What Next For The Avon Vale? Go Rogue Or Just Go?

Boxing Day Protest, 2022 - The Avon Vale meet at Lacock for the final time.

We have recently heard that the Avon Vale Hunt have had their final appeal rejected by the British Hounds Sports Association (BHSA).

avon vale hunt

As you will recall, the Avon Vale were filmed, on 20th December during the course of a weekday meet, digging out a brace of foxes; throwing the first one to the hounds before continuing the chase to hunt the second.

Kennel Huntsman and Whipper-in Aaron Fookes lifts the first fox out of the sett and throws them to the hounds.
Kennel Huntsman and Whipper-in Aaron Fookes lifts the first fox out of the sett and throws them to the hounds.

The footage, filmed by Berkeley Hunt Whipper-in Harry Mayo was shared around various messaging apps eventually making its way to hunt saboteurs and making the national media back in February.

The leaked footage rocked the hunting world, and the newly rebranded former Hunting Office, The British Hound Sports Association (BHSA) was forced to take immediate action against the perpetrators in the face of national media and public outrage, terrified of appearing as corrupt as its predecessor, and desperate to appear like it has some control over the criminal gangs that operate under its umbrella. The hunt was summoned to a disciplinary meeting by the Hound Sports Regulatory Authority (HSRA) who form the regulatory body for the BHSA, and this took place on 9th February.

On 10th February, the day after this disciplinary hearing, the BHSA announced they had suspended the hunt from all hunting activities on an ‘interim basis’. All the Masters and the Kennel Huntsman, along with Acting Chairman Andrew Edwards, gave their evidence. They were dismissed and all given two weeks to make any further representations with regards to the proposed sanctions.

The HSRA met again on 27th February. The purpose of this meeting was to consider the representations received by the panel from the Avon Vale committee, as well as any representations made by the individuals sanctioned. The outcome of this meeting would then be to formally issue those sanctions.

At this meeting, the panel heard representations which were made by the hunt secretary, Nicola Simpson, a letter written with the authority of the hunt, which they pleaded for a lesser sanction than those proposed in the earlier meeting.

Essentially this letter consisted of the usual faux-condemning of the activities seen in the leaked video, and of course regret for being caught the serious damage done to the already dire image of trail hunting. The letter then went on to plead on behalf of the local community and the effect a dissolution of the hunt would mean.

The BHSA heard the hunt’s pleas but rejected them, and applied the sanction. The Avon Vale Hunt was permanently barred from membership.

Huntsman and Master Stuart Radbourne along with new Master Richard Taylor also gave representations in regards to their individual sanctions. Taylor, who was not present on the day the foxes were dug out, was successfully given a lesser sanction of a three season suspension, Taylor also works as a Farrier and it is understood there are likely also consequences for him involving the FRC (Farriers Registration Council).

Radbourne, who wrote a letter to the panel, was found by the panel that he “did not engage with the seriousness of what occurred or his responsibility”. His sanction was not reduced and he received a permanent suspension. We can only imagine what his letter contained but clearly zero accountability for his actions was to be found within it.

 Huntsman Stuart Radbourne excitedly runs back to his horse to continue the chase onto the second fox.
Huntsman Stuart Radbourne excitedly runs back to his horse to continue the chase onto the second fox.

Senior Master, Mike Smith, following the hunt in his vehicle that day, was also given a lifetime suspension, Smith did not make any representations, he is a longstanding master of the hunt and this was exceptionally damning for him, the panel said that “we consider that this was unlikely to have been an isolated incident. The failure of the Hunt’s management to ensure adherence to the core principles and rules is clear”.

This pretty much confirms they know that he has encouraged illegal hunting at the Avon Vale for the last two decades.

Wiltshire Sabs reported on Mike Smiths permanent suspension in early March
Wiltshire Sabs reported on Mike Smiths permanent suspension in early March

Kennel Huntsman and Whipper-in Aaron Fookes, who was seen in the video throwing the first fox to the hounds, did not make any representations with the Panel noting “There is little to be said in mitigation”. Nice little sum up of Fookes role in this.

Fookes (left) with Radbourne
Fookes (left) with Radbourne

The Avon Vale were given a further two weeks to then appeal the formal decision. They were given a date of the 13th March, and they did indeed make a further appeal against the sanctions given.

We now know that the BHSA considered the appeal, and rejected it – the original decision to permanently bar the Avon Vale Hunt stands. As far as the BHSA are concerned the Avon Vale is finished, for good.

So what now?

We know that the BHSA stated that the AV hounds were to be drafted to other hunts, and it is understood that is already happening. We doubt all will survive the draft. The hunt continued with its flesh round whilst it awaited this final decision. But this has now become unviable, with no hounds to feed, as well as garnering favour with local farmers and landowners, the other primary purpose of fallen stock is to provide meat for the hounds.

The fact they have any options in relation to continuing at all, shows us that the BHSA isn’t fit for purpose. What point is a regulatory and disciplinary body that cannot actually stop them reforming?

Within the hunt we know they are discussing several ways forward, including going rogue – to become an unaffiliated pack is certainly on the cards, and not impossible, but to do so would require the support of local landowners, but who would risk their reputation, businesses and potentially a criminal record to permit known wildlife criminals to hunt on their land.

Their other option is of course bloodhounds, but with their history, given that their hunt staff were also hunting drag at the Berks and Bucks, even that seems unlikely, why would the Masters of Draghounds & Bloodhounds Association entertain these crooks, even more so whilst they are in the middle of a serious police investigation into wildlife and animal welfare offences.

Materially, the hunt is not particularly wealthy, certainly nothing like bygone years, but they do own their own kennels which are held in trust. There are four trustees that are named on the deeds, namely;

  • Charles John Eric Bartholomew, the current Chairman and Managing Director of Wadworth And Company, a large brewery and pub chain. Bartholomew also provides a meet location and land for the hunt at his substantial property at Mill House, Bulkington.
  • Sir James Henry Fleetwood Fuller, non-executive director of Fuller, Smith & Turner, a pub and hotel chain giant. Fullers Neston Park Estate owns most of the land in and around Neston where the Avon Vale often hunt.
  • Robert Mervyn Fear of London Bridge Farm, Wingfield.
  • Robert Charles Floyd of Great Chalfield Manor, a National Trust Property which is funded by the NT in exchange for a limited number of open days every year.

It is further complicated by terms of the trust, which stipulate foxhounds must always be kennelled for the hunt to continue, and not any other breed of hound. Wadworth Brewery are desperate to distance themselves from the AV, is it really in their interest for the brewery chains’ Chairman to continue to facilitate them at the kennels or on his land.

Wiltshire Hunt Saboteurs said:

“Whatever the Avon Vale decide to do in the coming days and weeks, one thing is for certain, we will be watching. Our message to any landowner that permits these wildlife criminals to regroup on their land is a simple one; expect us”.

Boxing Day Protest, 2022 - The Avon Vale meet at Lacock for the final time.
Boxing Day Protest, 2022 – The Avon Vale meet at Lacock for the final time.

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