Peter Mark Doggrell, huntsman of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale (UK), was found not guilty of contravening the Hunting Act of 2004 by hunting a fox with hounds. The case was heard at Taunton Magistrates Court on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.
Video evidence by three different cameramen was played in the court by the prosecution, and appeared to show hounds in cry before entering the churchyard of Church of St Peter and St Paul in Charlton Horethorne, near Wincanton and Sherborne, on Saturday, February 23, 2019. The footage also appeared to show a fox running through the churchyard.
A cameraman challenged a whipper-in to "leave off that fox right now." The whipper-in was heard calling off the hounds.
Doggrell, a huntsman of fifteen years, argued that his hounds were following a scented trail. From a field neighboring the churchyard, he used his horn to call hounds out and get the pack back together.
"I realized there were hounds in the churchyard as some had come from over the wall,” he said. “They obviously temporarily left the trail so that's why I made the noise (with my horn) to get them onto the lead hounds. They were all together then and went across the grass field and exited via the gate."
When challenged by the prosecution that he was "aware that there was a fox in that churchyard" and posited that he "deliberately surrounded the church" to hunt the animal, Doggrell replied "no."
Doggrell added that he had only become aware that a fox was in the area after his whipper-in attempted to stop the hounds. “I could hear him stopping them. I stopped them with my horn." He admitted he was aware that his hounds were not permitted to enter the churchyard or a nearby private garden.
Magistrates delivered a not guilty verdict after hearing from other witnesses. The Countryside Alliance welcomed the verdict but criticized the allegations made by deeply prejudiced anti-hunting activists. A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance said: "There is a long history of such cases resulting in not guilty verdicts when the evidence fails to meet the claims made by people who are only interested in attacking hunting.”
"This is another example of police resources and court time being wasted when there is no valid evidence that illegal hunting has taken place. We would urge the police and CPS to carefully consider whether allegations made by committed activists should really lead to charges being brought."
A spokesman for Somerset Wildlife Crime called it a "very disappointing result."
“The hounds tore through consecrated ground in pursuit of an identified wild mammal,” said the spokesman. “The law isn't working, and this case signifies exactly why we need a recklessness clause added to it. With such a clause, antis assert that British wildlife would be afforded the protection they were meant to benefit from when the Hunting Act was passed nearly fifteen years ago. They argue there is no excuse for any hounds to pursue a fox, hare, stag or any other animal.
A reckless behavior clause which activists wish to insert into the Hunting Act would render the claim of an "accident" unpersuasive. Foxhunters would be guilty of an offence if they "caused or permitted" their hounds to chase live quarry having switched from the drag accidentally.
Such a clause could also be used by prosecutors to ensure that 'searching' for a wild mammal with dogs falls under the definition of 'hunting.' Antis claim that this is what the legislators intended. However, more than ten years ago, the High Court upheld an appeal against the conviction of Exmoor huntsman Tony Wright and declared that 'searching' was not ‘hunting' within the meaning of the Act. The Court also emphasized the necessity of proving intent on the hunters' part.
As a result of the High Court’s judgement in Wright’s favor, activists complain that the evidential bar which must be cleared to make a prosecution possible, let alone end in conviction, was raised too high. They are now determined to overcome future decisions that rely on that theory with a reckless behavior clause.
Posted February 17, 2020