The Heythrop Hunt, former huntsman Julian Barnfield, and ex-Master Richard Sumner all pleaded guilty to charges of unlawful hunting in Oxford Magistrates’ Court. The charges were brought by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). The guilty pleas were made after the court was shown film taken by anti-hunt monitors during the 2011/2012 season.
The hunt was fined £4,000, Barnfield £1,000, and Sumner £1,800. The court also ordered the hunt to pay £15,000 towards the RSPCA’s legal costs. This is said to be the first case in which a hunt organization was found guilty and sentenced.
After pronouncing the sentences, Judge Pattinson turned on the RSPCA exclaiming surprise at the “staggering figure”—£330,000—that the RSPCA spent to bring the case. It was ten times what the defense spent and begs the question: Can justice be served by the ability of a heavily-funded organization to overpower a defendant that cannot match the funding it would take to defend itself?
Ian Anderson, ex-MFH of the Ashford Valley Foxhounds in Kent, England and a frequent contributor to Foxhunting Life said this: “The RSPCA clearly has very different agenda from its Royal statute and hopefully something will be done about this as it is now clearly in the political lobbying arena.
“It is amazing that with all the attempts to bring convictions, the only ones that they can achieve are when they put their considerable funds raised for animal welfare against the very small resources of the hunting community. No hunt could possibly fight a case where the potential liability is between three and £400,000. Hence, they have no alternative but to plead guilty.”
In the wake of Judge Pattinson's comments in court, several politicians across party lines have called for the Charity Commission to investigate if the RSPCA has breached its obligations to its charitable donors.
All the media reports of the case were quick to point out that current British Prime David Cameron had previously ridden with the Heythrop, leading Barnsfield and others to suggest that the prosecution was politically motivated to embarrass Mr. Cameron.
Posted December 21, 2012