Animal welfare campaigners have described today’s not guilty verdict as a hollow victory for hunting after two men associated with the Quantock Staghounds deer hunt avoided a criminal conviction at Taunton Magistrates’ Court.

Richard Down, former Huntsman, and Martin Watts, former Whipper-in and current Huntsman of the Quantock Staghounds, had been charged with hunting a wild mammal with a dog contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act 2004.

The district judge David Taylor agreed that an illegal deer hunt had taken place on National Trust land but that the defendants could not be identified at the scene in the evidence produced in court.

The case follows an investigation by Avon and Somerset Police based on evidence obtained by volunteers from Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime, who monitored the Quantock Staghounds on March 18, 2019 at Trendle Ring in Somerset. They filmed two hounds chasing a stag with horse riders following on the side of a nearby hill and making no efforts to call the hounds off.

The judge said that the mounted followers of the hunt also had a case to answer for illegal hunting, which could lead to the followers of hunts being charged in future court cases.

Bobbie Armstrong, a spokesperson for Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off, said:

“It’s always disappointing to lose a case. However, we are encouraged by the acknowledgment of Judge Taylor agreeing that illegal hunting had taken place.

“We now look forward to the National Trust responding by taking steps to protect their boundaries from future illegal hunting by the Quantock Stag Hounds.

“Given their proven track record, and this latest recognition of illegal hunting by the Quantock Stag Hounds, we look forward to seeing a more proactive role from Avon and Somerset Police on the Quantock Hills.”

Martin Sims, director of investigations at the League Against Cruel Sports, who is also a former head of the police’s National Wildlife Crime Unit, said:

“Despite our disappointment at the failure to gain a conviction, this is a hollow victory for the hunt after the judge agreed the illegal hunting of a stag was taking place.

“The police will now be able to charge not just the Huntsman and Whipper-in of any hunt filmed chasing British wildlife, but the mounted followers too.

“We need to strengthen the Hunting Act with a recklessness clause to ensure British wildlife gets the protection it so badly needs.”

The case comes nearly 15 years after hunting with dogs was banned in England and Wales with the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004, which came into force on February 18, 2005.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

For more information or interview requests please contact the League Against Cruel Sports Press Office on 01483 524250 (24hrs) or email [email protected]

A Huntsman is employed by the hunt and is responsible for directing the pack of hounds during the day’s hunting.

A Whipper-in is there to assist the Huntsman in controlling the hounds under the Huntsman’s direction.

I enclose photos from the footage gathered by the monitors and shown in court. They show a stag, two hounds on its trail and photos of the Quantock Staghounds in the Quantock Hills on the day of the hunt.

The League Against Cruel Sports is Britain's leading charity that works to stop animals being persecuted, abused and killed for sport. The League was instrumental in helping bring about the landmark Hunting Act. We carry out investigations to expose law-breaking and cruelty to animals and campaign for stronger animal protection laws and penalties. We work to change attitudes and behaviour through education and manage sanctuaries to protect wildlife. Find out more about our work at www.league.org.uk. Registered charity in England and Wales (no.1095234) and Scotland (no.SC045533).

Stag photo

Hound chase

Quantock Staghounds