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Build on the Ban - Strengthen the Act
1  Questions & answers 
2. Comment from John Bryant 
3  Reform not repeal
4  Another season of recklessness

Questions & Answers

The Hunting Act is in place.  Don't we just need it to be enforced?    Fourteen years since the ban came into force, it is absolutely clear that hunts are continuing to send their hounds into cover where they know wild mammals are likely to be found.  Whenever they are caught chasing a wild mammal, they inevitably say they were "trail hunting", or flushing to a bird of prey under that exemption, and the pursuit was an "accident".  This situation must be rectified.  The insertion of a reckless behaviour clause into the Act would mean that the claim of an "accident" could no longer be used, as hunters would be guilty of an offence if they "caused or permitted" their hounds to chase live quarry.
Such a clause could also be used to ensure that 'searching' for a wild mammal with dogs falls under the definition of 'hunting'. It is clear that this is what the legislators intended, and that DEFRA originally believed was the case. However, in 2009, the High Court, upholding the appeal against conviction of the Exmoor FH Huntsman, declared that 'searching' was not ''hunting' within the meaning of the Act.  This left Hunts free to take hounds right up to where they know quarry is likely to be hiding or resting up, making a large number of 'accidents' inevitable and rendering it even more difficult to show that Hunts were wilfully chasing wild mammals. The Court also emphasised the necessity of proving intent on the hunters' part.  As a result of his judgement, the CPS, which failed to appeal against it, immediately dropped all their pending cases against organised Hunts and the evidential bar which must be cleared to make a prosecution, let alone conviction, possible was raised even higher than it was already.

Would a reckless clause put all dog owners at risk of prosecution?
    No, because the reckless behaviour clause would be modified by another stating that, if the dog was kept as a household pet, was being normally exercised, had never been used for hunting and that the walker made reasonable efforts to stop the dog pursuing the wild mammal, they would not have committed an offence.  Responsible dog owners would have no need to fear the law, but hunters would not be able to exploit this provision in order to escape prosecution.
Would the addition of a reckless behaviour clause to the Hunting Act be sufficient?    It is also necessary to close the loopholes currently being exploited by hunters.  The Gamekeepers' Exemption is being used as a cloak for terriermen to continue to operate within foxhunts as they always have.   The Falconers exemption is being exploited by fox hunters as it does not limit the number of dogs which may be used to flush quarry to a bird of prey.  During the cub hunting season [and, indeed, at other times], when packs of hounds are traditionally held in a covert and trained to kill fox cubs, fox hunts now take out a bird of prey, and claim, if challenged, that the hounds are flushing foxes from the cover to the bird.  In the opinion of hunt monitors, this is utterly false, the birds are usually incapable of killing a fox, and would be unlikely to fly at one. The falconers themselves strongly object to what the hunters are doing, and they also wish to see this loophole closed.
Also the exemptions which allow the retrieval of a shot hare and the hunting of rats or rabbits are being exploited by beagle packs because there is no limit on the number of dogs which may be used for these activities. Hunts suspected of using an entire pack of beagles for illegal hare hunting simply claim to be operating under one of these exemptions, or pretend to be just exercising hounds', whilst mink hunts claim their packs are hunting rats. The deer hunts are abusing the 'research and observation' example to continue chasing and killing red deer for 'sport'. (see 'At a Glance Guide'  for details of proposed amendments).
Tougher sanctions are also needed. It has become evident that the main penalty for illegal hunting under the Act, a fine, the average of which to date has been around just £500, has proved wholly inadequate as a deterrent.
POWA believes that, being legislation intended to protect wild animals from unnecessary suffering, the Act should include power to impose a prison sentence of up to 6 months, as is the case with the Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996 the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. The powers in the Act to order forfeiture of dogs or material used in committing a Hunting Act offence have never been used against organised Hunts, though they have been against trespassing offenders of the lurcher brigade, some of whom have also had their cars seized and crushed.
This may be partly because the provision only allows for dogs actually used in the commission of an offence to be seized. In most cases it would be next to impossible to prove which of the Hunt's dogs were involved. POWA argues that, in the case of organised Hunts, the power should be to order forfeiture of all the dogs belonging to the Hunt.  Section 10 of the Act allows for the conviction of a Hunt as a body corporate, but it is phrased in such a way as to make it extremely hard to prove. POWA believes that Hunts should be responsible for ensuring that their employees and officers do not hunt illegally and that they should be potentially liable for conviction under the Hunting Act if they do.
Where is the evidence of widespread law-breaking by the Hunts?    Hunt monitors and members of the public have made a considerable number of complaints to the police of illegal hunting which they have witnessed and, often, filmed. The overwhelming majority of these have been rejected, sometimes in the early stages by the police or the Crown Prosecution Service, sometimes after the police have gone to considerable trouble compiling the evidence. ACPO made it clear early on that hunting offences would be accorded a low priority, largely because the sanctions were so slight. As time has gone on police in many areas have ceased to respond adequately to such reports, perhaps because they know the chances of conviction are so remote. The League Against Cruel Sports has said that the majority of the Hunts that their professional investigators observe appear to be breaking the Hunting Act, whilst volunteer monitors and sabs say that almost all Hunts are flouting both the spirit and letter of the law.
Many Hunts go to great lengths to obstruct and harass monitors in order to hamper their filming illegal activity The issue always comes back to proving "intent", when the hunters have claimed an 'accident'. The levels of evidence currently being demanded to satisfy the needs of the Act are almost impossible to achieve. But POWA emphasises that the Act's wording and numerous loopholes allow Hunts to continue to chase and kill wild mammals either without breaking the law or with a very slight chance of being prosecuted should they do so. They can use hounds to search for quarry and once that has been found they are under no obligation to call hounds off only being culpable in law if they can be shown to have 'engaged or participated' in the chase. 

Doesn't a call to strengthen the Act just play into the hands of the hunters?   On the contrary. The thing that the hunters fear the most is a strengthening of the Act.  This is illustrated by the words of pro-hunt Conservative MP David Maclean, when addressing the crowd at the Peterborough Festival of Hunting in 2007.  Mr Maclean said "'This law will be toughened up if Labour wins another election. It is essential that we get political and help Vote OK to get the pro-hunting MPs into parliament.' 
Do the public wish to see the Act strengthened?    Polls consistently show that the public remain overwhelmingly in favour of hunting being banned and also that this opinion is shared by the majority in rural areas. Many are aware of the level of lawbreaking currently taking place. A poll conducted by the Exeter Express & Echo on 15-1-09 asking if the Hunting Act should be strengthened resulted in a vote of  86% in favour of strengthening, and only 14% against.  Recent national opinion polls have found over found 80% in favour of retaining the Hunting Act with only about 15% against. Giving the lie to hunters' constant claims to represent the countryside, the results from rural voters are almost exactly the same as urban ones.  Clearly those people would want an Act than can work properly.

Won't the police use the assertion that the Act is currently too weak as an excuse not to bother to enforce the ban?   In fact, the police long ago drew that conclusion for themselves and it is probably the main reason why there has been so little attempt by police to enforce the Act. Also, an ACPO representative has said that the low level of criminal sanctions provided by the Act was another factor that knocked its enforcement down their order of priorities.  At the present time public money is being wasted, as police officers work hard compiling evidence of illegal hunting, only to have the cases come to nothing as the CPS reject them on the grounds of the difficulty of proving "intent" or as often happens, drop the case before or even in court. A stronger Act would aid both police and Crown Prosecution lawyers in getting illegal hunting successfully prosecuted. The police are also concerned about the safety of hunt monitors, who try to gather evidence of illegal hunting and who suffer repeated verbal and physical abuse and property theft and damage from hunters. A more clear-cut law, with less onerous demands and, in particular not having to prove 'intent' on the hunters' part, would mean the monitors would be in a less dangerous position. 
POWA's campaign continues to encourage decision-makers to
Build on the Ban, Strengthen the Act

Comment from John Bryant, Animal Welfare & Wildlife Consultant to POWA
"The assertion from the hunting lobby that the Hunting Act should be repealed because it is 'flawed', is a nonsense.
 The Badgers Act 1973, which was enacted to outlaw the gruesome 'sport' of badger digging with dogs, had to be amended by three further Acts of Parliament over a period of nineteen years before all its loop-holes were plugged. 
If every law found not to be as effective as legislators intended was scrapped, the result would be a criminals' paradise.  The reason the Hunting Act contains loopholes big enough to drive a pack hounds through, is firstly because of Tony Blair's seven year prevarication over his 1997 manifesto commitment, secondly the refusal to agree to the inclusion of a proper definition of 'hunting with dogs', thirdly the failure to adequately consult those who best knew and understood the hunters and how they were likely to behave in response to the proposed legislation, and finally the House of Lord's abdication of its role of scrutiny and improvement of the Bill because the majority of its members objected to the principle of banning the hunting of wild animals for sport.
 The Hunting Act now needs strengthening so that it does exactly what it says on the can."  


Reform not Repeal


The Hunting Act - Reform Not Repeal


Whilst he was Prime Minister, the then Conservative leader and fox hunter David Cameron stated that the ban on hunting wild animals with dogs is being so widely flouted by hunters that the Hunting Act 2004, brought in by the Labour government, should be repealed. He promised to facilitate such repeal by arranging for Parliament to debate the issue all over again  - despite his Party’s previous outrage at ‘700 hours of Parliamentary time wasted’ on Labour’s manifesto commitment to ‘deal with the hunting issue’. The next PM, Theresa May reiterated Cameron's promise and appointed the fanatically pro-repeal Andrea Leadsom, who has described foxes as 'vermin', as DEFRA Secretary of State.

Mrs. May then called a general election in 2017 and stated during the campaign that she was in favour of fox hunting. The public backlash was considerable and post-election analysis showed that for the first time ever, the issue had had a measurable effect on how electors cast their ballots - and it cost the Tories votes. The PM - who had lost her majority in the Commons - then stated that they would not pursue Hunting Act repeal in that Parliament.   


Repeal, or further weakening, of the Hunting Act currently appears unachievable because around 50 Conservative MPs oppose it. But if the Conservatives are returned with a larger majority at the next election this may not be enough to save the Act. However, while the Hunting Act was of enormous symbolic importance, as it stands it is of limited value in preventing organised Hunts from chasing and killing live quarry much as they did before it was passed.

During the period of debates before the Hunting Act was made law a reported 60,000 hunt members and supporters publicly signed a ‘Declaration’ threatening civil disobedience if the hunting of wild animals was outlawed.  Therefore the widespread flouting of the ban on hunting is not surprising.   More surprising is the fact that two Prime Ministers have pledged to reward the law-breakers by repealing the Act! 


In truth, the Hunting Act is heavily flawed.  In an attempt to specifically target the ‘mischief’, i.e the use of dogs to chase and kill wild animals for entertainment or ‘sport’, still regarded by the majority of the public as ‘cruelty’, Parliament provided ‘exemptions’ in the Act to ensure that people using dogs in other countryside activities, such as genuine pest control, shooting, falconry or the study and rescue of wild animals, need not fear the anti-hunt legislation.  The undisputed targets of the legislation were ‘sports’ in which wild animals suffered the terror and exhaustion of a lengthy chase by dogs, or were savaged to death by dogs when they could run no further and, in the case of foxes, often subjected to protracted and very terrifying 'dig-outs' involving underground attacks by ferocious terriers. 


Thus, under a lengthy list of provisions and safeguards, certain forms of ‘hunting’ were declared ‘exempt’, such as using no more than two dogs to flush out a wild mammal into the open so that it could be immediately shot or using any number of dogs to flush out wild mammals from cover for the ‘sport’ of falconry.  Similarly, using dogs to hunt rabbits and rats was declared ‘exempt hunting’ because a chase of such species is generally short and any kill virtually instantaneous.


Once the Hunting Act became the law of the land, the hunting lobby did not offer themselves up for martyrdom by openly disobeying the law but declared that they would now ‘test’ it by using the ‘exemptions’ provided for other non-target dog users.


Stag hunters, for instance, would use pairs of hounds in ‘relays’, by flushing a deer out of cover, but not quite managing to shoot it before the deer ran into more cover, when two more hounds could be used to get it on the run again, not quite managing to shoot it, and so on and so on until the deer was hounded to exhaustion and then shot at point blank range with a sawn-off shot gun - the very practice which Parliament voted to outlaw.

A Court determined, a few years ago, that the use of the 'flushing' exemption [Schedule 1.1] to do this, by the Quantock Stag Hounds, was unlawful, because it was clear that the primary purpose was 'sport' and not 'pest control'. In response, deer hunts simply switched to using the less restrictive 'Research and Observation' exemption [Schedule 1.9] instead. Their use of this exemption has not since been challenged in court, although hunters have openly written of hunts lasting 2 hours.


Hare hunters could exploit the ‘exemption’ in the Act that permits dogs to be used to retrieve a shot hare by reportedly using packs of hounds to hunt and kill hares, and in the unlikely event of being challenged, simply claim that they are on a ‘mercy-killing’ expedition to ‘save’ a hare suffering from wounds caused by shooting. Or they simply pretend that they are not hunting hares but rabbits [exempt under the Act]. Despite the absurdity of this proposition - rabbits would instantaneously disappear underground - unless absolute evidence can be obtained, such as film of them actually setting hounds on a hare, they can get away with this pretence.


Mink hunters saw that their summer ‘sport’ of hounding mink to death on rivers, could be preserved by claiming that their pack of hounds was hunting rats – a completely ridiculous concept, but not easy to disprove.


Fox hunters exploit the ‘falconry’ exemption, by taking out a captive bird of prey with their pack of hounds.  True, falconers sometimes use a dog, possibly two, for flushing out rabbits or other small mammals to a trained bird of prey.  No falconer would ever use a pack of hounds, and no bird of prey would fly at a mammal in the presence of baying and boisterous dogs.  The birds of prey taken out by the hunters are usually Eagle Owls or Harris Hawks, neither of which would be likely to hunt foxes. Indeed, they would be unlikely to be willing to even tackle a fox,  let alone readily dispatch one. Severe injury and suffering to both would probably result from any combat between the species.  At present, the birds of prey are usually carried around by hunt terriermen on quad bikes, squashed into small containers, bumped around for much of the day and never actually used.

The official falconry bodies have openly derided and condemned fox hunters for bringing falconry into disrepute, as well as putting the birds at risk from being killed by the hounds.  But if challenged, the fox hunters can merely produce the miserable bird and defy anyone to prove they were not using the pack of hounds to flush out a fox for the bird to hunt.


The great bulk of fox hunts, however, are using an exemption that is not even mentioned in the Hunting Act – so-called ‘Trail Hunting’. They claim that their hounds are hunting a ‘trail’ laid across the countryside. It could be argued that this is merely ‘drag hunting’ - a harmless hound sport that has existed in Britain for as long as fox hunting - but drag hunting is a long way removed from ‘trail hunting’. 


Packs of hounds registered with the Masters of Drag & Bloodhounds Association follow an artificial scent trail deliberately laid across open country to avoid places where their hounds would be likely to come across wild animals. POWA is not aware of any reports of wild animals ever being 'accidentally' chased, let alone killed, by genuine drag hunts.


‘Trail hunting’ on the other hand is defined as ‘simulated fox hunting’ and the hounds are taken through fox coverts, copses, crops and hedgerows in exactly the same manner as they previously hunted foxes. For this purpose - and when they bother to lay any trails at all - the hunters use not artificial, but fox-based scents. They thus ensure that their hounds remain 'hard' to foxes - and that, if/when hounds come across a real, fresh fox scent they are likely to start following that rather then the 'trail'. Quite where they get all this supposed 'fox scent' from - if at all - remains a mystery. There are no significant sources of such in the UK and, although it can be obtained from abroad, where fox farming for fur persists, it would require import licences. POWA understands that no such applications have been made by Hunts, let alone granted. The irresistible conclusion is that the vast majority of purported trail laying is simply fraudulent Either it doesn't happen at all or it is simply mocked up.
Perhaps the single most depraved aspect of fox hunting occurs, largely in secret, with trusted hunt members only invited. It happens in the early mornings of late summer and early autumn. This is the cub hunting season. Though now euphemistically called 'Autumn Hunting', it is still widely practised. It is extraordinarily hard to monitor at all, let alone successfully.

Foxhounds always have to be trained to hunt foxes, just as do drag hounds to follow artificial scent trails. Young foxhounds are introduced into the pack to learn from the older, experienced hounds what to chase and how to kill. This is the purpose of cub hunting – the tradition of sending the young ‘entry’ of hounds into copses with the experienced old hounds to find fox cubs, whilst hunters surround the coverts to ensure they do not escape, and to chase them around until they catch them and tear them to pieces - to learn, in the words of the 8th Duke of Beaufort, 'to be savage with their fox'.

Without young hounds being encouraged and trained to hunt and kill foxes, fox hunters would either have to form genuine ‘drag hunts’ or risk regular prosecutions. At present, whether it is by genuine ‘accident’ or, more typically, ‘cynical subterfuge’, hounds are still chasing and killing young foxes in the cub hunting season because they are still being encouraged and trained to do so. Hunters are currently almost always able to avoid prosecution for cub hunting either by taking some miserable captive bird of prey out with them when they send their full pack of young and old hounds into cover, or by simply claiming that they were 'trail hunting', or even just 'exercising hounds', and asserting that any observed chase or kill of a fox was an 'accident'.

In the fourteen hunting seasons since the legal banning of hunting, fox hunts have very frequently been observed hunting and sometimes killing foxes. However, when such incidents are reported by members of the public, or recorded by hunt monitors or sabs, the hunters merely claim that it was an ‘accident’. The fox, they will say, had jumped up in front of the hounds, and, before they could manage to stop the dogs, it was ‘unfortunately’ pursued and perhaps torn to pieces - or run to ground.


Indeed, the Hunting Act does not actually place any obligation to stop hounds in such a situation, and the hunters are only at risk of prosecution and conviction if it can be shown that they intentionally 'engaged or participated' in the chase. The 2009 High Court decision in the successful appeal of the Exmoor FH Huntsman, who had been convicted of illegal hunting, determined that 'searching' was not 'hunting' within the meaning of the Act. This left hunters completely free to take hounds right up to where they had good reason to believe they would be likely to find quarry hiding or resting up, and they are very often observed doing this. No wonder then that there are so many 'accidents'.


But what about the foxes that sense the hounds are nearby? Don’t they pop down their ‘earth’?  Yes, as do many that have been chased, accidentally or deliberately. But every Fox Hunt still has the brutal ‘spade and terrier’ brigade accompanying them, even though using dogs to hunt foxes underground is illegal.  They are exploiting the ‘gamekeepers exemption’ which allows a single terrier to be used to flush out a fox to be shot for the purpose of ‘preventing serious damage’ to game birds being kept or reared for shooting.  

There is no requirement in the Hunting Act for the hunters to prove that foxes have been causing such ‘serious damage’ - unlike the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which states that this defence must be accompanied by evidence of such damage.  So the hunters simply point to the local tame landowner who only has to say he invited the terrier-men to flush out the fox and shoot it because he likes to have a few pheasants to shoot for the pot. 


Terriermen with Hunts are often seen engaging, or attempting to engage, in dig-outs of foxes that the hounds have driven to ground, much as they did pre-ban. This has much more to do with 'sport' than genuine 'pest control'. Though the 'Gamekeepers' Exemption' has a Code of Practice attached to it which proscribes how terriermen are to carry out their 'underground hunting' neither it nor the Act itself address, let alone ban, digging out.


Thus Fox Hunting, in all its gore, continues almost unchanged, in defiance of the clearly expressed will of parliament and public. At the latest time of asking, late in 2016, 84% of the public supported the retention of the Hunting Act [which the vast majority think has actually banned hunting for 'sport'].  


In order to convict someone of hunting a wild mammal with a dog, the current Act demands proof that the person[s] charged wilfully took part in the pursuit of the mammal by the dog[s]. This is because words such as ‘caused or permitted’, which are common in legislation outlawing acts of cruelty or killing, have been omitted.  

If it was illegal to ‘cause or permit a dog to hunt, attack, injure or kill a wild mammal’ and a hunter enters hounds into areas where he knows, or ought to know (because the Hunt had found foxes there for decades before) they were likely to find and chase or kill a fox, then he could be charged with ‘causing or permitting’ the offence - through recklessness. The same applies to other forms of quarry hunting. It should induce Hunts to adjust their current form of 'trail hunting' to something much more like genuine drag hunting [or just close down if they don't fancy that because it is, as a pro-hunt Tory MP once said, 'like kissing your sister' - bloodless and passionless] and make it much less likely that they will 'accidentally' chase and/or harm wild mammals.

The prosecution would not have to prove that the hunter intended the dogs to hunt wild quarry. It would be enough to show recklessness.  The body of statute law is replete with offences for which it is only necessary to show reckless behaviour to convict. For instance, many motorists are convicted of causing death or injury in accidents involving reckless behaviour on their part, whether it be driving under the influence of drink or drugs, speeding, talking on a mobile phone etc. The courts don’t have to consider whether the driver actually intended to kill or injure someone.  Similarly, a person who causes their child, or domestic animals, to suffer can be convicted of cruelty by neglect, or even ignorance, irrespective of whether they intended to cause suffering.

It seems that the penalties provided under the Hunting Act are insufficient to deter organised hunters from offending. Fines of can be imposed, but the average of such sanctions against convicted members of organised Hunts have been only around £500, a pittance when you realise that the Countryside Alliance with their bottomless pockets, or a wealthy Hunt Master, can and will happily pay them and court costs. Indeed, in 2013, two offenders were just given Conditional Discharges.

An ACPO spokesman has stated that the low seriousness accorded to Hunting Act offences is a significant reason why police accord such low priority to investigation and enforcement. This attitude seems also to influence some judges and magistrates in sentencing. Nor are Hunting Act offences 'recordable', further reducing deterrence, since conviction does not result in a criminal record.

The Hunting Act was intended to protect wild mammals from the infliction of the unnecessary suffering that is inevitable, perhaps intentional, in hunting with dogs for 'sport'. Logically, the Act should contain penalties similar to that in other animal projection legislation.

Although the Animal Welfare Act 2006, for instance, allows for much stiffer sanctions, the Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996 is perhaps the most appropriate comparison. This allows for a fine of up to £5,000, and/or a prison term of up to 6 months. POWA believes that the Hunting Act should carry penalties of no lesser magnitude. This would automatically make Hunting Act offences 'recordable'.

Perhaps as importantly, Hunts should be made responsible for the actions of their employees and official in the hunting field via what is called in law 'vicarious liability'.

Because domestic animals are inevitably used in the commission of Hunting Act offences, consideration should also be given to adding a power to disqualify offenders from keeping or owning animals, even if it could only be used against serial offenders. This should present a significant deterrent to hunt staff in particular.

The Hunting Act 2004 was intended to prevent certain wild animals being unnecessarily hounded and savaged to death by dogs.  It has been used successfully to convict between several hundred offenders – but these are mostly trespassing hare-coursers, badger diggers and poachers caught by the police acting on information supplied by members of the public.  

The number of successful prosecutions of members of organised Hunts is tiny in comparison, and many of them have been achieved through private prosecutions by animal welfare societies, several through evidence supplied by voluntary hunt monitors and sabs dedicated enough to spend a huge number of hours in the field and brave enough to risk the obstruction, abuse, harassment, threats, damage or theft of property and violence commonly meted out by hunt followers and staff.

Monitors' or sabs' mere presence may have some effect in restraining Hunts from attempting to chase and kill wild animals, though some Hunts continue to do just this, even though they know cameras are being trained on them. Yet, even when they have hunted openly and been filmed, monitors and sabs have still usually been unable to persuade the authorities that there are sufficient grounds to prosecute.

But monitors can never hope to cover more than a small fraction of the more than 250+ Hunts in England and Wales. There have been more than 200,000 hunting days since the Act came into effect, and, judging by what monitors and sabs have witnessed of Hunts' behaviour over those years, offences will have been committed on a very large proportion of those days, and Hunts seem to be becoming ever more brazen.  But there have been just 47 members of organised Hunts [and one whole Hunt] convicted of illegal hunting since it became a crime in 2005. This is an astonishingly low offence to conviction ratio. A table detailing all such prosecutions of persons from organised Hunts in England and Wales can be found on our website page 'Post-ban prosecutions of organised hunters'.

The Hunting Act has, so far, largely failed to curb the powerful and organised group of criminals whose activities were the main target of the entire democratic and Parliamentary action.  Parliament now needs to demonstrate that its authority cannot be thwarted by any group of people – no matter how well-funded, no matter how highly placed their friends and no matter how much land they control. The Hunting Act needs to be amended so that it does what it was intended to do – prevent the unnecessary suffering of wild mammals in the name of bloodsports. The Act should certainly not be removed from the statute book. When criminals circumvent the law, it should be strengthened to stop them, not repealed to reward them.


John Bryant   POWA Animal Welfare & Wildlife Consultant
Alan Kirby, M.Sc   POWA Press & Research Officer



Another Season of Recklessness


Hunters Begin Another Season of Recklessness

The Collins dictionary defines the word “reckless” as “having or showing no regard for danger or consequences. A reckless driver would suffer the consequences if his actions resulted in injury to others and a reckless person in charge of dogs would have to suffer the consequences if the dogs attacked someone. Both of these offenders would no doubt say that they did not intend to cause the harm, but their reckless behaviour and their lack of responsibility would be punished regardless. We all know this and live with it as part of the normal workings of the law.

If you are a foxhunter in this country, where hunting has been illegal since 2005, you need have no such qualms, because the Hunting Act does not contain a reckless behaviour clause, or those three magic words “cause or permit” which are contained in so much legislation. Hunt monitors nationally have submitted to the police many pieces of clear filmed evidence of hounds chasing and killing foxes, which have been rejected by the Crown Prosecution Service because the hunts have claimed the incidents were “accidents”.

As the foxhunts enter their ninth season since the Hunting Act came into force, the media is full of the hunters’ hubris. It is worth studying some of their claims.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph on 30th October 2009, the Treasurer of the Exmoor Foxhounds says “The art of the trail hunt is to replicate as much as possible an actual fox hunt.” The Huntsman, adds “Four trail setters run across fields, through ditches and over hedgerows in an effort to mirror the movements of a hunted animal.” The article states “On the morning of today’s hunt, teams are out laying a number of trails and [the Huntsman] has only a slight idea where they will start and finish.”

So foxhunts claim to mimic a genuine fox hunt by laying the scent through ditches and hedges – precisely where foxes are likely to be found. Surely this is recklessness of a high order.

We further learn that the Huntsman, the man actually in charge of a pack of around 40 unleashed dogs, has only a “slight idea” where these trails have been laid. So what if the hounds are running on cry, clearly hunting? Should they be stopped because they are onto a fox which they’ve found in these ditches and hedges, or is it just a trail? The Huntsman claims not to know! Utter recklessness, endangering not only the foxes but also the general public as hounds may career onto roads and into gardens after what proves to be – surprise surprise – a fox.

Horse and Hound, the hunters’ bible, has just run an article entitled “What all huntsmen need to know”. In this, the Huntsman with the Exmoor Foxhounds, says “Since the 2004 Hunting Act, I have to be confident before I leave the meet that I’ll have enough evidence to use in my favour should it be necessary to defend my actions in a court of law. A good way to end a line is to stuff the trail down a hole so hounds can “mark to ground” at an old fox earth in much the same way as if a fox had been run to ground. Foxes will almost certainly be viewed on a day’s trailing and maybe seen crossing or following a similar line to that of a trail before hounds arrive on the spot.”

So we are told that a “trail” is sometimes ended down a fox hole. Tough luck then if there happens to be a fox in it. What a huge surprise that would be! Just another “accident”! This Huntsman also tells us that foxes dash around the place and actually run on the same line the trail has been laid upon. As Harry Hill would say “What are the chances of that happening?” It seems the hunters are certainly reckless and just for good measure they claim the foxes are too.

In the Independent on Sunday on November 2nd, Julia Caffyn, Master of the Southdown and Eridge Foxhunt says “The whole thing is a farce...We ride according to the letter of the law, laying down a trail with a fox brush dipped in urine, but the law is unenforceable anyway.” A “brush” is what foxhunters call a fox’s tail, and the urine is fox’s urine. This is no way to deter hounds from getting excited by a fox’s scent. Reckless? Of course it is.

In the same article, an unidentified hunt regular from the north tells the journalist “...yes, foxes do get killed in the old way.”

The Master of Draghounds Association’ website defines a difference between drag hunting and “trail” hunting. They say “whereas most  draghunt lines start in open country at a known spot and follow a pre-determined route, trail hunting involves simulating the search in cover for a scent to follow.” Well cover means woods, maize fields, reeds, brambles. Cover is where foxes live. Cover has been where foxhunts have gone to find foxes since the practice began, and cover is not the place to lay a trail if you want to avoid the hounds finding foxes.

So we are told that trails are laid in the following : cover, hedges, ditches, and fox holes! This is surely a recklessness delirium. It is worth noting that there is no known recorded incident of a genuine drag hunt being involved in an incident of “hunt havoc” – i.e. when hounds run riot over roads etc., whereas such incidents post-ban which involve so-called trail hunts are numerous. For details of these, see the POWA website at

There are two ways of looking at this. One is that trail hunting is a complete fiction used as a cover for illegal foxhunting, with the alleged similarities to foxhunting due to the fact that it is foxhunting. Hunt monitors are certain this is the case. The other option is to see that the practices of “trail” hunting as described by the hunters themselves are so utterly reckless that they are virtually certain to result in “accidents”, and lots of them.

Either way, this outrageous situation can be resolved by amending the Hunting Act to deal with this reckless behaviour by making it an offence to ‘cause or permit a dog to hunt, attack, injure or kill a wild mammal’. That removes the possibility of an accident being used as a defence, and removes the need for intent to be proved in court. It should be remembered that hare hunters also claim to lay a trail, and any pursuit of hares is dismissed as the inevitable “accident”. Mink hunts can claim they set out to hunt rats (a preposterous claim in my opinion) and that any mink pursued and killed by hounds was “accidental”.

When the general public pressed their MPs to ban hunting, they did not want a ban that would allow hunts to behave with such arrogance and deceit. They wanted the practice to be stopped, with genuine drag hunting the only legal alternative.

At the moment hunters are behaving as a group that is above the law. Not only do they treat the law with utter contempt, they also treat the democratic process that brought about the law with similar contempt.

It is time for MPs to revisit the law, and make that small adjustment that would make the law fit for its purpose, because at present the proscribed quarry species continue to be hunted exactly as before the ban.

Penny Little
POWA Spokesperson



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