'Not enough' evidence of illegal hunts

ALLEGED offences of illegal hunting have gone unpunished in Suffolk because prosecutors have said there is not enough evidence to go to court, it has emerged.

ALLEGED offences of illegal hunting have gone unpunished in Suffolk because prosecutors have said there is not enough evidence to go to court, it has emerged.

Suffolk police said they had been actively enforcing the ban on hunting with dogs during the past 12 months and had submitted a number of files to the Crown Prosecution Service.

But on every occasion, the CPS has felt there is an “insufficient” chance of a prosecution succeeding, it has been revealed.

Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter said he did not blame prosecutors because the law had been drawn up in such a way that it was difficult to prove hunters were actually breaking the legislation, which was introduced a year ago tomorrow.

He was speaking after anti-hunt campaigners called for police to dedicate greater resources to upholding the law.

Mr McWhirter said: “The situation we have in Suffolk is we have put a number of files to the CPS. Having looked at the evidence, the CPS has felt that there is an insufficient chance of a prosecution succeeding.

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“The difficulty in relation to this is that the legislation is drawn up in such a way that you have to prove that someone hunted a wild mammal with a dog. The important bit is proving that the offender actually intended to hunt.

“What often happens is the huntspeople say that the fox popped up and the dogs went off after it and they were actually trying to call them off.

“I'm not blaming the CPS because it's about the level of proof required. I have always said that proving the intent to hunt was going to be the difficult bit with this legislation.

“We are doing the best we can to enforce the law and looking at every case on its merits. We are taking action when it's reported to us.”

Mr McWhirter said in one example, a woman had contacted police after seeing a fox run into her garden followed by hounds and a single huntsman.

“It is not surprising the lady said that she had seen somebody hunting. We put the allegation to the huntsman in question. He said that he was calling the dogs back after they had taken off after a fox while following a trail hunt. On that basis, after examining all the evidence, the CPS decided not to take it to court.

“We are collecting evidence and taking action and have done so on a number of occasions in the last year. If we get evidence people are flouting the law we will take action. It's one piece of legislation people will try to test for loopholes all the way through.”

A CPS spokesman said since October, CPS lawyers had taken over the charging of defendants in all but the most minor cases.

“While there have been cases brought against defendants relating to fox hunts, which have resulted in successful convictions, there have been no charges brought against individuals in Suffolk under the Hunting Act,” he said.

“While each case is assessed on its own merits, so far, there has been insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.”

Lawrie Payne, regional spokesman of the League Against Cruel Sports, said the organisation had resorted to bringing its own prosecutions in some parts of the country to stop illegal hunting.

“Obviously we believe it's a good law and it's a law we would expect to see upheld and enforced. We are disappointed the CPS at the moment does not seem to be taking the initiative in doing so,” he said.

“We believe there is enough evidence to show at times hunters are blatantly ignoring the law.”

The Hunting Act came into force following the failure of two legal challenges brought by the Countryside Alliance and makes it illegal to hunt a wild mammal with a dog unless the activity is specifically exempt from the Act. Hare coursing is also banned.

The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) said the anniversary of the act ran the risk of becoming a “red herring date” unless the police committed more officers to enforcing the law.

Its spokesman Dawn Preston said: “The traditional primary tool of a hunt sabotage in the past was always the hunting horn so that we could gain control of the hounds and seek to prevent them successfully hunting the fox, hare, mink or stag.

“Today our main tool is the video camera - as the very last thing that the hunts that are arrogantly breaking the law want is to be caught in the act.”

Meanwhile, Liz Mort, eastern regional director of the Countryside Alliance, said there had been no prosecutions in Suffolk because the law was not being broken.

“Before the ban we certainly feared that we would have to lose our hounds if a ban was brought in - but as the Act is worded, we can continue to hunt within the law - and, importantly, we also still provide our farmers and landowners with a fox control service, which they want.”

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