Tuesday, 16 December 2008



Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Simon Hart says that this week's ludicrous convictions under the Hunting Act are exactly what we predicted:

A few years ago we produced a series of adverts of ‘ordinary’ hunting people with text asking whether they were “criminals”.

This week saw the strongest evidence yet that our prediction was right. On Tuesday in Kings Lynn Magistrates Court Les Anderson, 80, and Mary Birkbeck, 77, were convicted of a criminal offence under the Hunting Act.

Mr Anderson is Chairman of the Kimberly and Wymondham Greyhound Club and last winter organised two events in December and January on Miss Birkbeck’s farm with her consent. These events were not coursing as Les had known it during the 62 years he had been involved. They were trials held under a set of rules developed with legal advice to fit within the terms of the Hunting Act. The greyhounds were muzzled, the field surrounded by netting to ensure that hares could exit but the greyhounds could not; guns were placed in adjacent fields to shoot hares and three judges were tasked with deciding which dog was most useful in driving hares to the guns.

Not content with simply implementing these rules Mr Anderson also informed the police when events were taking place and sent a copy of the rules to them. The police sergeant who received the rules considered them with the local wildlife officer, and they advised Mr Anderson that they thought the events would be legal.
Meanwhile the animal rights movement had swung into action against these ‘dangerous’ people. The League Against Cruel Sports commissioned Mike Huskisson, an individual with a nasty animal rights past, to “co-ordinate” an operation that also involved professional activists from IFAW as well as the RSPCA.

They staked out the first event, hiding in hedges (as they love to do) with their long lens cameras. The intended dramatic effect however went rather flat when it was revealed that when Michael Butcher of the RSPCA turned up at the second event in January of this year he was invited in, shown what was happening and even given a cup of coffee.

Notwithstanding the welcome he was given, Butcher, having ‘discovered’ who had arranged the event and on whose land it took place, started the process of bringing a private prosecution against them and a third man, Bob Fryer.

The trial, which started on Monday, was in turn both farcical and disturbing. A local policeman, dragged into a case he clearly wanted nothing to do with, denied having approved the clubs plans until his own voice on Mr Anderson’s voicemail was played back to the court.

An RSPCA employee failed to properly administer a caution, which led to all charges against Mr Fryer being dropped. But then there was the unedifying scene of the RSPCA’s barrister cross examining the 80 year old Mr Anderson, who spent two hours in the witness box, on pathetic points of law, as if he was some risk to society.

The District Judge could only rule on the law, stupid though we know it to be, although he does have latitude in sentencing which he made full use of. Instead of a fine he issued Mr Anderson and Miss Birkbeck with a Conditional Discharge, which is judicial shorthand for a mild ticking off.
And whilst the RSPCA tried to recoup the £15,000 of their members money they had spent in bringing the prosecution he ordered that just £2000 should be paid.

“ No-one should have to go through the nonsense that Mr Anderson and Miss Birkbeck did this week.”Of all those involved in this farce the RSPCA has the most questions to answer. Why is a charity which is supposed to focus on animal welfare wasting thousands of pounds dragging elderly people (who even the Judge acknowledged had no criminal intent) through the courts?
The answer from that organisation is, unbelievably, that they “believed it was in the public interest”. If anyone needed any evidence of the nonsense of that statement it was readily available in court. On one side sat the professional animal rights activists. Not a single member of the public supporting them, or the prosecution, attended the trial. On the other side were packed sons, grand-daughters, nephews and friends of the accused. Kings Lynn Magistrates can rarely have seen such a crowd and the case had to be moved to the vacant Crown Court to accommodate them. The feeling in Norfolk was quite clear.
No-one should have to go through the nonsense that Mr Anderson and Miss Birkbeck did this week.

However, they can be proud of the fact that their honesty has made a mockery of this prosecution and provided the clearest illustration yet of why the Hunting Act is on borrowed time and must be repealed.

1 comment:

David Tyne said...

If you think this is bad, there's a pensioner called Tony Bolton down who is just 92 years young who the RSPCA prosecuted in Blandford Magistrates. He was too ill to get to court. The RSPCA's sick lawyers proved the case in his absence and applied for a bench warrant. I'm pleased to say that the police have refused to enforce it, but an honest copper is sure to lose their job over that piece of common sense policing.