A successful prosecution against illegal foxhunting in Yeovil Magistrates’ Court

In the video above, we see key footage obtained by Wildlife Crime Investigators for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) which led to a successful prosecution (taken by the RSPCA) against the huntsman of the Seavington Foxhounds in Dorset, UK, for illegally hunting a fox with dogs (an offence under the Hunting Act 2004), on 26 January 2013.

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Fox running through a field at 14:56 on the day of the offence, after having being bolted by the Seavington hounds nearbyIn Yeovil Magistrates’ Court, on 12 September 2013, David Parker, Huntsman of the Seavington Foxhounds, pleaded guilty to the Hunting Act 2004 offence which took place in the area around Causeway Lane, Winsham, in Dorset in January 2013. He was sentenced to pay a £500 fine, £500 costs plus a £50 victim surcharge.

This is not unusual in itself. There have been more than two hundred successful prosecutions under the Hunting Act 2004 since it became illegal to chase foxes with dogs in England and Wales. Also huntsmen (the member of a Hunt who is in control of the hounds) pleading guilty when facing overwhelming evidence of their illegal activities is an outcome that often happens.

However, what makes this case special for us is that the evidence that led to this conviction was obtained by IFAW Wildlife Crime Investigators working as part of IFAW’s UK Enforcement Team, whose role is to gather evidence of illegal hunting to aid public or private prosecutions.

Huntsman using his horn at 14:57 of the day of the offence, encouraging the hounds to pursue “the line” of the fox.

Our professional Wildlife Crime Investigators run intelligence led operations when they have information that makes them suspect that a particular hunt may be engaging in illegal hunting somewhere. This is what they did on 26 January 2013 when they monitored the Seavington Hunt, and managed to film them on the Dorset/Somerset border searching a scrub area from which a fox bolted.

When the Huntsman was made aware of the presence of the fox by other people assisting him he then blew the horn and engaged the hounds in pursuing it, which is in itself a breach of section 1 of the Hunting Act 2004 regardless of whether the fox is eventually caught in the end.

The footage clearly shows the fox fleeing across the field, with the hounds following “on line” shortly after for several fields and then stopping at a spot where the fox probably hid underground.

Hounds “on line” in pursue of the fox through several fields, about 14:58 of the day of the offence.The huntsman then inspected the spot, other people joined him and some who carried spades started to dig, and eventually the huntsman and the remaining riders left. The whole recorded chase lasted more than 12 minutes and covered a distance of about a third of a mile.

The evidence of the event had to be properly recorded, handled and stored, and after analysing it a case had to be built from all the footage and additional evidence to professionally assess if there was a potential for prosecution.

In this instance, after such an assessment was made a few weeks after the incident took place using all the best state of the art equipment and forensic techniques at the disposal of IFAW’s Enforcement team, the case was handed over to the RSPCA for consideration, who then accepted it, carried out further investigations and eventually successfully prosecuted the huntsman with the evidence we produced.

David Parker, Huntsman of the Seavington hunt, recorded at 15:21 on the day of the offence, returning from the fields where the illegal chase took place.

For us, this was a “mission accomplished” moment and as UK Director of IFAW I am very proud of the work of the team involved (particularly the investigators on the ground who obtained the evidence), as this case proves that our new methods and approach are working well despite all the obstacles the hunting fraternity is throwing at us, and also because our close work with the RSPCA is bearing fruit. Having achieved a guilty plea in the first hearing, which is always a good indication of the strength of a case, was the icing on the cake.

In a few weeks the hunting season will begin again, and our enforcement team will be feeling highly motivated on the back of this success. It is very hard to obtain evidence under hostile conditions, enduring the harsh weather of the British winter, and to do it at the highest level of professional standards we are aspiring to. But enforcing wildlife crime legislation is important anywhere in the world, whether the victim is an elephant, a rhino or a fox, and we at the International Fund for Animal Welfare take this very seriously.

--RM

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