It’s been eleven years since England’s Hunting Act of 2004 was enacted by the Labour government, and ten years since the Act was put into effect. So what happened this year?
After the May elections, Prime Minister David Cameron found himself leading a Conservative Party majority government for the first time. Pro-hunting Conservatives were ecstatic and looked to Cameron to make good on his pledge to bring a free vote to the floor in Parliament. They sought first to abolish the Act, then later hoped to at least modify the Act. Cameron, however, was never sufficiently confident to bring either proposal to the floor. Too many members of his own party, not to mention the Liberal opposition, pledged to oppose him on the issue.
That was the bad news. There was news this month, however, with potential for positive development.
On December 2, a private prosecution that had been brought by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) against six members of the Lamerton Foxhounds collapsed in court. The LACS spent more than £100,000 of its contributors’ money on a prosecution that police had earlier judged not to reach the standard required of a proper prosecution.
This is not the first case against a hunt in England in which an animal rights-driven organization squandered a large sum of contributors’ money in an anti-hunting case they couldn’t prove. In 2012 the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty in Animals (RSPCA) was widely criticized by the press and even by judges of the courts after it spent more than £300,000 prosecuting the Heythrop hunt. In 2013 the charity was estimated to have spent at least £500,000 of charitable funds on prosecutions against hunts, seventy-eight percent of which failed. In 2014 donations to the RSPCA cratered by £7,000,000 leading the organization to cut jobs and restructure. Donor disaffection was attributed, at least in part, to the enormous sums spent in prosecuting foxhunters under the Hunting Act for very little return.
This month’s failed LACS prosecution against the Lamerton Foxhounds, however, may reverberate in an entirely new direction. LACS dropped all charges when a previously undisclosed relationship between LACS and one of the key prosecution witnesses was discovered. Expert witness Stephen Harris, professor of environmental sciences at Bristol University, had failed to disclose long-term connections with the League’s head of operations Paul Tillsley.
It turns out that Professor Harris has previously given evidence in many past contested cases involving foxhunting across Britain. The Countryside Alliance believes that the previously undisclosed Harris-LACS relationship could have extensive ramifications for earlier convictions under the Hunting Act—particularly those of the Fernie hunt, Leicestershire, from 2011; the Crawley and Horsham, Sussex, in 2012 and the Meynell Hunt, Derbyshire, in 2012—and is now calling on the Criminal Cases Review Commission to consider whether those convictions should be overturned. Foxhunting Life will speak to this line when it warms up. Hark.
(For a brief recap of the Hunting Act of 2004, click here.)
Posted December 20, 2015
Thanks to huntsman Dennis Downing, Bedford County Hunt (VA), for contributing information for this article.