A prosecution against two men connected to the Crawley and Horsham hunt has been branded an abuse of process by Sussex magistrates. Former countryman for the hunt Daniel Howick and Jonathan Light, a gamekeeper, appeared at Horsham Magistrates Court yesterday (20 January) to face allegations that they had interfered with a badger sett. Animal rights activists Simon Wild, Jaine Wild and Terry Hill had accused the men of digging in an active sett when the hunt met at Balcombe on 15 January 2013. The men, who had been carrying out terrier work legally under the Hunting Act, denied the charges against them, and yesterday magistrates threw the case out after ruling that unacceptable delays in the prosecution case meant they would not receive a fair trial.
Despite the prosecution’s expert having examined the site of the alleged offence two days after the incident his report was not disclosed to the defendents for several months. This meant the defence’s expert could not visit the site until June. Even by the trial date some evidence had still not been seen by the defence.
Tim Bonner, director of campaigns for the Countryside Alliance said: “The hunt had been asked to remove a problem fox by a local estate. There was never any doubt that Mr Howick and Mr Light were carrying out pest control perfectly legitimately or any suggestion that the earth was an active badger sett. However totally unacceptable delays in the prosecution case meant that they did not have a fair chance to prove this in court.
“We are very pleased that the trial has been dropped and both men completely exonerated, but it is a great shame that such a groundless case was allowed to hang over these men for more than a year.”
And Antony Sandeman, joint-master of the Crawley and Horsham hunt, added: “It seems that this group of antis has the ear of Sussex Police and any allegations made by them, no matter how spurious, are taken very seriously. I’m delighted that the magistrates saw sense and threw out this allegation.”