The Real Criminals
One of the many groups singled out for victimisation by the Criminal Justice Bill are the people whose only crime is to try and save the lives of hunted animals. In this article, Paul Davis, Hunt Saboteurs Association Campaigns Officer, examines the truth behind the claims made about hunt saboteurs and looks at where legislation is really needed.
Squall 7, Summer 1994, pp. 25-27.
Who Are The Hunt Saboteurs?
To read some of the rubbish printed about hunt saboteurs it would be easy to believe we are a cross between the IRA and a particularly vicious gang of joyriders. In fact, we are people from all across the social spectrum who have two things in common - the belief that killing animals for fun is wrong and the commitment to try and stop it.
Saboteurs come from all walks of life - one group even boasts a 66-year old church minister among its ranks. A survey of HSA members in 1993 found that, contrary to popular opinion, only 15% were unemployed. The survey also reflected a broad spread of political opinions, with supporters of all three major political parties, a good few Greens and those who, for some reason, expressed the view that they didn't trust any politicians. The Hunt Saboteurs Association, founded in 1963, serves as an umbrella for some 150 active local groups nationwide. Each of the local groups is autonomous in both policy and funding, although we share a common set of principles and the HSA will help out local groups where it can. Most groups are out saving lives at least once a week, although some will be out more often than that.
Why Use Direct Action?
Quite simply, to save animals from a horrifyingly cruel death. In the long term, the only real answer to hunting is it's abolition by legislation. There has been an overwhelming case against hunting for many years and opinion polls have shown time and again the massive public support for a ban on hunting, but still parliament has not responded. While we wait for parliament to recognise its responsibilities, many thousands of animals will suffer and die unnecessarily in the name of sport. Hunt saboteurs plug this gap by intervening to save hundreds of animals every season. The possibility of a ban in five or ten years time is not much comfort to a fox that will be torn apart this Saturday - a saboteur running off with the hounds to let it escape definitely is.
What Do Hunt Saboteurs Do?
Saboteurs use non-violent tactics to intervene at hunts in an attempt to save the hunted quarry. A successful hunt depends on communication between the huntsman and his hounds by voice and horn calls, as well as the hounds’ ability to follow the scent of the hunted animal. We use these factors, on which hunters depend, to take the hounds away from the hunted animal, so providing it with a little extra time or, more often, enabling it to get away completely. The most important tactic is the imitation of the huntsman’s voice and horn to call the hounds off the scent of the hunted animal and lake them in the opposite direction. Another popular tactic is the use of scent dullers to mask the scent and so frustrate the hunt's attempts to find or follow it. Obviously, it's not as simple as all that - the permutations arising from scenting conditions, wind direction, access to the area and pure chance are many and various and all have to be taken into account to effectively save an animal's life. A good saboteur will often know as much about hunting as many hunt followers and considerably more than a lot of them! (All these various factors have to be taken into account - please don't go out with a horn and just try it out without the guidance of experienced sabs, as you may do more harm than good through not knowing how a hunt works.)
In the short term, these tactics have saved the lives of hundreds of animals every season; and in the longer term consistent sabotage can ruin a hunt's ability to hunt and kill effectively, so saving lives even when sabs aren’t present!
As well as the various hunts using hounds (Fox, Hare, Deer and Mink hunts), sabs are also active against other bloodsports such as shooting where the kill rate can be horrific - successfully sabbing a single day's shooting can save hundreds of animals in one go. The so-called 'Glorious 12th' (August 12th, the start of the grouse-shooting season) has been all but abandoned in many areas of the country thanks to consistent and successful sabotage.
Over the years, sabs have saved innumerable animals, have helped expose the cruelty of hunting and even closed down some hunts! This is the real reason why we are under attack - it has nothing to do with "law and order" and an awful lot to do with the fact that we are just too successful for the bloodsports lobby to cope with.
"Thugs, Wreckers and Bullies..."
These were the words Michael Howard used to describe sabs when announcing he was "blowing the whistle on the antics" of "the hooligans who disrupt country sports". He then went on to recount various tales of sab misdemeanours to back up his colourful language. Further investigation revealed that none of the horror stories Howard was relying on actually happened - he had just been told about them by the BFSS (British Field Sports Society) and so obviously believed them! In fact, David Maclean, Howard's deputy in the Home Office admitted in parliament that the Home Office knew nothing about violence at hunts, other than what they had been told by the BFSS, Masters of Foxhounds Association and "various fieldsports organisations". Anyone smell a stitch-up?
When we looked at the anti-saboteur propaganda put out by the BFSS (a campaign lasting at least three years and believed to have cost nearly a million), we found that nearly all the incidents of violence or assaults attributed to sabs, were either made up or so completely distorted as to be virtually unrecognisable. The Home Office had not only based legislation on lies and smears but knew they had and weren't bothered!
Who Are the Hooligans?
On the same day Michael Howard was making his barnstorming speech about sab violence, hunts all over the country were getting on with the business of beating the crap out of sabs. At the Vale of Lune Harriers, three saboteurs were treated at Lancaster Infirmary for head in juries alter a sustained attack by mounted and foot supporters with staves, riding crops and whips. Meanwhile, in Hertfordshire, sabs had to run for their lives after a supporter of the Vale of Aylesbury Foxhunt tried to impale them and their van on a 6-foot baling spike attached to his tractor. At the Hampshire Hunt, saboteurs were whipped by hunt members as they saved a fox from the assembled 'spoilsmen'. And about 10 miles away from where Michael Howard was giving his speech, the author of this article was attacked by the Master of the Old Berkshire Foxhunt who rode his horse over the sab.
"What fun it is, even if it is only for a few fields."
- Ulrica Murray-Smith, former Master of the Quorn Foxhunt, talks of the delight of chasing foxcubs. (Horse & Hound 13/9/90)
These are by no means isolated incidents. Contrary to the impression given by some sections of the media and Government, the overwhelming majority of violent incidents at hunts are committed by hunt members against saboteurs, or indeed anyone else who gets in their way, as John Weavers found out in 1990. Mr Weavers is a member of the public who was quietly sitting at home one Saturday afternoon when the Cury Foxhunt rampaged through his property. When he asked them to leave and complained at the damage caused he was headbutted by Geoffrey Thomas, Master of the hunt, who then shunted one of Mr Weavers' cars into another.
Members of the hunting community frequently commit serious crimes of violence against protesters for which they are infrequently prosecuted. In the first 3 months of 1993 alone, some 75 saboteurs were victims of violent attacks by hunts, 13 of them requiring hospital attention as a result. The most common forms of attack include beating with staves, spades and other weapons, whipping and beating with riding crops, and riding horses at and over saboteurs. There has also been an alarming rise in the use of vehicles as weapons, in recent years two saboteurs have died under the wheels of hunt vehicles.
However, some cubs will be brave enough (or sufficiently terrified of the hounds) to ignore the noise made by the hunt supporters and flee through the hold up line. These resourceful cubs are allowed to escape and any hounds that attempt to chase them are quickly scolded and sent back in.... The reasoning is that any fox which displays such “spirit” will likely provide excellent chases, and hence good sport, come the full season.
- HSA information pamphlet 'Cub Hunting’.
The Real Criminals
South Dorset Foxhunt terriermen Kenneth Nobbs and Nicholas Stevens convicted of criminal damage after a 20-strong gang turned a car full of saboteurs over onto its roof in March 1990 at Bockhampton, Dorset. One of the saboteurs told police she honestly thought she was going to die.
Isle of Wight Foxhunt Huntsman Stephen Clifton and Essex & Suffolk Foxhunt terrierman James Butcher convicted of badger digging after being caught in the act by an RSPCA undercover unit. Initially, the IOW Foxhunt backed Mr Clifton, even supporting his proposed appeal (which was quickly dropped) and he continued to be welcome at hunt events until he left to take a job as Huntsman in Canada, which he still holds.
New Forest Foxhounds supporters Adrian Bungey and Keith Colbert plead guilty to assaulting two hunt saboteurs after punching and kicking them. One of the saboteurs was held down in a river while he was being attacked on March 9th, near Fritham, Hampshire.
Surrey Union Joint Master and Huntsman John Funnell received two-year suspended prison sentence after riding his horse repeatedly over a saboteur lying on the ground at Farley Heath, Surrey. The saboteur sustained wounds to his head, back and legs.
Old Surrey & Burstow Foxhunt Whipper-in Mark Bycroft and supporters Nigel Trevithick-Wood (husband of one of the Joint Masters) and Kenneth Banks found guilty of ABH and affray after attacking two saboteurs at a cub-hunting meet in August. They had chased, beaten and whipped one saboteur and Banks had kicked a second in the groin. All three received suspended sentences; this did not prevent the hunt from appointing Bycroft huntsman.
Albrighton Foxhunt supporter Gary Whelband found guilty of ABH after punching a saboteur to the ground and kicking him in the head as he lay on the floor. The saboteur sustained head injuries, a perforated ear drum and a broken jaw in the attack at Burnell Green, Staffs, in October 1991.
West Norfolk Foxhunt supporter Mark Fuller found guilty of affray and three counts of criminal damage. The 6ft 6in farmer attacked a TV journalist and a female hunt saboteur, smashed two video cameras and damaged a van causing damage totalling £1,463 at North Runcton, Norfolk.
Bicester with Whaddon Chase Foxhunt supporters Richard and Thomas Cheshire convicted of ABH and affray at Buckingham Magistrates' Court after attacking anti-hunt protesters present at 1991 Boxing Day meet as observers. They and others blocked in the protesters' car, smashed the windows with baseball bats and a sledgehammer, dragged the occupants out through the smashed windscreen while repeatedly punching them and then turned the car over down an embankment, (see also May 1993.)
Enfield Chace Foxhunt Terrierman Paul Cheeseman convicted of damaging a badger sett the previous November.
New Forest Buckhounds Huntsman John Stride convicted of assault and criminal damage after attacking saboteur with his whip in November 1991 near Burley, Hampshire.
Bicester with Whaddon Chase Foxhunt steward Richard Cheshire and terrierman Michael Smith plead guilty to Actual Bodily Harm and are jailed for two months after Cheshire pushed a saboteur in front of a vehicle driven by Smith. Smith swerved to ensure he would hit the saboteur who received months of physiotherapy for injuries to his back and hip. Cheshire has a long track record of thuggery and a previous conviction for ABH (see June 1992).
Essex Farmers' and Union Foxhunt terriermen Bryn Chittenden and Roger Wakefield convicted of affray and violent disorder after a sustained attack on saboteurs also involving mounted members of the hunt in April 1992. Wakefield also pleaded guilty to criminal damage for smashing the van windows with the fence post used in the attack.
Bramham Moor Foxhunt supporter Raymond Walker pleaded guilty to affray and criminal damage after attacking saboteurs with a scythe and smashing van windows in January 1993. Two other hunt supporters, Mr & Mrs Winstanley, pleaded guilty to affray for their part in the "psychotic" attack after which two saboteurs required hospital treatment for head wounds.
A Sensible Suggestion
So what should the government be doing? There is very obviously a problem with violence at hunts, albeit not from the quarters they are trying to blame. Roger Gale, Tory MP for a rural Kent constituency, resigned from a government position over this issue and his words explaining his resignation have a lot to say on the matter:
"Despite assurances from the Home Secretary and the Minister of State, I am still convinced that we have created one law - a criminal law - to protect hunters, while leaving the inadequate civil law of trespass as the only serious refuge for those householders, smallholders and farmers who, for whatever reason, do not want the hunt on their land. As a declared opponent of foxhunting I find that inequitable and I believe that we may well, in this instance, have created a legal minefield."
The simple fact of the matter is that there is a very real problem of violence at hunts and it needs to be tackled firmly. It is a problem of hunt thugs attacking saboteurs and all it needs to tackle it is the enforcement of existing legislation so that the real criminals cannot continue to get away with serious violence just because they kill animals for fun and their victims think that is wrong.
"Pain and suffering is inflicted on animals in the course of sport. Nobody who has seen a beaten fox dragging his stiff limbs into the ditch in which he knows he is going to die can doubt this proposition."
Lord Paget in his book "In Praise of Hunting". - Taken from the HSA information pamphlet 'Foxhunting'.
Hunt Saboteurs Association
PO Box 1 Nottingham NG4 2JY