Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
If you live in the East of England, or in others areas of the country with a high density of hares, you will almost certainly have come across the signs of hare poaching which has become endemic in many areas. Gates blocked, ditches dug along roads, 4 x 4 tracks across fields, and hedges flattened. This is not the romantic poaching of yore when a local took his lurcher out to take a hare for the pot, but organised criminality carried out by people with no respect for private property or wildlife.
There is a great deal of confusion about hare poaching, coursing and the offences that are committed by people running, or intending to run, dogs on hares. First and foremost the activity being carried out by poachers bares no relation to coursing as carried out under National Coursing Club rules prior to the Hunting Act 2004. The use of pictures of pure bred greyhounds in red and white collars to illustrate stories about hare poaching reveal a complete ignorance of the reality of modern hare poaching, and how to tackle it.
Section 5 of the Hunting Act prohibits competitive coursing events in which dogs are judged on their skill in hunting hares, but this legislation is very seldom used as there is rarely evidence that a ‘competitive event’ has taken place. A significant number of people have been convicted of illegal hare coursing under Section 1 of the Hunting Act which prohibits the pursuit of any wild mammal with a dog. The Crown Prosecution Service, however, advise that hare poaching is prosecuted under the Game Acts which prohibit entering land to search for or pursue game. In this case there is no need to prove that hunting or coursing took place, just that there was trespass with the intention to do so.
The Game Acts, however, have a fundamental disadvantage for the police and prosecutors in that the seizure and forfeiture powers are inadequate in relation to vehicles and dogs, or for the police to reclaim costs when dogs are confiscated. To ease the prosecution of hare poaching offences we are recommending a package of practical actions. We are calling for the Government to:
Amend the law to give the police and courts full seizure and forfeiture powers in all cases of poaching under the game laws, in relation to dogs and vehicles.
Amend the law to enable the police to recover kennelling costs from convicted persons.
Extend criminal behaviour orders to enable courts to impose these over wider geographical areas, across police force areas.
Revise sentencing guidelines and ensure magistrates understand the full gravity of the offence.
Ensure that in recording crime statistics hare poaching prosecutions and convictions are identifiable, enabling a proper understanding of the scale of the problem and where resources need to be focussed.
We believe these proposals would help the police and prosecutors and make a real difference in tackling one of the most serious current rural crime issues.
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