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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Are police turning a blind eye to illegal fox hunting

Fresh on the heels of news that shooting grouse is an exempt activity and not subject to Covid restrictions the Independent tells us that a new report alleges police forces around England regularly ignore reports of illegal fox-hunting and fail to bring charges even when they are handed overwhelming evidence.

They say that some chief constables and senior officers are routinely turning a blind eye to fox hunts, while certain police on the ground often appear biased towards hunts or show no interest in accusations that the law has been broken:

Anti-blood sport campaigners have complained for years that police repeatedly dismiss reports of illegal activity, fail to follow up complaints and are slow to attend when called out to wildlife crime – if they attend at all.

Now, what is believed to be the first ever report on enforcement of the 2004 fox-hunting ban alleges widespread failures by authorities to take action, even when people monitoring hunt activities provided video evidence that they say shows trained hounds chasing the wild animals.

The investigators, from the Action Against Foxhunting (AAF) group, compiled police responses to more than 80 incidents reported during the 2019-20 winter hunting season.

Their report, Counting the Crimes, seen exclusively by The Independent, says many officers appear to have very little understanding of the hunting ban, and a lack of training means many cannot recognise illegal hunting.

However, a number of police officers appear to support hunts, and some – even including the occasional wildlife crime officer – ride with them, it is claimed.

The 2004 Hunting Act made it illegal to chase wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales, but hunts insist they act within the law, following artificially laid scent trails.

In an introduction to the report, Richard Barradale Smith, a retired officer who was at the centre of a high-profile investigation in Herefordshire last year, condemns “the catastrophic failure of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in dealing with hunting and hunting-related crimes that take place every week across our country”.

He writes: “The systemic failure in dealing with hunting crimes since the hunting act came into force has been deliberate.

“The legislation introduced was designed to make the act virtually unenforceable, and successive chief constables/senior officers across the country have chosen to turn a blind eye to it ever since. This places many frontline officers sent to deal with those incidents in an impossible position.

"The claims of any force that they take animal cruelty seriously have to be questioned when illegal hunting takes place under their noses and with their knowledge, every week.”

Relations between police and hunt monitors or saboteurs are strained in many areas, with hunt opponents claiming they are often treated as the criminals because they are watching or videoing events.

Dozens of cases documented in the report include fox killings; roads being blocked by hunts; hounds running into private gardens and frightening kept animals; hunters reportedly trying to intimidate “wildlife guardians” and hunt supporters playing loud music and obstructing filming of suspected illegal activity.

In the 81 cases recorded by the group, nobody was prosecuted, and calls to police from the public with complaints about hunts went unreturned.

The article contains examples of these incidents, however there is a clear need for reform here. If the Act is unfit for purpose as suggested then it needs to be replaced with one that is enforceable and which actually outlaws this barbaric sport.
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