Quantock Staghounds evade prosecution on deer hunting charges

The League Against Cruel Sports has renewed its call for the Hunting Act to be strengthened after the Quantock Staghounds evaded prosecution at Taunton Deane Magistrates today.

Professional investigators from the wildlife protection charity filmed huntsman Richard Down and whipper-in Martin Watts allegedly commanding a pack of hounds to chase deer to the point of exhaustion, across Asholt Common and Middle Hill, Sedgemoor, earlier this year.

However, District Judge David Taylor dismissed the case against Watts and found Down ‘not guilty’ – having decided there was a case to answer – at Taunton Deane Magistrates Court, following the Quantock Staghounds claiming to be following a pre-laid aniseed trail. This is despite video evidence presented by the League that the hunt was following the exact scent line of the fleeing deer.

Martin Sims, Director of Investigations at the League Against Cruel Sports, and former Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and a serving police officer for 31 years, said:

“It is a national disgrace that members of the Quantock Staghounds will go unpunished for chasing extremely vulnerable mother deer and their young with a pack of baying hounds for nothing more than ‘sport’. Wild animals were evidently caused considerable distress through these indefensible actions and the Hunting Act must be strengthened as a matter of urgency, to ensure those contemplating or engaging in similar acts are not let off the hook.

“Our footage shows the hounds following the exact same path as the deer, just a minute later. But the hunt say the hounds were following a trail of aniseed they had laid earlier. So their defence is that the deer, hounds and hunt all followed the exact same path within minutes of each other? That’s a pretty amazing coincidence. We believe there was no trail, and that the hunt were deliberately chasing the deer.

“All too often hunts give the excuse of ‘following a trail’ as a deliberate cover for pursuing wild animals with hounds. When cases come to prosecution, the authorities find themselves unable to convict those responsible due to technicalities. We believe in this case that the huntsmen were commanding a pack of hounds to follow the scent line of fleeing deer – because that is what stag hounds are bred to do.”

Stag hunts actively pursue hundreds of red deer to the point of exhaustion with stag hounds, across the Somerset countryside each season. This includes exceptionally vulnerable wild animals, such as those which are young or pregnant. Once the lengthy pursuit has come to an end, each of the deer receives a bullet from a shotgun-wielding huntsman, before the animals’ limbs and innards are carved up and handed out as trophies.
Martin Sims, said:

“With at least 87% of the public opposing hunting deer with hounds and over 100,000 people signing the League’s petition to strengthen the Hunting Act, there is clearly strong support for the law being enhanced to give wild animals the protection from cruel ‘sports’ which they deserve. How much longer will the law tolerate magnificent creatures being hounded for miles across the Somerset countryside before being shot and carved up as trophies?”

Over 100,000 people have signed a petition launched by the League Against Cruel Sports to strengthen the Hunting Act, which includes calls to close loopholes exploited by deer hunts.

Huntsman Richard Down aged 54 of West Bagborough near Taunton, and whipper-in Martin Watts aged 55 of Washford, were charged with illegally hunting with dogs on 22nd January, contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act 2004.

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  • Broadcast quality footage used in the prosecution is available for republication on request from the League Against Cruel Sports.

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