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paul larby.groveandrufford.barclayHuntsman Paul Larby and the foxhounds of the Grove and Rufford, UK / James Barclay photoThree happy foxhunters in Britain just had their convictions quashed after having been found guilty and fined last year in court.

Two men and a woman affiliated with the Grove and Rufford Foxhounds in Nottinghamshire were charged and prosecuted in a British Magistrates Court for illegally hunting a fox. Huntsman Paul Larby, terrier man Peter White, and whipper-in Jane Wright were convicted and fined £1,128; £853; and £448 respectively. But did the police and Crown Prosecutor withhold evidence that would have exonerated the three?

Whether yes or no, the prosecution folded its case. The convictions had been based on oral evidence, 209 photographs, and a video taken by two bird watchers. The bird watchers claimed that neither huntsman nor staff attempted to prevent hounds from chasing and killing the fox.

Larby, White, and Wright insisted they were trail hunting a drag scent when the fox appeared. The trio appealed the decision of the Court, and, during the appeal process, their lawyer, Stephen Welford, accused the police and the Crown Prosecutor of failing to disclose critical evidence that had not been given to the defense at the time of the first trial.

The evidence emerged during appeal and consisted of more than fifty additional photos that showed hunt members trying to get to hounds to stop them after the fox emerged from a hedge. Welford berated the police and the prosecution for withholding those images and for taking the view that his "clients are guilty before they’ve been tried.”

Upon Welford’s argument of what he called a “glaring failure,” the Crown Prosecution Service dropped its opposition to the appeal, at the same time denying that any evidence was withheld or that the decision to no longer contest the appeal was in any way related to non-disclosure of evidence. (Police and prosecutors have a duty to reveal evidence to the defense that may assist the defense’s case and/or harm that of the prosecution.)

The police claim that the photos were disclosed and seen by the defense during the first trial.

Welford argued to the contrary, claiming that the defense first heard of them during the appeal, and they proved the innocence of the defendants who could not have stopped hounds because it happened so quickly.

Last year in Britain, more than nine hundred cases of all sorts were dropped for failure by either the police or the prosecutors to disclose evidence. The non-disclosure problem came into wider public view recently after a rape charge against a male college student collapsed when evidence—previously withheld—showed that the female accuser had pestered the student for sex via text messages.

Click for more details in Steve Bird’s article in The Telegraph.

Posted March 26, 2018

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