“Hunted wildlife continue to be let down by the police and the courts, even in the face of clear video evidence”, say anti-bloodsports campaigners following today’s ‘not guilty’ verdict against members of the Lamerton Hunt at Exeter Magistrates Court.
The huntsman of the Lamerton Hunt, David Lewis, and his former whipper-in and now-huntsman of the North Cornwall Hunt, Gareth Frain, stood trial on the 15th and 17th of February 2021 for illegal fox hunting, following an incident on the 14th December 2019 when the hunt met at the White Hart in Bridestowe.
The court was shown video footage filmed by members of the Devon County Hunt Saboteurs, in which the Lamerton hounds can be seen engaged in a prolonged chase of a fox. The video, filmed from some distance away, shows Lewis bringing hounds to an area of gorse at Lake Down on the edge of Dartmoor. A fox can be seen running out of the gorse with the hounds shortly behind. Lewis and Frain remain on horseback behind the hounds for the first two minutes of the chase which were captured on film.
Lewis and Frain both admitted that their hounds chased the fox. However, they denied that they had intended to hunt the fox.
The prosecution’s case was that Lewis and Frain failed to intervene when they knew that the hounds were chasing a fox. The court further heard from three witnesses who said they could hear the hounds ‘speaking’ (the noise they make when they are on a scent) and heard Lewis encouraging them using the voice-call ‘on-on-on’. Lewis claimed he never uses that call.
District Judge Callaway found the two men not guilty of an offence under the Hunting Act 2004. In his verdict he criticised the police’s handling of the case, stating that the substantial delay between the incident being reported and the police taking witness statements “cast an unwelcome and avoidable shadow over the case in general and the evidence in particular”.
A spokesperson for Devon County Hunt Saboteurs said:
“We are disappointed but not surprised by the verdict. Every week we witness hunts blatantly chase foxes but in court they are able to claim it was an accident. This is why we continue to take action on the ground to protect foxes. We also note the judge’s criticism of Devon & Cornwall Police’s handling of this case, and in particular his suggestion that the substantial delay in collecting witness statements from our sabs meant their eyewitness evidence could not be given the weight it might otherwise have been given. We chased the police every week over the course of those four months and can only hope that they will act to prevent such avoidable delays in future.”
Ex-Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has hosted the Lamerton Hunt, including Lewis and Frain, on previous occasions.
District Judge Callaway has presided over several other hunting cases. For example, he previously allowed the Master of the Tedworth Hunt to avoid cross-examination in court after his dog attacked a walker, saying to him that “you’re not the sort of person we ordinarily have in court”. And last year the same judge decided not to hear a case against the Isle of Wight Hunt because his only possible action was to fine them and the hunt “had no money”.
Mark Hankinson, director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, which is the governing body for registered packs of foxhounds in the UK, has recently been charged with intentionally encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence under the Hunting Act, following a series of webinars leaked by the Hunt Saboteurs Association. The Hunt Saboteurs Association say that these webinars “evidence a nationwide conspiracy by hunters to commit perjury and actively flout the ban on hunting with hounds”.
Footage and Press Release courtesy of Devon County Hunt Saboteurs