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Tim Bonner: Hunt sabs convicted

Last week's conviction of five hunt saboteurs at Loughborough Magistrates Court for threatening and punching a 15-year-old girl and two men aged 61 and 52 years old, who were following a trail hunt in Leicestershire back in January, is very welcome but it also leaves a string of questions. The gang involved is particularly notorious and has been indiscriminately terrorising rural communities across the North West, North Wales and the West Midlands for several years. They dress in black paramilitary style, wear balaclavas and face coverings, and resort to threats and abuse at the slightest opportunity. They represent a strand of violent extremism which is aimed only at intimidating those they have identified as enemies for reasons of prejudice and politics. Have no doubt, these people have no interest in animal welfare and those who gave evidence against these thugs at trial should be particularly commended for their bravery.

Whilst some of those involved have previous convictions it is difficult to believe that the sort of behaviour this gang exhibits would have been treated with such tolerance in many, if any, other areas of life. Three years ago we highlighted appalling behaviour by the same gang at the home of a mother who did not even have any connection with the local hunt yet the police and prosecuting authorities have not managed to stop such activity. It sometimes seems that hunting is treated as completely unique, whether in terms of policing or politics, and the behaviour that would be completely unacceptable in relation to any other activity suddenly becomes relatively normal.

We need to be clear that they are not normal, and that assault and harassment are crimes wherever they are committed. We also have to understand, however, that very obvious and visible evidence of trail hunting is an important element in allowing the police to intervene to stop this sort of harassment. Anti hunt activists will always revert to spurious allegations of illegal hunting and countering those claims is an important step in helping the police prosecute saboteurs.

Meanwhile, that part of the anti-hunting movement which likes to try to pass itself off as respectable has questions to answer about its relationship with groups like this. For far too long animal rights thuggery has been tacitly supported by animal rights charities. Those who claim to 'monitor' hunts in a lawful way have the right to do so, but their engagement with thugs like those convicted in Loughborough betrays a motivation which has everything to do with deeply held prejudice, and nothing about the welfare of animals.

The five men will be sentenced on 5 September, which should give ample opportunity for every respectable organisation, regardless of its views on hunting, shooting and animal welfare, to condemn mindless thuggery in the countryside.

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