“Trail of Lies” largest report on practice to avoid Hunting Ban prosecutions

Joe Hashman, Jordi Casamitjana, Chris Williamson, Penny Little and Philip Mansbridge during the launch of the Trail of Lies reportThis week, in the setting of St Matthews House in Westminster, central London, IFAW unveiled a report we had been working on for a long time. In fact, the work to collect data for this study has taken more than 10 years.

The hunting ban in England and Wales has an enforcement problem, mainly caused by trail hunting – an activity carried out by organised hunts– so we decided to investigate this issue in depth.

Our report, Trail of Lies, examines and exposes the role of trail hunting in preventing successful prosecutions against hunters who manage to sidestep the current ban on hunting with dogs.

It is the biggest study to date on trail hunting.

It should be remembered that the Hunting Act was introduced because the overwhelming majority of the UK public finds the cruelty of hunting with dogs completely unacceptable.

Trail of Lies focusses on multiple hunts across England and Wales. It contains more than 200 pages of articles, comments, images and expert opinion. The evidence is based on bibliographical research, testimonies of witnesses and experts, statistical analysis of quantifiable data, analysis of court records and proceedings and audio-visual evidence from the field.

The main conclusion of the report is that the evidence suggests that, although there may be exceptions, trail hunting is primarily a false alibi to avoid prosecutions of illegal hunting, rather than a harmless temporary simulation of hunting before the ban, or a slight variation of the cruelty-free sport of drag hunting.

The study uncovered that trail hunting as a false alibi can be achieved by four different methods: 

  • Method 1 - No trail (hunts not making an attempt to lay any trail and simply relying on the authorities believing that they have);
  • Method 2 - False evidence (hunts occasionally creating some evidence to support their alibi, and keeping it for use in the future while primarily hunting as before the ban);
  • Method 3 - Faking it (hunts systematically creating some evidence of trail laying to support their alibi, but nevertheless continuing to hunt as before the ban because the evidence is not of genuine trail hunting, but is actually fake);
  • Method  4 - Causing accidents (hunts developing some sort of ‘real’ trail hunting while at the same time inducing the hounds to hunt a live mammal, and then, claiming it was just an ‘accident’).

We believe that most hunts may be using Method 1. This is because in 99% of IFAW hunt monitors’ reports produced during the last 10 years (443 reports on supposed ‘trail hunting’ events covering 45 different registered hunts in England & Wales), the investigators reported not witnessing anybody laying what they believed was a genuine trail. This is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence to support this conclusion, mirrored by the testimonies of hunt monitors from other organisations from around the country.

These conclusions are also supported by all the circumstantial evidence presented which analyses the motive, means and opportunities of trail hunters. The evidence of the variety of crimes committed by members of the hunting fraternity, the coordination and planning necessary to develop fully the false alibi, and how often trail hunting occurs, suggest that it would be worth considering whether registered hunts undertaking trail hunting could be a type of atypical organised crime with elements of gang culture and corporate crime. This could be better combatted if the enforcement authorities recognised it as such.

The very design of trail hunting as defined by the hunting fraternity itself, via pro-hunt organisations since 2005, shows that it provides a perfect opportunity for false alibis and for sabotaging the enforcement of the Hunting Act 2004. This suggests that we are not talking about an activity that was ‘corrupted’ by a criminal component, but an activity that was designed to help criminality from the start. 

The use of trail hunting by illegal hunters as a false alibi is a problem that can be solved in the following ways:

  1. conversion to drag hunting/bloodhounds hunting;
  2. development of strict rules regulating the activity specifically designed to prevent it from being used as a false alibi;
  3. amendment of the laws that ban hunting to ensure that they no longer allow trail hunting to be used as a false alibi.

We believe the third solution is the one with the highest probability of success.

It’s time to stop the lies illegal hunters use to ‘get away with it’. As Judge Michael Pert QC said in the Crown Court at Leicester when he confirmed the guilty verdict of a hunter who used the trail hunting alibi:

But the law is the law and no worthy cause is well-served by cynical subterfuge which, in our view, is what we have seen in this case”.

This report gives substantial evidence to back his claim, and to convince people that trail hunting is a major obstacle in prosecuting those who break the laws of the Hunting Act 2004.


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