Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
Hunt Saboteurs Association
Photo: Andrew Testa

Hunting The Hunters

Squall 12, Spring 96, pp. 26-27.

The aggravated trespass clauses of the Criminal Justice Act were primarily designed to tackle hunt saboteurs. Actual implementation of the new laws, however, is proving difficult. Andy Johnson taps into the Hunt Saboteurs Association and joins a hunt in Essex.

In April 1993 Thomas Worby was walking down a farm yard track in Cambridge after a day out hunt sabbing. He was being followed by a huntsman in a hound van who was unhappy with the speed at which Thomas and his fellow sabs were ambling. The huntsman revved the engine and then put his foot down. The sabs jumped out of the way, but Thomas was caught on the wing mirror and dragged up the road. When he fell free he landed beneath the back wheels of the van.

Other sabs ran up the road to borrow a mobile phone from the hunt supporters and call an ambulance. Instead of acquiescing, the hunt supporters attacked the sabs and laughed. This made no difference to Thomas, however, he was dead. No charges were brought against the driver. Thomas was fifteen.

Just over a year later, in November '94, the CJA was introduced. Since then over 200 sabs have been arrested under its clauses.

According to Paul Gammon, of the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA), the number of huntsmen and supporters prosecuted for acts of violence is “negligible”. Most prosecutions against huntsmen have been brought privately by sabs.

But although the CJA, taken to its logical conclusion, outlaws huntsabbing, it is proving much more ineffective than the hunting, shooting, and fishing lobby had hoped. And although violence is often a common feature of a Saturday afternoon in the country it is not having the deterring effect originally intended.

Protesters everywhere have the HSA’s decision to sab grouse shoots to thank for the aggravated trespass clauses of the CJA. Representatives of the anti-blood sports lobby were invited to the Home Office and told they had taken on one of the most powerful lobbies in Parliament - the gun lobby. They were also told that the government were worried about fatalities. Sabbing tactics on shoots include placing yourself in the line of fire.

The pressure from the gun lobby pushed through the aggravated trespass clauses, which make it an offence punishable by three months in prison and/or a £2,500 fine to intimidate persons engaging in a lawful activity, obstruct that activity, or disrupt that activity. These clauses also come in very handy for anti-road protesters.

However, sabs soon realised that police forces up and down the country simply do not have the numbers to implement the CJA effectively. They also realised that the law can be played at its own game.

“When the CJA was first mooted we were crapping it,” Paul Gammon, who has been sabbing for 12 years, told Squall. “But in practice, as hunt sabs, we deal with reality. We said it would go the same way as the 1986 public order act, which makes it illegal to cause distress or alarm. We were never going to win with the police on the day. So we’d take them through the courts. We sued the police for unlawful arrests, unlawful detentions, all the illegalities they were getting up to. Between 1986 and ‘89 we won £200,000 in damages and over a third of a million in costs. They very quickly stopped nicking us.”

The police reverted to nicking sabs for breach of the peace, and holding them for the duration the breach was likely to occur. Last year, in Cheshire, the CJA wasn’t used. Instead 126 sabs were arrested for breach of the peace. Charges were dropped against 124 of them.

Despite the CJA, hunt sabbing tactics haven’t changed. According to the HSA, the CJA is only being implemented Essex, North Yorks, Sussex and Hants. In Dorset, Cornwall and Wales the police have said they can’t spare more than two officers per hunt. In Surrey, Thames Valley and Northhants the CJA is regarded as an additional power which can be used, but isn’t.

In Sussex things have come to such a head - employing four vans and a helicopter for 15 sabs - that the police are seeking a meeting to lay down ground rules. This, surprisingly, is not unusual. In certain counties police and sabs have arrangements whereby sabs inform the police how many numbers they intend to have out, and the police agree to take no action unless sabs provoke the hunt to such an extent that they have to make arrests - such as blowing a hunting horn in a huntsman’s face.

“Our advice to sabs is if they can’t catch you, they can’t arrest you,” says Gammon. “A lot of protesters allow themselves to be arrested by acting passively. We would make it more difficult, by running. Are they going to run across fields for every arrest? They don’t want to get their uniforms dirty. The CJA may look fine on the statute books, but we’re just laughing.”

These observations were borne out when Squall observed a hunt sabotaging exercise in Essex.

The nine sabs were initially warned by police that they had a right to protest peacefully, but would be arrested if they interfered with the hunt. The police then attempted to follow the sabs, who were following the hunt, in vans. When they did successfully interfere with the hunt, it was in a copse and the police were out of sight.

The huntmaster informed the leading officer, who then threatened to arrest the sabs unless they left the estate, even though they were on a public bridle way. The officer carried a card with the relevant section of the CJA written on it, which did indeed testify that for the purposes of the act, private land can include bridleways and footpaths.

After some argument no arrests were made, but any more trespasses would result in everyone being carted off to the local police station. More trespasses did take place, but as sabs hobbled over fields with several pounds of clay attached to each foot, the police followed from a distance on the other side of the field in a van, but did not give chase.

Hunt sabbing can be an exhilarating and fulfilling experience. But it is marred by violence, in most cases initiated by huntsmen or their supporters. There are documented cases of terrier men, the hunt “workers” who send trained Jack Russell terriers after foxes that have gone to ground, attacking sabs with shovels, and hurling bricks through the windows of moving sab vans. Nor is it unusual for a sab to be whipped, or for them to be charged at, and run over, with horses.

According to Paul Gammon, violence has got worse over the last twelve years, but peaked about four years ago, just before the CJA was mooted. It has since levelled out.

“There was a massive explosion five years ago,” he says, “when the hunts were hiring security guards. We felt they were trying to aggravate the situation so the government would have to act.”

In the first three months of 1993, for example, 75 sabs were the victims of violent assault, 13 of whom needed hospital treatment.

One example is an attack at the Hursley and Hambledon hunt in 1993. A hunt supporter drove into a group of sabs and knocked one down. The supporter drove off, and left hunt sabs to take their injured colleague to hospital. Later that day, after the hunt, a group of thirty hunt supporters surrounded a van containing nine sabs. They wrecked the van, smashing every window, with staves and fence posts. They then smashed open the rear and front doors, and kicked and punched everyone inside. One sab was treated in hospital for two cracked ribs and head injuries.

Little Known Beagle Facts

• Beagles do not hunt foxes naturally, they have to be trained. This is done pre-season, from August to November. Known as the cubbing season, young hounds are taken to a wood known to be inhabited by young foxes. They are left to roam the woods until they kill a cub, whereupon they are over-praised by their trainers.

• If a hound doesn’t make the grade, or constantly loses the scent, it is shot.

• A typical pack consists of about 35 hounds that have to hunt as one. There are 400 hunts in the country, making a total of 14,000 hounds.

• A fifth of these are shot each year. More hounds are killed every year than foxes.

• When hounds pick up a scent they bay, making a disturbing wailing sound. They are trained to go to this signal individually, giving sabs their most effective weapon, the Gizmo. The Gizmo is a tape recording of baying hounds played through a loud speaker, often from a distance. Its effect is said to be “devastating”.

Another example is an incident at the Four Burrow hunt in March 1994. A huntsmen began an attack on sabs by trampling a saboteur, John Prescott, several times with his horse. This caused massive internal injuries and three fractured ribs. A fracas developed and all the sabs were arrested, including John Prescott. He spent several hours in a police cell before being taken to hospital, where he remained for five days.

The HSA has also documented violent criminals and soldiers being drafted in as security guards. One such example resulted in a rare prosecution against a hunt supporter.

In February 1993 Richard Cheshire was employed as a steward at the Bicester and Whaddon chase hunt, although he had a criminal record for violent attacks. He pushed a sab in front of a moving quad bike which was being driven by a terrier man, Michael Smith. Smith swerved to maximise the impact. The incident was captured on video and both men were later jailed for two months for their “reckless disregard for life”.

Despite this it is the sabs who are more likely to be charged; and it is they who have the reputation for being violent. Sabs have been hospitalised on many occasions. And on many occasions the police have arrested the sab at the hospital.

There is also a catalogue of assaults and attacks against women. These include a woman being beaten unconscious in December ’92 in Cheshire; and a woman being subjected to a sexual assault - under the pretext of a search - by four stewards at a grouse shoot in Yorkshire in August ‘92. The woman was pinned to the floor and her body groped, with hands thrust inside her clothing.

“If you are badly assaulted by a hunter the police say it’s common assault,” says Gammon. “You have to go to the police station to report it. Their view point is that if we weren’t there then there wouldn’t be any trouble.”

Video cameras are now common tools on both sides, which is one of the reasons violence has levelled out. Another reason, according to Gammon, is that sabs are “more resolute” now.

As an example he sites the notorious Horsham and Crawley hunt which used to pride itself on being sab-free for four seasons.

“They put a load of sabs in hospital four or five years ago and afterwards were left alone,” says Gammon. “So we went down there a couple of weeks before the CJA came in in 1994. We had a Channel Four film crew with us, and a journalist and photographer from the NME who were writing an article on the CJA.

We went into a wood and got set upon by all these blokes. They set about the film crew, ripped the film out of the camera, and threw the photographer over a hedge.

“We’ve done them four or five times this year, in numbers of sixty or seventy. The message has now got through that we view them as any other hunt. We have enough numbers now to say that we’re not going to be frightened off.”

Gammon is sceptical of the much heralded outlawing of hunting, even though hunters themselves give hunting a maximum life span of five years.

“I have no faith in the political parties,” he says. “The CJA actually brought us more interest than ever before because young people saw parliament for what it is. They have no stake in the parliamentary process. The only option they can take is direct action.”

The fact that hunt sabs have encountered, and resisted, legal and physical assaults week in, week out, year upon year, is testament to their commitment and principle.

“At the end of the day,” Gammon says, “when you see a sab blow a horn and get the hounds off a fox, and the fox gets away, nobody is going to stop you sabbing.”

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