Today, right across the country, thousands of supporters of fox hunting will be assembling for the first meet of the season, the seventh since the ban came into force in 2005.
They will claim, publicly, to be hunting an artificial trail. Privately they will be intent on pursuing and killing a fox, a fact recognised by a judge at Leicester Crown Court earlier this month when he said that the Fernie Hunt were engaged in ‘cynical subterfuge’ by pretending to follow a trail where no such trail existed.
Members of the public who dare to ask the hunts what they’re up to, will be met with honesty – as was Huffington Post correspondent Kate Holmes last week – or with silence or, worse still, violence and intimidation. So far this year, people connected to two hunts have been convicted of attacking staff and volunteers from my organisation, and our Hunt Crimewatch service gets calls every day from people suffering the havoc that often accompanies hunts.
I am determined that this season the League Against Cruel Sports will be really upping our efforts to bring these rural thugs and lawbreakers to justice. And it’s not just about those who break the Hunting Act: the anti-social behaviour blighting towns and cities might look different to the anti-social behaviour that affects rural communities, but the effects are the same, and so must be our resolve to do something about it.
In towns and cities, politicians and civic leaders want people’s home environments to be peaceful, pleasant places to live, not ghettos characterised by broken windows and burned out cars. The unashamed focus of police and local authorities everywhere is on driving down the persistent and pernicious problem of anti-social behaviour, whatever form it takes and wherever it takes place.
Why? Because we know that an urban broken window left unrepaired sends out a strong message that people don’t care. More windows get broken, and then the damage escalates. The same applies in the countryside; ignore the illegal hunting and the anti-social behaviour committed by hunts, and the problem escalates and rural people feel increasingly helpless to challenge it. If zero tolerance is good for London, as the new Met Police Commissioner says it is, then it should be good for the countryside. Tackling rural crime shouldn’t be a postcode lottery.
Realistically, the loss of thirty thousand front line police officers will undoubtedly have an impact on all of this, making things worse. There will be fewer hours available for bobbies to plod their beat, and less time for them to devote to crime prevention, and the reduction in longer term problems like anti-social behaviour.
But together, we can embrace the notion of the ‘big society’, and do something together to tackle the menace of hunt havoc. We’ll be doing our bit to tackle the rural anti-social behaviour caused by hunts, because we have an enormous and largely unrivalled expertise that means we know what’s going on in the hunting field when a casual observer might not. And we do our bit by sending out specially trained investigators, with high powered equipment, to monitor what hunts are up to.
Members of the public can do their bit by reporting suspicious activity and lawbreaking by hunts to police and to our Hunt Crimewatch service - 01483 524 250.
The League today launches a £1m strategy to tackle hunting and hunt related crime. We’re advertising Hunt Crimewatch in regional papers across the country, and will shortly begin recruitment of ten specialist wildlife crime investigators. This approach will augment our legal team’s work with police forces up and down the country, and our intelligence sharing with the National Wildlife Crime Unit.
Of course, the true test of this investment will be an increased number of successful convictions not just under the Hunting Act, but under other legislation that we can use to target these criminals. Whether they’re being violent, verbally abusive, blocking roads, causing criminal damage, or actually hunting, we’re determined to bring them to justice. People in rural communities shouldn’t have to put up with this thuggish behaviour.
Our message to wildlife criminals is clear: we’ve got more cameras under more bushes than ever before. If you’re breaking the law, expect a knock at the door.