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Two hunt prosecutions fail

Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:

This week has seen Hunting Act prosecutions involving two hunts fail. The huntsman of the Portman hunt was found not guilty at Poole Magistrates, and three members of the Grove and Rufford hunt successfully appealed convictions in Nottingham Crown Court.

The detail of the cases is important, and I will come back to those in a moment, but perhaps even more important is the fact that it is now 3 1/2 years since anyone connected to a hunt has been convicted under the Hunting Act. This is not because Hunting Act convictions are rare or difficult. Hundreds of people have been convicted under the legislation, whilst the RSPCA states that "the Hunting Act is a workable, enforceable piece of legislation" and the League Against Cruel Sports says "the Hunting Act is a good law that can be successfully used to punish illegal hunting". It cannot be therefore that hundreds of hunts carrying out tens of thousands of days hunting many of them under scrutiny from these organisations can be regularly operating outside the law.

Yet, in a massive denial of logic, this is what some of those same organisations do now claim. Despite arguing that the law works, spending millions of pounds on surveillance and prosecutions and securing almost no convictions they still bombard politicians and others with claims that all hunting is illegal. Sadly this is utterly predictable, because as has been proved again and again the anti-hunting campaign is not about animal welfare or the law, it is about hatred of people who hunt.

The individuals who made the allegations against the Portman hunt have been pursuing hunts for decades as hunt saboteurs and paid employees of animal rights organisations. Whether hunting is legal or not, and what the hunt is or is not doing is of little relevance to them.

Meanwhile the Grove and Rufford case shows how this narrative can lead to miscarriages of justice and a ridiculous waste of public money. What we know is that 50 photographs taken by the main prosecution witness were not served to the defence and their existence was not even disclosed. Those photographs clearly supported the defence case that the hunt was operating entirely legally and took all reasonable steps to ensure that it did. Why those photographs were withheld is not clear, but the result is.

With access to only part of the evidence the CPS bizarrely chose to seek the advise of a discredited 'expert' witness Professor Stephen Harris, who himself failed to disclose his relationship with the League Against Cruel Sports in 2015 leading to the humiliating collapse of a private prosecution against another hunt. Professor Harris, as he does without fail, claimed that the hunt was operating illegally and the CPS prosecuted. Without the evidence to support their defence three members of the hunt were convicted, and it is only because of their persistence and the work of their lawyers and the Countryside Alliance that those convictions were overturned yesterday.

Professor Harris gave evidence and the Judge noted that, as usual, he "strayed into matters which should have been left to the court". It was the failure to disclose the photographic evidence that was the main reason that three innocent people have had to spend two years to clear their names, and that the taxpayer will foot a hefty bill.

As we have seen the assumption of illegal hunting promoted by anti-hunting organisations and its fellow travellers like Professor Harris is patently illogical. It cannot be allowed to have any part in the consideration of allegations against hunts which can otherwise lead to pointless, expensive and stressful prosecutions such as those that failed this week.

Tim Bonner
Chief Executive
Follow me at @CA_TimB

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