Huntsman guilty of fox kill and assaulting 'sab' activist on Suffolk estate
A career huntsman has been convicted of killing a fox for sport, in what is thought to be a landmark case for Suffolk.
Christopher Amatt is believed to be the first organised Suffolk hunt member to be found guilty of breaking laws introduced in 2004.
Codefendant Archibald Clifton-Brown was cleared of the offence after a three-day trial at Ipswich Crown Court on Wednesday.
But both were found guilty of assaulting activist Steven Milton when he grabbed a dead fox as evidence of hunting in Great Thurlow on Boxing Day 2017.
Hunt saboteurs said they were “overjoyed” with the decision, which the Countryside Alliance promised would be appealed.
Amatt, 58, of Attleton Green, Wickhambrook, had blamed ‘sabs’ for turning the fox into the path of hounds he was trying to head off.
He denied riding into Mr Milton and trying to bring a whip down on him, while Clifton-Brown pleaded innocence to assaulting the same victim during an attempt to wrestle the dead fox away.
The 19-year-old, of Little Bradley, claimed he was retrieving the carcass to stop theft of private property and to prevent it being used in “anti-hunt propaganda”.
Prosecutor Richard Kelly had claimed Clifton-Brown was a ‘whipper-in’, tasked with keeping hounds in check.
Although district judge Nick Watson was sure the teenager was more than a volunteer, as posited by Peter Glenser QC, he found insufficient evidence to prove necessary intent, or that he was privy to the huntsman’s plan.
Hunt master Robin Vestey told the court he laid three scent trails that morning for the purposes of simulating traditional hunting.
Amateur whipper-in William Burton then swore Clifton-Brown was little more than “an opener of gates; a holder of horses; the boy”.
Mr Kelly said saboteur footage showed a “complete lack of urgency” by the hunting party to respond to hounds in “full cry” before the fox was killed.
In Amatt’s defence, Richard Paton-Philip called the idea he went “creeping off” to hunt a fox “preposterous”.
But district judge Nick Watson said he was sure Amatt had taken the dogs into the woods; knowing there was likely to be a fox, encouraging the hounds to hunt, and refusing to intervene when saboteurs arrived.
Amatt was fined a total of £250 and ordered to pay £600 in costs.
Clifton-Brown was fined £150 and must pay £450 costs.
Adrian Simpson, of the Countryside Alliance said both defendants had already indicated they will appeal.
He added: “The notion the defendants were deliberately hunting illegally in full view of hundreds of spectators and in the presence of a large contingent of animal rights protestors, many of whom were masked and abusive, is difficult to comprehend.”
Paula Lamont, of Beds and Bucks Hunt Sabs, said: “We are absolutely overjoyed.
“It takes an awful lot of work to get these cases into court, and tribute goes to Suffolk police, who have completely changed a lot of our views about the way that hunts are policed.”
She said sabs would go on trespassing if they suspected illegal hunting taking place.
Rural crime team sergeant, Brian Calver said: “Where sufficient credible evidence is available, we will investigate these matters and bring those to justice that feel they can cause harm to our wildlife, with no regards for the welfare of animals involved.”