I had been a Safer Neighbourhoods officer in Ross on Wye for 4 or 5 years prior to this event. I also lived in the area and as such I had a good knowledge of the community and many people living there.
On Thursday 26th May 2016 I received a call from a local Hunt Monitor. They asked if I would ring and speak to someone about a possible animal cruelty offence but didn’t elaborate any more than that. I agreed to do this and then phoned the number given. The person I spoke to said that they thought the RSPCA were going to be able to deal with the matter but failing that, they would get back to me. I was still none the wiser as to any detail. I documented this in my pocket note book and left it at that.
On the morning of Saturday 28th May 2016 I received another call from the same person asking if they could meet me to report offences of animal cruelty. At about 1430 hours on this day this person, (who I will call Andy) attended Ross Police Station.
Andy explained that they were a member of The Hunt Investigation Team, (HIT) and had with them two dead fox cubs in plastic bags along with some video evidence which had been secretly filmed at The South Hereford Hunt Kennels. HIT had apparently been trying to evidence that hunts remove foxes and cubs from shooting estates, (where they were obviously not wanted by the land owners), and were ‘re-homing’ them on hunting land. This is apparently common place in the ‘cubbing’ season around this time. This evidence would not only show that hunts were very much pro actively hunting foxes, but also dispel the myth that fox numbers needed to be kept down.
HIT obviously had the clear evidence that fox cubs were being brought to the hunt kennels and kept in a cage in the grounds. Unfortunately what the evidence showed was that instead of being re homed, the fox cubs were being taken into the kennels alive by hunt staff and then being brought out dead, having been bitten to death by the hounds. This was presumably some sick, crude attempt at giving the hounds a taste for fox. I found it staggering that this was being done in the name of sport, for no other reason than to try not to disappoint the next hunt meeting.
But then, if you think about it, what incentive do any hunts have to move away from illegal hunting? The Conservative Party have continued to promise a repeal of The Hunting Act, (which they will never do) They have every hunt hanging onto a mythical thread of hope that one day their ‘tradition’ will be reinstated. Well, why don’t we bring back hanging and slavery as well while we’re at it? Come on Conservatives, grow some balls and tell them its over. Stop giving them false hope. Tell them to move on and enjoy riding without the killing. They are waiting for you.
Andy told me that the HIT were not originally planning on going to the police as they had no faith in them but they had been given my name as someone who might possibly deal with the investigation fairly and impartially. I explained that I had never dealt with an animal cruelty investigation previously but that I would deal with it as fairly, impartially and transparently as I could. Andy said something along the lines of, “If you don’t get a conviction, it will just be a bigger story”. (No pressure there then).
I contacted my sergeant and the duty Inspector who, A)Neither of which had any idea about the animal cruelty law either and, B) Were both more than happy for me to crack on and deal with it. (The offence wasn’t on my policing area and so I needed to check if they were happy for me to deal knowing this). I explained that this was something that would get National Media attention. At any point my supervisors could have told me that the case needed to be dealt with by someone with more experience, but they didn’t.
I took the initial details from Andy while I was trying to get my head around the sequence of events and what had actually taken place. We then met with an RSPCA Inspector who attended Ross Police Station and he confirmed what offences had taken place. He was also going to arrange for the bodies of the fox cubs to be sent to a Veterinary Pathologist for postmortems.
Timing was crucial. I didn’t have the luxury of being able to sit behind my desk and examine all of the evidence. The fox cubs had been filmed being brought to the kennels by a local Terrierman, Nathan PARRY. There was a good chance he could have brought further cubs to the kennels which might have then been killed in the same way. I had to go to the kennels on this day to make arrests, obtain more evidence and potentially save any other fox cubs which may be there.
I attended the kennels that evening along with the RSPCA Inspector. I arrested Hannah Rose, a Kennel Maid who I had witnessed on the video evidence. She was the partner of the Master Huntsman, Paul Oliver who was not present at the time. Thank goodness there were no other fox cubs at the kennels. We obtained the evidence we needed and I conveyed Rose to Hereford Police Station.
Later in the evening Paul Oliver attended Hereford Police Station and I arrested him too.
I interviewed both suspects who answered ‘no comment’ to all questions put to them in interview. They were both then bailed to return to the police station at a later date.
On this same day I spoke to Hereford Superintendent Sue Thomas and fully appraised her of the offence. She too was quite happy for me to continue with the investigation.
I went home in the early hours of the following morning feeling relatively happy with the investigation so far but knowing there was a long way to go. My experience of the hunts was that they closed ranks for the sake of hunting and I knew that getting further information and evidence from the other Masters was probably going to prove difficult.