Bonner's attack on the RSPCA for having the temerity to prosecute the high-and-mighty Heythrop Hunt for numerous, flagrant
breaches of the Hunting Act gives, as one might expect from this fervently pro-hunt apologist, a highly distorted impression
of the facts and the reasons why this prosecution was brought by the Society.
The Heythrop are just one of several Hunts
in the area covered by the group of volunteer monitors who captured the numerous pieces of film that forced the Hunt to plead
guilty to as few charges as they thought they could get away with. But, though the monitors will say that all of them
appear to engage in illegal hunting of foxes, the Heythrop is by some way the most blatant. Since they were providing
the strongest evidence, it was natural for the monitors to concentrate on them.
Over the past few years monitors
have passed similar evidence to the police no fewer than thirty times against the Heythrop and other Hunts to
that which this time led the Heythrop to plead guilty. Every time but one they were fobbed off. On that occasion, the CPS
accepted that there was adequate evidence to charge Julian Barnfield, the Heythrop huntsman, with four separate counts
of illegal hunting. Other Hunt members could also have been charged - anyone who 'engages or participates' in illegal
hunting is guilty - but in those days it was usual just to charge the one or two persons most obviously in charge of the hounds.
As seems to be commonplace when hunters are charged with anything, the trial was delayed. Then the Exmoor FH Huntsman, Tony
Wright, appealed against his earlier conviction and the CPS postponed Barnfield's cases pending its outcome. When
the Judge, early in 2009, allowed Wright's appeal, he also made a number of rulings on the interpretation of the
Act that were favourable to the Hunt side, making it even easier than ever for Hunts to exploit the lax wording and numerous
loopholes of the Act. Not only did the CPS feebly decide not to appeal against these rulings - many of which clearly
contradicted what the framers of the Act intended - but they also used it as an excuse to drop all their pending cases
against organised Hunts, including Barnfield's charges. Rather than 'failing', as Bonner would have it, monitors
would assert that these charges were speciously dropped, probably for political reasons. It might also be noted
that we have evidence to show that David Cameron intervened in the case on Barnfield's behalf - though this would surely
not have influenced the CPS decision.
The monitors obtained more footage of what they were convinced was illegal
hunting by the Heythrop, evidence that should be good enough to convict, in the 2010/11 hunting season. Having by now
lost all faith in the police/CPS ability or willingness to prosecute, they turned to the RSPCA. The Society's lawyers
examined all the evidence and agreed that it was strong enough to sustain two charges against the Huntsman. It is part of
the role of the Society to prosecute all and any cases of cruelty to animals where the evidence warrants - and they save the
State a huge amount by taking on this role.
Again, the case was long delayed and by that time the RSPCA had been
presented with a much larger file of even stronger evidence against the Heythrop, based on monitoring in the 2011/12 season,
which their lawyers advised should be taken on. So, the two 2010/11 charges against Barnfield did not 'fail', it was
simply that the RSPCA made a pragmatic decision not to pursue them because of the much larger case now pending against him
and the Heythrop. I understand they remain 'on file'.
Coming to the recent case, there were 45 charges taken
into court against the Heythrop Hunt itself and four of its senior members, based on no fewer than 10 separate instances across
the 2011/12 season. The Heythrop vehemently denied all the charges until, late in the day, they announced they would
plead guilty to 12 of them. This was clearly a pre-meditated strategy, since it would have been obvious to them when
they saw the filmed evidence, in the Spring, that their goose was cooked. By maintaining their 'not guilty'
pleas for so long, however, they were able to avoid themselves having to rack up mountainous legal fees for the preparation
of cases they actually had no intention of defending, while forcing the RSPCA into doing just that, adding to costs already
quite high because of the meticulous examination of hundreds of hours of monitor footage and numerous statements necessary,
not to mention the expense of disclosing all this evidence to the defence. And by agreeing to plead guilty to 12 charges,
the Heythrop effectively forced the RSPCA into not proceeding with the rest. One effect, highly desirable and
'political' to the Hunt, was that Vanessa Lambert, a Joint Master, and daughter of the Chairman of the Master
of Fox Hunts Association, escaped without having to plead to or defend the several charges against her. Monitors
will assert that the evidence in all the dropped cases was so powerful that convictions would probably have resulted.
concede that all this was a very clever stratagem on the Hunt's part, but most people would surely not think it very ethical,
and even less so to then castigate the RSPCA for engaging in expenditure, much of which they themselves had essentially tricked
or forced them into. No surprise there, though.
As to the RSPCA employing high-charging external lawyers, anyone seeking
to prosecute Hunts is effectively forced into doing this, because they know that the Hunt side will use the best money can
by, backed as they usually are by the bottomless pockets of the Countryside Alliance, an organisation which, it seems, carelessly
squandered millions in various always-doomed attempts to have the Hunting Act declared invalid. In this case, the Hunt itself
could doubtless have called upon the largesse of their many multi-millionaire members and donors - had they thought they stood
any real prospect of successfully defending the charges.
There is no doubt at all that Hunts up and down the country
employ various ruses and exploit various loopholes to continue hunting live quarry much as they did before the ban, and bamboozle
police forces into not acting against them, though the latter are usually reluctant to get involved anyway. The Heythrop
case is by far from the first where the Hunts' contention that they were 'trail hunting', and just suffered
occasional 'accidents', has been exposed as a sham.
The difference in the previous cases - the Fernie in 2011
and the Crawley & Horsham and the Meynell this year - was that the presiding judges saw through their flimsy pretences
and condemned the evidence they gave in that respect as the 'cynical subterfuge' that it was. Here, however,
Judge Pattinson barely criticised the self-confessed offenders at all, and made his pro-hunt sympathies evident to everyone
by criticising the Society and questioning the Act itself, neither of which were really within his remit. Numerous complaints
about his remarks have already been submitted to the appropriate authority.
Nor did he seek, as one would expect a judge
to do in such circumstances, to praise the immense dedication and courage necessary on the part of the volunteer monitors
in collecting the huge volume of powerful evidence that showed conclusively that one of the most prestigious Hunts in the country
had not just been repeatedly and blatantly engaging in the illegal hunting of foxes, but also lying about it.
not only have to devote a huge amount of time and expense into doing the police's work for them, but, always hugely outnumbered, they
have to bear repeated assaults, threats, harassment, obstruction, vile abuse and property damage from thuggish hunt followers
and riders alike. No fewer than 14 Heythrop supporters have been convicted or cautioned for such offences in the last 6
years. A small mountain of evidence of all this, and of the Heythrop's recent criminal and past, suspicious, hunting activity,
can be accessed on the website of Protect Our Wild Animals http://www.powa.org.uk/
. One would have expected the Judge and the media to laud and heroise them, but no, the Hunts can do apparently do no wrong
in their eyes.
The long overdue Hunting Act was passed with overwhelming public support, and repeated polls over decades
had showed large majorities for a ban obtained in all areas, classes and categories of the population, including rural
dwellers. They expect the law prohibiting the chasing and killing of wild mammals for 'sport' to be upheld. The bulk
of the tiny, but highly vocal, rich and powerful hunting minority, however, made no secret of their intent to disregard the
law and continue their vile and vicious pastimes, much as they now seek to pretend they are 'hunting within the law'.
In the reporting of the Boxing Day Hunts we shall doubtless once again be treated to the usual nauseating coverage of the
meets, the 'chocolate box' portrayal of gangs whose one real intent and desire is to go out into the countryside
to terrorise and slaughter wildlife for fun. Their accounts of numbers 'supporting' them will be reprinted without
question, their assertions that they do nothing but innocently 'trail hunt' taken at face value, despite
the ever growing evidence that it is all a massive fraud.
Somebody has to stand up for truth, justice and the rule of
law in the hunting field, somebody has to defend the defenceless. The police will rarely do it, the CPS will rarely do it
- and as for the media - don't make me laugh. Thank goodness, then for the monitors, and the RSPCA. I
close with a quote from Gavin Grant, their forthright CEO, who has refused to be browbeaten by the vitriol poured upon himself
and his organisation by a panicked and affronted hunting lobby - 'This was deliberate, repeated, intentional abuse
of animals in breach of the law. That's what it was and that's what they were convicted of. These people are wildlife