The recent not-guilty verdict for former Puckeridge huntsman, Arun Squire, has demonstrated perfectly, why Hunt Saboteurs are still focusing our efforts on fox hunts nearly 20 years after the ban on fox hunting was codified.
Drone footage captured by our group, demonstrably shows the hunts hounds, in the presence of Squire, chasing and killing a fox, near Brent Pelham, Herts, in December 2021. Yet despite the strong video evidence and first hand verbal testimony given by East Herts Sabs, despite Squire changing his spoken evidence on the stand, despite the contradictions of Neil Macleod, the apparent “trail layer” on the day in question, the District Judge was unable to return a guilty verdict. This is because the evidence did not show Squires “encouraging the hounds over a considerable distance.” This, in combination with a(nother) gaping hole in the act in that the actual killing of a wild mammal is not illegal (in an act that is supposed to protect wild mammals), allowed the smokescreen of “trail hunting” to descend once again, and the court was forced to accept the kill as an accident during a “trail hunt.”
When we left Stevenage Magistrates with our friends from Suffolk & Essex Sabs, on that sunny Tuesday afternoon last May, this author was not annoyed or disappointed. You see, as Hunt Saboteurs, we had already done our job – put the Puckeridge out of business.
In December 2022, we learned, after years of attention from Hunt Saboteurs, that this hunt is amalgamating with another regular target of ours, the Essex Farmers. This means the Puckeridge are out of business and the Essex Farmers are inheriting their former country and some if not all, tangible assets. The upshot we are concerned with is there will be one less pack of fox hounds out hunting next year – and this is the fundamental goal of Hunt Saboteurs.
Securing convictions for illegal fox hunting is good work, no doubt, but triumphant days in courtrooms do not stop fox hunting. The convicted undesirable simply pays a fine and carries on. Section 1 Hunting Act convictions are merely an occupational hazard, an inconvenience, to this particular breed of organised wildlife criminal.
At best, the benefits of reporting S1 HA offences are that we can use the evidence to lobby local police forces and any convictions secured can increase media attention. Neither of these benefits the hunted fox in the short term, however.
At worst, a small scattering of S1 Hunting Act convictions each season could essentially prop up this feeble law, as they allow the hunting lobby to claim the act works in catching what they would have the public think are a few bad apples, while thousands of days of illegal hunting can still take place every season.
For us, the comments made by both the District Judge and the CPS barrister at the end of the trail, were worth more than a guilty verdict. The judge was very unimpressed by the Huntsmans’ defence;
“If I had to find a verdict on the balance of probabilities, I would find the hunt acted illegally.”
“Arun Squire behaviour was deeply suspicious.”
CPS barrister: “If this was a murder trial, the evidence probably would have been strong enough.”
We will be using the judges’ comments, combined with our footage in our lobbying to get the Hunting Act strengthened. We need the Hunting Act to be so strong, that its very existence will stop a fox hunt from even trying.
In the meantime, we look forward to continuing working with Suffolk & Essex Saboteurs and South Cambs Saboteurs, in ridding Essex and Hertfordshire of all fox hunting over the coming years.
Thanks to North London Hunt Sabs for this web post. You can support their work at www.paypal.com/paypalme/northlondonhuntsabs