The ‘Hunting Declaration’ mystery

This blog is part of a series of blogs that feature excerpts of IFAW’s report Trail of Lies, which is the most comprehensive study to date examining the hunting with dogs debate and the practices hunters take to undermine the ban. –The eds.

Where are they?

Where are all the documents that show the names and addresses of all the illegal hunters, together with their signed declaration of their intention to become criminals?

Unless you have been closely involved in the hunting debate for many years you may not know that such documents actually existed. But then they mysteriously disappeared. Read the following extracts from the Trail of Lies report discussing this mystery:

The intention to break the law on hunting may have been a collective decision taken by those representing the hunting fraternity. It may also have been individual decision taken by many hunters. Evidence suggests that before the Hunting Act 2004 was passed many hunters directly expressed this intention by signing a written declaration stating that they would break the law if the ban was enacted.

The declaration concept may have begun in 1999 when Arnold Garvey, the then Editor of Horse & Hound magazine, expressed his defiance of the proposed ban and the intent of hunters to break it if passed. As the BBC reported on 16th September of that year (BBC, 1999b).(…)

Soon after, Robin Page, prominent countryside broadcaster, and Jennie Loriston-Clarke, an international dressage trainer, also pledged to join the civil disobedience campaign (Horse&Hound, 2000).  In 2003, Prof. Roger Scruton and others founded the Hunting Declaration Initiative, encouraging hunt supporters to sign a declaration. The declaration  pledged that, if a ban came into force, they would disobey the law and continue to hunt, risking criminal conviction (Clover, 2002). The website (now deleted) www.huntingdeclaration.org was created to promote this initiative.

In 2003, the organisers of the initiative named 1st November 2003 as the Declaration Day, when a series of events were organised so hunters could physically and publicly sign the declaration. (…)This extract from a press article explains the connection with the CA (Horse&Hound, 2003): “Venues have been announced for mass meets on ‘Declaration Day’, in which hunts from across England and Wales will gather to rally against the Hunting Bill. The 12 meets, ranging from Caldbeck in Cumbria to Badminton in Gloucestershire, (pictured) will be held on 1 November at 10am, and aim to increase media attention on the Hunting Bill. The north-east area will be meeting in Trimdon, Tony Blair’s home village. Countryside Alliance regional officer Richard Dodd says: ‘A supporter has offered 100 acres of land in the village for the gathering and we are expecting more than 1,000 supporters.’ Many will sign the Hunting Declaration at the mass meets. This commits signatories to refuse to co-operate with a hunting ban and then submit themselves to the legal consequences. The alliance is extending the invitation to attend Declaration Day to all field sports supporters, as well as those who support the right to hunt as a basic freedom. Simon Hart, chief executive of the alliance, explains: ‘The gatherings will give individuals the opportunity to make clear their intention to take part in a peaceful but committed civil disobedience, should a hunting ban be imposed.’ The CA, which has organised this event in conjunction with the Council of Hunting Associations, has arranged a hotline for all 12 areas.”

The following is the complete text of a copy of the Hunting Declaration that we have on file [in this blog we have removed most of the text but the entire text can be found in the full report]: (…) “Consequently, we the undersigned declare our intention peacefully to disobey any law purporting to ban hunting. We do this with sadness and recognizing that our defiance inevitably threatens our freedoms and livelihoods. We believe that to date we have clearly demonstrated our respect for the law and its institutions. We do not take such action with any expectation of escaping punishment, but rather in the hope of persuading both the legislators and our fellow citizens of the injustice of a ban. We feel it appropriate to put our personal freedoms at risk in this belief.”(...)

The Declaration Day events took place, and the press reported that around 37,000 people had signed the declaration on that day alone. (…) By the time the Hunting Act was passed the BBC reported that “In November 2004 the Countryside Alliance said it expected 50,000 people to carry on hunting in the traditional manner, despite the ban. Anecdotal evidence suggests a number of hunts, particularly in very rural areas, will continue.” (BBC, 2005).  The Telegraph also reported that this amount of people actually signed the declarations (Clover, 2004):“Prof Roger Scruton, founder of the Hunting Declaration, which has accumulated 50,000 signatures of people prepared to break the law in the event of a hunting ban, led the case for the proposition. "Civil disobedience is a form of law-abidingness," he said. "You are both breaking the law and proposing yourself for arrest. This is the right strategy when a government gives way to a bigoted minority."

However, it is not clear where all these declarations are today. Despite the fact that they would prove invaluable for prosecution of illegal hunters, it appears that they were either destroyed or have been kept hidden since the ban was enacted.

The condition for those signing the declaration to undertake what they promised has now been fulfilled –namely that the ban has been enacted.  A signature is one of the strongest forms of proof of intent there is, and we have seen no evidence that the signatures were obtained by coercion. Consequently one should expect that the signatories would try to defy the hunting ban as they had declared they would do. If they can do that and at the same time avoid punishment, this obviously would be preferable for them, and this is where trail hunting comes in.

What is the proportion of people that go hunting today that signed the declaration? We do not know, but we know this: IFAW’s Wildlife Crime Investigators’ hunt monitoring reports produced since the ban was enacted show an average of about 40 people per meet going hunting (without counting hunt supporters) .There are about 300 registered hunts in the UK. Hunts tend to go out hunting twice a week, in a weekday and a weekend day. So, conservatively assuming that different hunters go out in weekend meets and weekday meets, there should be around 24,000 people that currently go hunting. Comparing this number with the 50,000 number of signatures reported, it is entirely possible that most trail hunters signed a document stating their intent to defy the ban. However, without the actual signed documents which seem to have disappeared, we will never be sure.

Perhaps someone with authority should ask the Countryside Alliance or the Council of Hunting Associations if they can shine any light on the mystery of the disappearing declarations.

Perhaps Simon Hart MP, still an expert on campaigning for hunting and quoted in one of the articles above, could help too.

Or perhaps the trail of lies characteristic of the criminal underworld will continue.

--JC

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