Anger at illegal hare coursing fines

THE National Farmers' Union has called for tougher sentences for poachers who stage illegal hare coursing events after expressing dismay at the level of fines handed out to a gang of offenders.

THE National Farmers' Union has called for tougher sentences for poachers who stage illegal hare coursing events after expressing dismay at the level of fines handed out to a gang of offenders.

Animal rights activists also criticised a court's decision to fine six poachers just £100 each after the gang admitted taking part in a hare coursing event on a Suffolk farm, describing the punishment as merely “a slap on the wrist”.

The highest possible fine for those taking part in illegal hare coursing is £2,500 while they can also have their vehicles seized.

Matthew Giles, 25, of Stovolds Hill, Cranleigh, Surrey; Joe Kerry, 28, of Gurney Road, Norwich; Matthew Wenham, 20, Ellens Green, Horsham; Edward Lee, 21, of Parkers Lane, Bracknell, Berkshire; Alfred Kerry, 29, of Stovolds Hill, Cranleigh, Surrey; and Wesley Butcher, 30, of Stovolds Hill, Cranleigh, Surrey, all pleaded guilty to trespass in search of game at a hearing at Sudbury Magistrates' Court yesterday. They took part in an illegal hare coursing event at Highfield Farm, Great Barton, near Bury St Edmunds, on August 28.

Following the case, an NFU spokesman said: “We have been highlighting the seriousness of illegal hare coursing and the crimes that go with it.

“We have been working closely with the police, but we must keep the pressure up.

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“It is no good when the police do good work catching these people and they are let off with small fines, especially when you consider the large amount of money involved in these events.”

Mike Hobday, of the League Against Cruel Sports said: “We are very surprised that the punishment was so lenient; in our opinion hare coursing is a cruel and abhorrent activity.

“When people break to law to take part in these sort of activities they should be severely punished, not just given a slap on the wrist.”

The court heard how police officers were alerted to the hare coursing event on the morning of August 28.

On their arrival officers found a Range Rover and a Vauxhall vehicle parked in a lay-by and noticed the hare coursing taking place in field off the A143 at Great Barton.

Prosecutor Kevin Lowson said: “The officers could see people with dogs in the field. They saw one hare being chased and caught by the dogs. Two other dogs were pursuing another hare.

“There were nine dogs in total, none of which were on leads. At first the men said they were just walking the dogs, but clearly this was not the case.”

During the hearing, Butcher, one of the poachers, said: “We have all got rid of our dogs and now we know it is illegal we are sorry. We will not be doing it again.”

All six were fined £100 and ordered to pay £20 in court costs.

Insp Becky Kidd-Stanton, Bury rural sector commander, highlighted the importance of clamping down hard on illegal hare coursing, which she said often led to threats and intimidation towards landowners.

“Traditionally, these events are not just about chasing hares across a field, they often involve the gambling of large sums of money.

“As a result of the money involved it often leads to threats or intimidation towards the landowner and that is why it is so important to take tough action against those involved in illegal hare coursing.”

She added the police now have the power to seize any vehicle being used for illegal hare coursing and owners could even be disqualified from driving.

Earlier this year the EADT reported how Suffolk police were now treating incidents of illegal hare coursing as a priority, amidst fears farmers may take the law into their own hands and possibly even shoot trespassers to protect themselves.

Farmers across East Anglia have been threatened and even assaulted by gangs of up to 40 men damaging their land. In some cases, the gangs have returned at night to ransack farm buildings.

A recent NFU survey revealed 53% of East Anglian farmers had been attacked of threatened and there had been 1,500 cases of illegal hare coursing in just a few months.

FACTFILE

- The aim of hare coursing is for two dogs to compete against each other in a test of speed, determination and agility in pursuit of a hare.

- There are two kinds of hare coursing, legal and illegal. Legal hare coursing is carried out by people who are licensed to take part in such events and have permission of landowners. The licences are granted by the National Coursing Club, which has strict codes of conduct and closely governs the sport. The National Coursing Club has the oldest continuous sporting records book in the world.

- Illegal hare coursing is carried out by people who have no official licences and do not have permission of landowners. These people often use hare coursing as a highly profitable form of gambling, sometimes involving large sums of money. Illegal events often involve lurchers, rather than the greyhounds used in the legal events.

- Those taking part in illegal hare coursing can be fined up to £2,500, have their cars taken away or even be banned from driving if their vehicle is used in such activities.

- Like fox hunting the Government has announced all hare coursing will become illegal from February 19, 2005. Anybody caught after that date will face up to six-months in prison or a £3,000 fine.

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