hounds. The incident was caught on film, reached national news and was handed to the police along with a statement. Sabs retrieved the body, which was taken for autopsy, but not before the hunt terrier man, Ste Reynolds, attempted to take it from sabs.
Members of the Barlow, huntsman Aiden Beaney and whipper in Andrew Doran, were interviewed by Derbyshire Police in connection with the incident, as well as North Shropshire huntsman Peter McColgan, who was found guilty of aiding and abetting badger sett interference in 1996 while huntsman of the Cumberland Farmers Foxhounds. Footage of the incident shows hunt staff opening a gate into a field where the hounds proceeded to pick up a scent and pursue a fox, which they killed after a 15 minute chase, during which hunt sabs tried to intervene unsuccessfully. As soon as hounds picked up the scent, hunt staff were notable by their absence, other than terrier man Ste Reynolds who was seen in the corner of the field where the fox was first sighted. Hounds then continued to chase the fox until they caught up and killed it, as shown in the graphic footage, which was published by national media.
The burden of proof for a conviction under the 2004 Hunting Act is high, with the CPS requiring the quarry, hounds in cry and huntsman encouraging the hounds (or other proof of intention) all in the same shot. By allowing a pack of hounds into a field where they continued to chase a fox without being called off, surely hunt staff have shown their intentions? Firing a gun while blindfolded wouldn’t get you off a murder charge; therefore it is ridiculous that the Crown Prosecution Service treat Hunting Act offences any differently. Complaints have been made to the CPS about the outcome of the case, in the hope this may work towards a change in the legislation.
Lee Moon, spokesperson for the Hunt Saboteurs Association, stated: “Cases like this illustrate perfectly why hunt saboteurs exist. Even in those rare cases where you have a police force willing to prosecute a hunt, the burden of proof is so high that cases will often stumble when they reach the CPS. Until a time when the hunts are forced to disband, or the Hunting Act is improved considerably, hunt saboteurs will continue to be out in the fields directly intervening between the hunted animal and those who wish to pursue and kill them. We're pleased that members of the Barlow are being treated like any other criminal gang and being issued with Community Protection Notices but the fact is that their main crime is that of fox hunting and that's what they should be prosecuted for.”
Recently, the Portman Hunt in Dorset escaped conviction, despite shockingly clear footage of hounds chasing a fox and being encouraged by the huntsman, and it is not dissimilar to footage which lead to the conviction of the Thurlow hunt in 2019. With a burden of proof requiring the huntsman to show intent, which almost seems to require telepathy, whilst hounds are allowed to carry on doing what they are trained to do, is it any wonder convictions under the Hunting Act are so rare?
The Barlow hunt has often made the press over the last two years. With Mark Davies, husband of joint master Joan Williams, being prosecuted, but escaped conviction for assaulting sabs in 2019. Joan was also filmed attacking sabs at the Barlow’s 2020 New Year’s Day meet. Another joint master, Chris White, was caught attempting to trap and kill badgers by the Hunt Investigation Team in 2018 and a Barlow supporter was filmed spraying sabs with slurry at a meet near Ashover in 2019. Various members of hunt staff were reported to have assaulted sabs on New Year’s Day 2020, in an incident that is being investigated by the police. Most recently, the police handed eight members of the Barlow Community Protection Notices, for various incidents involving anti-social behaviour such as driving over loaded quads, trespass and assaulting peaceful demonstrators.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association can reveal the awful conditions at one of the UK’s largest game farms. At Hy Fly, located in the Lancashire town of Preesall near Fleetwood, tens of thousands of pheasants and partridges used for breeding are confined to tiny wire cages to supply the shooting industry with birds to be used as live targets. The scale of the cruelty is hard to comprehend with Hy Fly boasting of producing up to 1.5 million pheasants, partridges and mallards per week. Thousands of red legged partridges are held in barren cages around the size of an A2 piece of paper, with two birds in each.
The pheasants have cruel plastic ‘masks’ clamped onto their beaks, in an attempt to stop the birds pecking at each other caused by the extreme stress of captivity in a wire cage. The female birds also have brails fitted to their wings to restrict movement and make it impossible to fly any real distance should they escape. As well as this, many of the female pheasants have their back feathers ripped out due to the fact that they are unable to escape the constant mating attempts by the males in their cage.
In 2017, Hy Fly culled a staggering 10,000 pheasants at their farm following an outbreak of bird flu. In December that year, the HSA exposed the International Gundog League Retriever Championship taking place at the factory farm at which intensively reared birds were gunned down to ‘test’ the dogs.
The shooting industry is in huge turmoil due to the coronavirus crisis, with 30% of shoots cancelling their 2020/21 season completely and only 17.5% of shoots planning to operate a full schedule next season. The shoots that are continuing are reducing the number of birds they release by an average of 35%. Despite this, however, huge numbers of pheasants and partridges are currently suffering within game farms and the HSA is committed to seeing an end to this horrific industry.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association can reveal that one of West Mercia Police’s wildlife crime officers, PC Gerry Plant, is a keen hunter and his Facebook friends list contains many animal abusers. Among them is Tony O’Brien (also known as Tony Smith). O’Brien is a well known fox digger and a serving police officer’s association with such a person is deeply concerning. O’Brien is pictured below (right) with a bloodied terrier whilst another man torments a fox who is barely still alive.
Plant, based at Telford, also owns Staffordshire Game Hawks and breeds peregrines to sell to hunters. The falconry industry has grown considerably over recent years, driven by wealthy hunters from the Middle East purchasing birds from the UK. With such a disregard for suffering to animals, it’s deeply worrying that West Mercia Police saw it fit to allow him the position of wildlife crime officer.
Gerry Plant is by no means the first wildlife crime officer involved in the persecution of the UK’s wildlife. In October 2017, Leicestershire Police’s wildlife officer, PC Rob Cross, was recorded advising the Atherstone Hunt on which laws to use against hunt saboteurs. In 2016, PC Sharon Roscoe, another wildlife officer for Leicestershire police, was outed as an active member of the Belvoir Hunt. In 2013, PC Sarah Ward was forced to step down from her position as wildlife crime officer for North Yorkshire Police after the HSA exposed her links to the Badsworth & Bramham Moor Hunt.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association’s spokesperson, Lee Moon commented: How West Mercia police believe such a man is suitable to be a wildlife crime officer is beyond comprehension. His attitude towards animals is clear from his ownership of Staffordshire Game Hawks and his list of facebook friends is a catalogue of animal abusers. The public can surely have no faith that such a man would investigate any hunting crimes or indeed any crimes against wildlife. The animal abusers of Telford and surrounding areas must be delighted to have one of their own on the inside and will be carrying out unspeakable acts against animals with complete impunity.
The pheasant and partridge shooting industry is suffering a severe blow due to the current lockdown and social distancing guidelines issued by the government.
The HSA has received reports of shoots across the UK cancelling shoot dates, with many even writing off their whole upcoming seasons as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The threat of further restrictions on movement later in the year and the likelihood of an economic downturn is forcing shoots to not take the huge financial risk of purchasing gamebirds and instead simply not continue this year.
As the pheasant and partridge shooting seasons begin in October and September respectively, shoot days are booked well in advance, with each spot costing upwards of £1,000. However, very few have managed to sell any days so far due to the uncertainty ahead. As many shoots rely on this income now to purchase birds from game farms to be shot later in the year, this also crucially means that many farms are also severely struggling.
One game farm in Devon even resorted to giving away their pheasant eggs to a local shop, who in turn offered them to their customers for a donation due to shoots not having the money to purchase and rear on the birds.
The owners of Meadowlands Game Farm in Leicestershire went one further and decided to exit the industry altogether, selling off every piece of equipment relating to the farm.
Around 50 million pheasants and partridges are intensively reared and released to be shot each year, around half of which are imported into the UK from Europe. With importation logistics likely being affected as well, the shooting industry in the UK is teetering on the edge of collapse.
Mark Vincent and Ian Parkinson have been given 12 week prison sentences, suspended for 1 year, and community service after being found guilty of keeping a fox captive and inflicting suffering upon it in breach of the Animal Welfare Act. Both men were employed by the Kimblewick Hunt at the time of the offence on 1st January this year.
The prosecution came about after footage was passed to the Hunt Saboteurs Association by the Covert Film Unit showing the two men releasing a captive fox to be chased and killed by the Kimblewick hunts hounds. Their actions not only cause unnecessary harm to the fox but are also carried out to facilitate illegal hunting.
The footage was filmed on New Years Day when the hunt met at Moreton, Thame, Oxon. It shows the hunt terrier men using draining rods to force the fox, that they’ve been holding captive, out of a drainage pipe then being thrown into the wood for hounds to chase. The terriermen can clearly be heard communicating with the huntsman agreeing when the best time is to release the fox which is given a brief head start so that the hunt riders experience a chase rather than a quick kill.
In her summing up the judge stated that it was high level, premeditated animal cruelty that had been done to facilitate illegal acts. In mitigation she said the two men were clearly acting under instruction from those higher up in the hunt.
Lee Moon, Spokesperson for the Hunt Saboteurs Association, stated: “We're pleased that justice has been done and the two hunt employees have been punished for their part in this shocking incident. However lets be perfectly clear, what's shown in this footage is not an unusual act in the world of organised fox hunting but rather a common place, every day action carried out by hunt terrier men week-in week-out across the country. The only difference is that these two have been caught due to the actions of the Covert Film Unit who passed their footage onto the Hunt Saboteurs Association.
It's vital that this situation isn't passed off by the hunting community as a couple of bad apples ruining it for everyone else. The footage clearly shows the whole hunt were complicit in the events that took place in January this year and therefore should all pay the penalty for this inexcusable cruelty. We again ask the Masters of Foxhounds Association, who regulate fox hunts in the UK, why they haven't suspended the Kimblewick's membership and carried out their own investigation of this criminal conspiracy? Their lack of action appears to give tacit approval to this behaviour and again suggests how commonplace it is within the hunting world.”