Cheshire Police investigated five incidents of foxes allegedly killed by a hunt during the last season. However, the police have said they’re dropping all the cases. And local activists said this has given hunts the “green light” to continue killing foxes.
A national dialogue on hunting in early 2019 centred on Cheshire. It occurred after activists published images of foxes allegedly killed by a local hunt. Between 15 November 2018 and 5 February 2019, activists claimed the Cheshire Hunt killed five foxes. During one such incident on 5 January, Cheshire Hunt Saboteurs said it even caught a member of the hunt “kicking” a fox’s body into a river.
Activists took all five incidents to Cheshire Police. However, the force has dropped all five cases due to insufficient evidence of illegal hunting. Local paper CheshireLive reported that the “complexity” of the cases led to Cheshire Police seeking advice from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The investigation team has now concluded that there is insufficient evidence that any of the incidents amounted to deliberate and intentional hunting, as required by the Hunting Act 2004. Consequently, no further action will be taken. All parties involved have been informed of the outcome.
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They also added that they would host “a number of engagements” involving both pro- and anti-hunting representatives before the next season begins.
However, a spokesperson for Cheshire Against Blood Sports, which works alongside Cheshire Hunt Saboteurs, told The Canary:
With the news that the police and the CPS dropped all five cases in Cheshire involving just one Cheshire hunt we feel it makes a complete mockery of the hunting act, it has failed to provide any justice for these foxes and is simply not fit for purpose. Three of the foxes were killed in the space of six weeks, we feel that this decision has now given the green light for the hunts to carry on killing foxes as there is absolutely no incentive for them to stop.
Problems with the law
The spate of dead foxes came as the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) David Keane published a review of policing hunts in the county on 5 December 2018. Keane’s review said the Hunting Act presents “challenges to investigators and prosecutors”. As a result, he wanted to “explore” how the government could remove these obstacles. Meanwhile, following graphic images of a dead fox posted to social media on 5 January, local MP Chris Matheson called for an “outright ban” on fox hunting.
The Canary previously reported that Lesley Martin of Cheshire Monitors, which was present at the 15 November 2018 incident, believed the Hunting Act is “weak”. And Cheshire Against Blood Sports echoed this. The spokesperson told The Canary:
Unless the Hunting Act is changed and the loopholes closed, foxes all over the country will continue to die. We would like to see the word ‘reckless’ inserted into the Hunting Act. After all if you are taking hounds into the very areas foxes live and by the hunts own admissions they train the hounds on fox scent then it’s highly likely foxes will be encountered and chased. We would also like to see the huntsman failing to call his hounds off when a fox is being pursued viewed as a clear sign of intent.
These mirror demands by the Campaign to Strengthen the Hunting Act. Such additions certainly remove some of the “challenges” of prosecutions under the Hunting Act, as mentioned by Keane. But Cheshire Against Blood Sports said that governments need to take stronger action:
The whole “sport” needs to be banned completely. We know we will be in this position again next season, foxes will die and nobody will be held accountable.
End hunting now
At present, no political party has committed to an outright ban on hunting. Labour recently said it’s considering a recklessness clause as well as jail time for prosecutions under the Hunting Act. The Green Party appeared to offer the same in its latest political programme, saying it would “tighten up” laws to end the excuse of accidental killing. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have continued talking about lifting the ban. And the Liberal Democrats are silent on the issue.
Hunts will continue killing animals unless a government eliminates the law’s loopholes completely. Introducing clauses to strengthen the ban would go a little way to achieving this. But prosecutions will still rely on ‘sufficient evidence’. There are hundreds of hunts across England and Wales, many of which ride out multiple days a week.
The only solution is to ban hunting completely. But with no parties currently willing to put that on the table, it remains up to saboteurs and monitors to continue holding hunts accountable.
Featured image via Cheshire Against Blood Sports
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