Fox hunters found guilty after being filmed by birdwatchers

Three members of the Nottinghamshire based Grove and Rufford Hunt have been found guilty of illegal hunting at Mansfield Magistrates Court today.

Huntsman Paul Larby, 57, terrierman (trail-layer) Peter White, 57, and the hunt’s whipper-in Jane Wright, 63, were fined for their part in the hunt. The three were found guilty after the court were shown photographs taken by two members of the public who came across the hunt near Rainham, Letford, on 30th January 2016 while going birdwatching.

The witnesses saw the hunt chase and catch a fox before the body was removed. The defendants claimed that they had been following a ‘trail’ and the fox had been caught accidentally.

Reaching his conclusion after a three day trial, district judge Tim Spruce said: “It’s an inescapable conclusion that the Grove and Rufford Hunt were hunting foxes and not artificial scent trails.

“They maintained they were engaged in trail laying, but I am not convinced that this was the case.”

League Against Cruel Sports CEO Eduardo Goncalves said:

Fox hunts constantly chase real foxes while pretending they are following a trail, but this time they were caught bang to rights. This case highlights exactly why the pro-hunt lobby want to have the Hunting Act repealed. The law is waiting to catch them, and this case will send shock waves around all those hunts heading out today and for the rest of the hunting season. Burglars must wince every time they see someone convicted of burglary – and today the hunts are wincing.

“Taking on hunting in the legal system is no easy task, but this shows that the Hunting Act is a good law that can be successfully used to punish illegal hunting. Hopefully more police forces will use this to see through the false alibi of ‘trail hunting’ and bring more hunts to book.”

The League Against Cruel Sports believes that loopholes, false alibis and exemptions to the Hunting Act have made it difficult for police and prosecutors to get convictions against organised hunting.

Eduardo Goncalves said: “Hunts almost always claim to be trail hunting, but a 10 year study covering 45 different hunts found that in only 2% of the 478 reports was there any evidence of a trail being laid. Given the number of times hunts have been out since the Hunting Act came in, that means the law has potentially been broken thousands upon thousands of times.

“We believe the best way to deal with this false claim of trail hunting is to include a reckless provision in the Hunting Act, which would enable people to be prosecuted not only when it can be proven they intended to hunt wild mammals with dogs, but also if it can be proven they were reckless by not preventing their dogs from doing so.”

The League is also calling for tougher sentencing for those convicted under the Hunting Act. Penalties under the Hunting Act are not strong even compared with other animal legislation such as the Protection of Badgers Act and the Wild Mammals Protection Act.

“The people found guilty today were fined but this isn’t nearly enough. Hunting foxes involves animal cruelty that isn’t tolerated in any other way and would normally provoke a jail term – but this wasn’t available to the judge in this case.”

Larby was fined £800, White was fined £550 and Wright, who played a lesser role, was fined £180. All three were ordered to pay costs of £248 and an £80 victim surcharge each, at Mansfield Magistrates Court on Tuesday 14th March.

The League wishes to congratulate Sergeant Matt Scott of Nottinghamshire Police and Rod Chapman, Specialist Wildlife Crime prosecutor at CPS East Midlands for bringing this case to fruition. 

Anyone witnessing illegal hunting can anonymously contact the League Against Cruel Sports Animal Crimewatch service.


Notes to Editors 

  • Trail Hunting vs Drag Hunting
    Trail hunting is not the same as drag hunting, a legitimate sport created in the 1800s which is not intended to mimic animal hunting, but instead is a sport using hounds to search for a non-animal scent without the pursuit or killing of wild animals. In drag hunting, or in bloodhounds hunting (or hunting the 'clean boot' as it is also known) where the scent of a human runner is followed instead of a drag, the trail never contains animal scent, is never laid in areas likely to have foxes, and those controlling the hounds always know where the trail was laid.

    This is why in drag hunting, 'accidents' when live animals are chased are very rare, while in trail hunting they are very common.

    The League believes there is no such a thing as the 'sport of trail hunting' and it is simply a temporary, false alibi to cover for illegal hunting while the hunting fraternity hopes for the hunting ban to be repealed or weakened.

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