The infamous formula: Trail hunting + accident = excuse

Dead fox handed to the hounds by hunt staff from the Crawley and Horsham Hunt that led to their convictions in 2012. ©Simon WildThis 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.

It all boils down to a simple equation.

If people are accused of having allowed their dogs to chase or kill a wild mammal, it seems they only have to say ‘it was an accident,’ and the police will most likely not investigate, and the CPS will most likely not prosecute.

It should not be the case, but unfortunately there is culture among the enforcement agencies that permits this ‘get out of jail’ card to be successfully played far too many times. The misguided perception that ‘accidents’ in which hounds chase wildlife are inevitable is what makes trail hunting a working false alibi, but such accidents do not happen in drag hunting, only in trail hunting.

Read the following extract of the IFAW’s Trail of Lies report to find some evidence of this:

Drag hunting and ‘hunting the clean boot’ existed long before the banning of hunting in 2004 and are fundamentally different to trail hunting. We have never heard of a genuine drag hunt chasing any wild animal, nor do we know of any press reports which exist to relay such an incident. On the other hand we have seen many reports of trail hunting where such ‘accidents’ have happened, and the submission to the Burns Inquiry from the MDBA in 2000 stated that “the killing of a wild animal is almost unheard of by a draghound pack”(NA, 2000) . (…)

The first press mention of trail hunting as something that was already happening was a BBC article entitled “Hunting: What next for all sides?” published on 19th February 2005, precisely the day after the Hunting Act 2004 was enacted.  The term was used synonymously with drag hunting (BBC, 2005):


The Countryside Alliance says it will be easy for hunts to "accidentally" break the law -for example if the dogs pick up the scent of a real fox while out trail hunting.

When it is impossible for a huntsman to reach his dogs in time and they kill the animal, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said there will be no prosecution as there was not "the intent" of allowing hounds to chase and kill a fox.

Hunts are likely to run little risk of being punished as proving what was a genuine accident and what a deliberate breach might be very difficult for police and the courts.”

(…) A variation of this MO is when the hounds start following the urine trail and then deviate on to a wild mammal trail. This is likely to happen because the mammals live there and their scent will be fresher and more powerful than the bottled urine.  The huntsman will also be aware of this. He may have seen the animal fleeing or realised the trail could not have gone through thick hedges or busy roads. However, he pretends he is not aware and continues encouraging the hounds while claiming ignorance. (…)

We do know, though, that contrary to drag hunting in which actual accidents are very rare, ‘accidents’ are common in trail hunting. Here are some examples from press articles.

29/12/2005. An animal lover yesterday told of her horror at seeing huntsmen let dogs tear apart a fox - in apparent open defiance of the law. [She] said of the bloodbath just yards from her parents' home: "The hounds literally ripped the fox to bits in seconds. It was barbaric." But she is dismayed police have not even bothered to see her to probe the incident, with officers admitting that stopping illegal hunting is "not a top priority" (Llakers, 2005).

17/02/2006. Secretary of [a hunt] admitted that in recent weeks the hunt had accidentally killed a fox in the (…) Valley (…) But he denied that the hunt had done anything unlawful.  "The huntsman blew his horn and tried to call the hounds off but some of the hounds had been taking the kill," he said (The Westmorland Gazette, 2006).

18/02/2006. "About 50 foxes have been killed. These have been accidents and inadvertent kills - it can be hard to stop foxhounds doing what comes naturally (WMN, 2006).”

18/02/2006. About seven foxes have been accidently killed by hounds in the hunting field (…) said:"(…) There has been the odd accident where a fox has been killed when the hounds have got ahead of the huntsman, but nobody has flouted the law” (HDM, 2006).

29/11/2007. A woman and her grandson have been left traumatised after a fox was torn to shreds by hunting hounds in their Worcestershire garden. (…) "We were suddenly surrounded by a pack of very noisy and excited fox hounds tearing around our garden, trampling over flower beds, pushing through fencing and terrorising my grandson who was lost among the pack of hounds," she said (Fry, 2007).

13/02/2008. Hounds chased a fox into an empty house in a Northamptonshire village before cornering and killing the animal in the bathroom. Villagers said dogs from the (…) Hunt gained access to the house (…) through an open backdoor before pursuing the fox inside and then killing it, leaving behind what one called a "bit of a bloodbath" (Northampton Chronicle, 2008).

21/11/2009. (…) Hounds were following a scented trail along the side of covert at GD SU 084485 when a fox came up into the path of the hounds. The fox appeared to not be sound and may have been either elderly or suffering from prior illness or injury. Hounds killed the fox immediately before the Hunt servants had time to intervene to prevent them (MOD, 2009).

02/01/2011. Yesterday at a meet (…) Hunt Monitors witnessed the (…) Hunt chase and kill a fox. The Hunt was heard encouraging the hounds and blowing for the kill yet still had the cheek to tell Hunt Monitors it was only an accident. The Hunt threw the fox to the Hounds. Hunt Monitors made their presence known and the fox was given to a quadbike rider. He panicked and drove off leaving a monitor to grab the fox. Seconds later the Hunt returned with supporters to obtain possession of the fox. They placed it into a bag and dumped it somewhere. (…) (WSACIT, 2011).

12/12/2011. A family has spoken of their horror and disgust after they watched a huntsman club a fox to death on a garden patio. (…) The graphic designer, along with a friend and his teenage son, looked on in horror as a member of the (…) Hunt strolled across the patio before clubbing the fox to death just feet from where they were stood watching (…) Hunt has denied that the fox was clubbed to death. (…) A senior huntsman, said: "It was a horrible situation where we virtually had to watch and could not intervene. The fox was killed by the dogs - there is no way that the hounds would do half a job. I can see how it would have looked like that to a bystander and the would have been horrendous. The huntmaster was whipping the pack to get the dead fox from them. We have apologised to the owner of the garden and they have accepted the apology." [A] Police spokesman said: "They were hunting with a bird of prey and the pack accidentally picked up on the scent of a fox which attracted the hounds." The hunt mistress was spoken to by police. "Officers have also spoken to the owners who are satisfied with police action - there was no offence committed on the hunt, which was legal (The Telegraph, 2011)."

05/01/2012. (…) [A landowner] from Sidmouth, and a young passer-by fought in vain to save the wounded animal from a pack of dogs after it sought refuge on land she owns at Shute. Police are investigating the incident which is alleged to have happened at just after 4pm on Boxing Day. Members of the (…) Hunt have admitted being in the area at the time. A spokeswoman for the hunt said they had been legally hunting there, using a false scent trail as permitted under the law. But she said  it was possible one of the foxes living in the area might jump out and become an unintentional target for the hounds (Carson, 2012).

21/01/2012. A HUNT master has made another apology after hounds ran out of control for the second time in recent weeks. Complaints have been made to the (…) Hunt after hounds ran through gardens and private fields in (…) last Tuesday. (…)  Joint master of the (…) Hunt, apologised for last week's disruption. He said he wasn't riding with the hunt, which was out with around 34 hounds, last Tuesday but was aware of the incident.  "We would not deliberately go onto ground where people don't want us – we endeavour to make every effort to stop this from happening. Unfortunately, there are times when the hounds deviate onto live quarry or when wind shifts the trail," [he] said. "The hunt is making an extra effort to ensure this doesn't happen again. Our trail layers have been told in words of one syllable (Manning, 2012)".

19/02/2013. Police are investigating after a fox was killed by hunting hounds on a busy main road in Carmarthenshire. The fox had apparently been chased onto the A40 in the village of Abergwili, near Carmarthen, on Saturday. But the local (…) Hunt denied responsibility and said its foxhounds were 20 miles away at the time (BBC, 2013).

06/01/2015. Surrey Police has sparked outrage after suggesting a fox that died during a New Year's Eve hunt "ran into the path of dogs". The fox was found dead after a legal drag hunt (...) But when police were called, the Surrey force said: "It is understood the fox died after it ran into the path of dogs following a pre-laid trail in Godalming” (Best, 2015).

Are all these accidents ‘accidental’?  We do not think so. We believed they have been provoked by training the hounds to follow a fox or hare scent, placing them into areas where foxes or hares live, keeping the hounds under lose control, and not telling those that control them where the artificial scent trails were supposedly laid.

Enforcement agencies should not allow this infamous formula to be played again.

There is no excuse.


England and Wales residents ask your PCC to ensure the Hunting Ban is properly enforced.


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