Until I joined West Mercia Police, I knew very little about hunting. While growing up in Chipping Norton I worked at The Fox Hotel washing pots and polishing the floors. On Boxing Day the hunt would meet at the entrance to the hotel and we would take sherry out to the riders before they all trotted off along West Street and up the Burford Road.
I think that’s how probably most people thought of the hunt, smartly dressed posh people parading on a special day. It was part of Christmas.
I have to admit, as a police officer The Hunting Act in 2004 came in and completely passed me by. I was not aware of any of my local hunts in my area of Surrey (Egham). We were given no training or input about the act and so I had no idea of the implications of it.
It was probably only about 8 or 9years ago that I first had to even think about it. There were more and more instances of hunts phoning to report problems with ‘anti’s’, ‘sabs’ or ‘animal rights activists’. We, (front line police) would be sent out to see what was happening. We were told to report back details of vehicles and occupants that we obtained. These would then be looked at by Special Branch. (SPECIAL BRANCH)?
Complaints from the hunt ‘monitors’ about illegal hunting would be lucky to get a uniformed constable, (who knew nothing/zero/zilch about the hunting act) to turn up but Special Branch were interested in all hunt monitors/protestors.
This didn’t seem to make sense!
There appeared to be somewhat of a vicious circle. The hunt monitors were trying to prevent and report incidents of illegal hunting. Hunters would phone the police and report ‘criminal behaviour’ by the ‘sabs’. The police would turn up and treat the hunt monitors as the criminals. Hunt monitors would, quite rightly, think the police were ‘siding’/in the pockets of the hunters. Hunt monitors would be, at best, very cautious with the police but extremely guarded, filming what police, (who didn’t know their powers) were doing. This in turn would aggravate the police who continued treating hunt monitors as the criminals. Hunt monitors became more and more guarded against the police sometimes covering their faces, wearing dark clothes, police would look at them and their police brains would definitely tell them that they were up to no good…..(Well, that’s how I saw it).
But crucially, police were not encouraged in any way to deal positively to reports of illegal hunting. Interestingly we had a talk from an officer who worked for The National Wildlife Crime Unit. He came to Hereford Police Station. During the talk he told us that the only wildlife crime they would not deal with was anything to do with hunting! Why should that be?
About 6 or 7 years ago I was asked to attend an incident of ‘hunt sabs’ causing problems in the Ross area. A member of The Ross Harriers Hunt had called this in. I attended but the hunt had moved off. As I drove down a nearby road a local resident flagged me down. I stopped and he told me that he couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed. He said he had been gardening at his house. He noticed a Landrover at the end of his garden on the road. He said that as the hunt rode past the leader of the hunt bent down, looked inside the back of the Landrover and said, “Look, they’ve got a fucking wog in the back”. The local resident couldn’t believe what he had witnessed.
I then continued after the hunt and found a black female hunt monitor who confirmed what the local resident had told me. I later arrested the Master of the Ross Harriers for Racially aggravated public order and he was subsequently found guilty at Hereford Magistrates Court by a District Judge. (Subsequently found not guilty on appeal at Worcester Crown Court….but thats another story).
Before the initial court case, rumours were spread in the local area about me having an affair with one of the hunt monitors!!! I wonder why they would want to do that then?
I knew that I would have to get a bit more knowledge on the hunting act and, in doing so slowly got some trust from some of our local hunt monitors.
But the hunting act I saw beggared belief. I’m still not sure that many people today and especially police officers, get it. So there’s this hunting act that bans hunting with more than 2 dogs………..unless they are hunting for rabbits or rats………
Now I don’t know about you but I don’t think a pack of hounds would know the difference (or give a shit) if they came across a rabbit a rat, a fox or your pet cat. They are going to kill it. (Did someone really come up with this law)?
So……. if you come across a hunt who are quite obviously not following a trail because the hounds are flushing out a hedgerow or spending an hour or so in a small wooded area, that’s all they have to say is that they are looking for rabbits and rats…….and they comply with the law.
So, following this, if a hunt ever reported to me that hunt monitors were committing aggravated trespass on land, (Disrupting a lawful activity) if it was clear that the hunt were not following a trail, I would tell them that whether or not they were conducting a lawful activity was subjective. (ie, I could not stand in front of a Magistrate or Judge and say that I was satisfied that a lawful activity was being disrupted). Because I refused to take action this then obviously reinforced the rumour that I was ‘anti hunt’ and having the affair!!
There were then other events which took place which reduced my respect for this hunt. While hunting, the lead hound of The Ross Harriers Hunt, Arrow, lead the pack onto the A40 and was killed by a Dutch articulated lorry. I arrived minutes later. The young Dutch lorry driver said that he couldn’t believe it. The hound had caused substantial damage to the front of the lorry. It died instantly. The hunt surrounded the lorry, the hound was scooped up and the hunt moved on without giving any details to the lorry driver. When I caught up with the hunt, they denied any knowledge of the incident to start with. It was only later they agreed that the incident took place. Disgraceful behaviour.
Lastly, in 2015 in an attempt to help ‘legitimise’ one of our local hunt monitor groups, I came up with an idea to help them. I explained the problems with ‘police officer brains’ seeing ‘sabs’ with dark clothes, looking sinister, covering their faces. Essentially, hunt monitors were just the same as people involved in neighbourhood watch schemes, preventing and reporting criminal/unlawful/antisocial behaviour. I said, if it were me, I would wear a bright T shirt which explained clearly what I was doing. They agreed and thought this was a cool idea. They applied to the police to become a ‘watch’ scheme. Unfortunately their application was turned down by the chief constable, Anthony Bangham!!!! Why? Maybe this is explained later in this blog!!