Police and prosecutors fail in handling distressing evidence of illegal hare hunting

Police and prosecutors have failed in their handling of illegal hunting footage, that shows a Hampshire hunt chasing and killing hares, claim two animal welfare organisations.

The organisations, Surrey Hunt Monitors and the League Against Cruel Sports, claim that Hampshire Constabulary has failed to properly investigate a case of illegal hunting, leading to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) refusing to pursue the case, despite footage exposing the Sandhurst and Aldershot Beagles targeting hares in Hampshire, late last year. A former head of the police wildlife crime unit, who now works for the League Against Cruel Sports, called on police forces to properly investigate wildlife crime.

Surrey Hunt Monitors filmed the disturbing evidence on November 15, 2017 and handed their footage to Hampshire police. In one clip a brown hare runs for its life from a pack of hounds and in another, one is torn to shreds – its body parts flung into the air and then consumed by the hounds while the huntsman blows his horn twice to indicate a kill has occurred.

Spokesperson for the Surrey Hunt Monitors who filmed the incident, said: "As a hunt monitor for more than 30 years, seeing animals ripped apart by hounds doesn’t get any easier and this incident was one of the hardest and most upsetting I’ve ever filmed.

"I wasn’t surprised by what I saw – a hunt and hunt support behaving as if the Hunting Act doesn’t exist and blatantly hunting hares. I desperately wanted to intervene, but I thought the footage would speak for itself and lead to a conviction. It’s extremely disappointing the police and CPS have refused to pursue this."

Surrey Hunt Monitors contacted the League for help after learning that Hampshire police would not be pursuing a case. The force themselves said they believed the footage showed hares being hunted, but that on interviewing the huntsman he claimed they were hunting rabbits. Hampshire Police failed to source an expert witness who could confirm exactly what prey was seen in the footage.

"I saw no rabbits that day, only hares. What I saw wasn’t trail hunting, it wasn’t rabbit hunting as the hunt claimed, it was the blatant illegal hunting of hares by an organised hunt with their beagle pack – it looked exactly like hunting did before the ban. It was a very distressing day, but even more distressing is that due to police incompetence, no one will be held responsible for the needless killing of those poor hares," added Surrey Hunt Monitors’ spokesperson.

Martin Sims, Director of Investigations for the League and former Sussex Police Chief Inspector and Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), contacted an independent expert whose PhD and postdoctoral study was of the brown hare. On viewing the footage, they confirmed that one clip definitely showed a brown hare – and not a rabbit – being chased by a pack of dogs and in a second clip, where an animal is torn apart, they stated that the animal’s movement was indicative of a hare. This information was passed to Hampshire police who forwarded it to the CPS. They maintained that the defence would say the prey was a rabbit and so refused to proceed with a prosecution.

Martin Sims said: "It’s disappointing that the use of an independent expert was not sought at an early stage in this case, to confirm what animal was being pursued and therefore whether there would be a case of illegal hunting to investigate. One clip appeared to show at least one pursuit against a brown hare and this was later confirmed by an independent expert.

"Despite this strong evidence it was felt that the defence would simply call their own expert to say the pursued animal was a rabbit and the CPS have chosen to follow this course, rather than accepting the expertise of someone who’s spent more than four years studying the hare. I have since also learnt of a number of other experts whose scientific studies have been on the European brown hare, so no police force can say they wouldn’t be spoilt for choice.

"Even when presented with confirmation that it was a hare being hunted, they have refused to pursue the case and instead are allowing a breach of hunting legislation to go essentially unchallenged.

"Illegal hunting incidents like this are all too common and highlight the urgent need for us to work more closely with police and ensure they properly investigate these cases, giving wildlife the protection it deserves."

Hare hunting was banned more than 13 years ago under the Hunting Act 2004, but hare hunts that existed before the ban now claim to be rabbit hunting – an exempt prey species under the Act – or less often they claim to be ‘trail’ hunting. The League believes the deeply upsetting scenes of hares being persecuted by the Sandhurst and Aldershot Beagles, show a direct breach of the 2004 Act.


PETITION

The League is calling on the 90 per cent of people who oppose hare hunting and hare coursing to sign a petition in support of strengthening the hunting ban and ensuring better protection for the brown hare and the other wild animals still being targeted by hunts. Full details can be found here.

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Notes to Editors

For more information or interview requests please contact the League Against Cruel Sports Press Office on 01483 524250 (24hrs) or email pressoffice@league.org.uk

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).

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