Well, I say my investigation but as you’ve seen, most of the work had already been done by the Hunt Investigation Team. (HIT)
For me, it was a job to know where to start. I had some video footage, two suspects who had both made no comment interviews and the bodies of two of the fox cubs.
I found out who the Chairman of the South Hereford Hunt was and paid him a visit. I also found out that there were 4 other ‘Masters’ and again spoke to them. To say that they were all deeply worried would be an understatement. They knew that secret filming had taken place at the kennels. They also knew about the tracker on Parry’s vehicle. What they didn’t know, was how long that filming had been going on and the extent of the investigation and filming.
Had their vehicles been fitted with trackers? What other video footage had been captured? What else would be uncovered? I am sure that all of these and more questions were running through their minds, especially if they knew they had something to hide! In any event, to my surprise the other Masters did want to cooperate with the investigation, if for no other reason than to completely distance themselves from the crimes. They were all too aware of the gravity of the situation and the huge ramifications it would bring. They were all upstanding members of the community and had their personal reputations to protect.
In normal circumstances I’m sure they would have stood shoulder to shoulder to protect the reputation of the hunt, but they knew this was beyond the pale. Whatever their reasoning, their evidence would turn out to be fairly crucial.
What the other Masters said….
They said that Paul Oliver was the Master Huntsman, a hunt employee who was responsible for the hounds and the kennels. His partner Hannah Rose was also employed by the hunt as a kennel Maid/ Groom. They both started working for the hunt at the beginning of May, 2015. They lived in a house on the site of the kennels. They were the only paid employees of the hunt. Everyone else volunteered. Although Oliver had specific responsibility for the hounds and kennels, all of the Masters had joint responsibility for the running of the hunt. Oliver’s role would include looking after and training the hounds, picking up fallen livestock from farms in the surrounding area, then skinning and processing these. Some of this meat would then be used to feed the hounds. Oliver would then be responsible for the disposal of the remainder of the fallen livestock via a collection company. He would exercise and train the hounds and during the hunting season would hunt with the hounds twice a week. Hannah Rose was employed to assist with the hounds and to look after the hunt horses. On the evening of Saturday 28th May 2016 the Masters were made aware that Oliver and Rose had been arrested by police in respect of fox cubs being found at the kennels. They said they knew nothing more than this at the time. They said that on the following morning a meeting was held with the Chair, three of the four remaining Masters, (one was away), the Hunt Secretary and the Hunt Treasurer. Oliver and Rose were asked to attend and explain what had happened and the reason for them being arrested.
They said that Oliver claimed he had brought two fox cubs to the kennels for relocation. He said that he had not had time to relocate them and that they were having a DEFRA inspection on the 27th May. He said that he made the decision to dispatch the fox cubs. He was asked how he did this. He said that he hit them on the head with an axe. He also said that no hound DNA would be found on the fox cubs if they were tested. He was asked specifically and he said that he had not put the fox cubs in with the hounds. At one point Oliver said that if the hunt did not support him then he would seek legal advice!
He was asked if any other fox cubs had been brought to the kennels and he said that they had not. Oliver said that the quality of the video was not good and that you couldn’t even make out that it was him! He played down the incident. Rose supported Oliver in what he was saying although she seemed a lot more uncomfortable about it. The meeting then ended.
The hunt suspended Oliver and Rose during the following week. In their statement the other Masters said, ‘The evidence which has been filmed, suggests that Paul Oliver kept live fox cubs at the kennels and then put them, still alive, in with the hounds at the kennels. This is not a practice that is acceptable to The South Hereford Hunt’. All of the remaining Masters gave assurances that they were not aware that any fox cubs had been taken to the kennels. They said that they would never have allowed this had they known what was happening. They said they had not been aware that any fox cubs had been killed by the hounds at the kennels saying they would never have allowed this to happen.
Crucially, the other Masters wrote that they had been made aware that covert cameras were placed in the grounds of the kennels to secretly film what was happening. They wrote that, although no-one had permission to trespass on their land and place the covert cameras, it was only because this happened that this evidence had come to light. The South Hereford Hunt were therefore not seeking to question this trespass or the placing of covert cameras at the kennels without permission on this occasion. They said that The South Hereford Hunt did not condone what happened at the kennels in any way whatsoever and that they would be putting in place measures to make sure this could never happen again.
There was no evidence that the other Masters of The South Hereford Hunt were directly involved in these criminal offences. But, while I have no sympathy for Oliver or Rose, I can’t help but think that they were the scapegoats. There’s no doubt that there must be great pressure on ‘Huntsman’ across the country to ‘perform’. As the only paid people within the Hunt, they risk losing their jobs if they don’t. The other Masters and senior members of the Hunt wouldn’t necessarily care HOW the hounds perform……as long as they do.
With my limited knowledge and, I hope I’m not being completely naive about this, I also believe that it’s possible that the majority of the people hunting are unaware of the lengths gone to to make sure foxes appear on the day. Having observed the hunting within my area it appeared that the Majority of the Hunt are deliberately held back a long way behind the hounds, Huntsman and Whips. It is only when the hounds give chase to a fox that the rest of the Hunt get to catch up. They wouldn’t be able to see if the fox had been released from a man made earth, a bag or the box on the Terrierman’s quad bike!! Is it possible that many people within the hunts believe that they are trail hunting and when foxes ‘break cover’, this is a complete accident? Certainly, with the amount of foxes killed during ‘legal’ hunting, most people must think the countryside is awash with them!! ………….or AM I just being completely naive?