Huntmaster avoids jail for assault

A HUNTMASTER who spat in the face of a policeman and hit two hunting protesters with a whip walked free from court after being fined and ordered to carry out unpaid community work yesterday.

By Roddy Ashworth

A HUNTMASTER who spat in the face of policeman and hit two hunting protesters with a whip walked free from court after being fined and ordered to carry out unpaid community work yesterday.

Farmer Douglas Hill, 63, of West Hanningfield, near Chelmsford, had been warned he could be jailed after being convicted of assault, criminal damage and harassment after a trial at Witham magistrates' court in March.

But District Judge Margaret Dodd said she was opting for a “non-custodial sentence”, fined Hill £250 and imposed a 220-hour community punishment order.

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Hill, who denied any offence, was also ordered to pay £350 compensation to each of his three victims and £1,600 costs.

Barrister David Whittaker, for Hill, told the court that his client was “precisely the type of person who should not go prison for this offence”.

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But one of Hill's victims - hunting protester Sally Mitchell, 26, of Camden, London - said the judge had let down the public and the police by not jailing him.

“I think it sends a message out that it is okay to attack members of the public with a weapon,” said Miss Mitchell, who suffered minor head and hand injuries when trouble flared at a hunt meeting.

“It is okay to spit at policemen when they doing their duty.”

She added: “Do you think I would have got the same sentence if I spat at a policeman and hit huntsmen with a whip? I don't think so.”

Essex Police made no comment last night, but a spokesman for the Police Federation said: “Spitting is an assault. It shows a complete disregard for a police officer's authority and that cannot be good for anyone.

“There are also risks to our members on health grounds in terms of spitting. And the danger of weak sentencing is that it gives a green light to this kind of completely unacceptable behaviour.”

Hill, who is joint master of the Essex Farmers' and Union Hunt and appeared in court wearing a tie decorated with images of hounds, saddles, pheasants and whips, also said nothing as he left court.

During the trial, Pc Craig Bolton told of his “complete shock” at being spat at during the hunt meeting near Danbury in March 2005.

Pc Bolton saw Hill assault two hunt saboteurs and was trying to arrest him. “He turned his horse and before I had the chance to question Mr Hill further he leant towards me and spat directly on to my face from a distance of about 2ft,” he said.

“While Mr Hill was still leaning towards me he wiped his hand across his mouth and nose and then wiped his hand across my jacket.”

Shortly afterwards Hill struck Miss Mitchell and Geoffrey Bradford, 20, with the whip he was carrying, the court heard.

The hunt was taking place a month after a ban on hunting came into force, at which time hunts were continuing to gather legally by drag-hunting.

Hill told the court that he and his horse Boris had been surrounded by saboteurs and attacked. He said he had tried to get away from the crowd and had not intentionally hit anyone and had not spat at Pc Bolton or wiped blood on the officer's coat.

Judge Dodd, who sat in Chelmsford Magistrates' Court to pass sentence yesterday, told Hill: “Police officers should be allowed to go about their business without fearing assault.

“That follows also for members of the public going about their business, even if that includes protesting - whether you like it or not.”

Yesterday Liz Mort, eastern eegional director of the Countryside Alliance, said: “I am delighted that Mr Hill did not get a custodial sentence, he did not deserve one.

“This whole thing underlines how much pressure those who go hunting continue to be under from protesters, despite the fact that hunting itself has changed and we are hunting within the law, not chasing foxes.

“The original judgement found Doug Hill guilty, but we should remember that he was also a victim.

“No-one should have to face this sort of antagonism when they are undertaking a perfectly legal activity.”

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