The Only Way is Up

Posted on Monday, January 14, 2019
In: Editorial
Written by: Peter Brook

You really could not make it up. Infighting, ostensibly over money and power/influence between the LACS, and their bully boy associates the HSA, has spilled out into the public domain.  Ordinarily this would be cause for quiet enjoyment. Indeed, it’s not the first time such discord has demonstrated that everything in the AR world is not based upon masked ‘heroes’ protecting cuddly fur babies. In fact evidence drawn from the AR press indicates that this uncomfortable relationship has limped along since 1963 with the prevalent view that the HSA came about because “the League didn’t seem to be doing anything”.  Thanks to their competing need for primary status in AR social media land, both LACS and the HSA are once again are busy slugging it out in a public spat reminiscent of the Alice Through the Looking Glass characters Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Each one armed with a brand-new shiny rattle that someone else has to pay for. Things have become bad enough for the Charity Commission to feel the need to wade into the melee and put both organisations on opposite naughty steps. Given this state of affairs, a cynic might be bold enough to suggest that any declared ‘support for animals’ is taking a back seat as both organisations fight over the imagined mountains of cash they can accrue through a few carefully edited videos and sensationalist but frequent fictional reports to the media.

Isn’t this good news for those that prioritise any sort of animal welfare over animal rights? Well it would be if we stopped making school boy errors. Read the Riot Act where necessary to some involved in hunting with hounds, and most importantly had proper governance structures in place so that deliberate contravention of  animal welfare based principles and policy leads to a door marked EXIT.

Perhaps, in 2019 hunting people could avoid the temptation to indulge in self sabotage?
The constant vilification of hunts in the press and social media, and the consequential sniping of the police and imagined ‘loopholes in the law’ together with the CPS reviews of ‘evidence’ not delivering ‘justice’ in the eyes of the keyboard thumping thugs has caused one Police Authority, Cheshire, to commission an independent report into the Hunting Act and their response to its policing. The  report was intended to enable Cheshire Police to form a view on whether they were effective at investigating allegations of offences under the Hunting Act, and whether they dealt appropriately with complaints against the police. There is little doubt that, in part, the report was commissioned to silence some very noisy, persistent and often non UK based complaints that the police were biased towards hunts and their ‘toffs’ as there had been no prosecutions of hunts. The report was concerned only with fox hunting. No other types of hunting with hounds were considered by the authors, but we have no doubt that any policies that are derived from the reports conclusions will be used in all interactions with any type of hunt regardless of the quarry. The report had 11 recommendations full analysis of which we will include in a separate article but one of the most worrying statements is “LACS guidance [on the Hunting Act] is both balanced and informative” – this gives rise to a number of difficult questions! Not the least of which is “Where was the guidance from those supporting hunting with hounds?”  The report says they were consulted but they appear not to have added any real value. And if it were supplied why did it fail to gain traction with the report’s authors?

Interestingly, despite constant venom-filled missiles from anti hunt elements of the media and some very vocal groups concerning their view of the Hunting Act, the report’s authors come to the conclusion that the Act ‘is workable and enforceable’.

It is highly likely that the report will be widely read, and become part of, if not key, to any future guide to any Force’s Policy in England and Wales on their approach to Hunting Act policing. This is likely to include a robust ‘due diligence’ line of enquiry if incidents occur.

The report has a number of issues, one of which is that it gives a lot of credibility to online advice and recommendations from those opposed to hunting with hounds in any form. This is at best unfortunate and must impact on the report’s impartiality. In addition, the report strays into the area of looking at advice for prosecutors – something which is out of scope for a report commission for a Police Authority. Finally the claim that “….trail hunting, which many opposed to fox hunting see as no more than a sham, not least because the trail is laid with a fox-based scent, compared to drag hunting which uses other scents” is both factually incorrect and has no basis appearing in a fact-based report. What is the relevance of what those opposed to foxhunting think? The law and its enforcement must only be concerned with what can be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. This error should have been pointed out during the draft stages.

The statistics supplied reveal that the Politicians who claim that ‘my postbag is full of letters concerning hunting’ may not be that reliable. In 2017 hunting incidents in Cheshire were only 0.06% of all incidents in Cheshire force area and of these only 19 were designated ‘hunt crimes’ out of almost 28000 incidents. How much less could they be if hunts stopped scoring own goals?

In Scotland the political response to the Bonomy report which commissioned on the basis of the conclusions of ‘snake oil science’ in a 2015 report by a disgraced academic has been the usual spite-based SNP response of “ignore the evidence but feel our historic wrath”. If the proposals are enacted without challenge, then there is little hope for fox survival in Scotland.

Given the challenges above, hunting with hounds of all types is in desperate need of a communicated proactive strategy which:- stops the home grown rot,  imposes governance based solutions derived from the principles of utility and welfare, is able to be utilised by all involved in hunting from amateur to professional, and which is enforced openly when required. Our hounds, and the hunting community deserve nothing less.

Given our experience of leading on successful animal welfare based prosecution reports whilst working with all stakeholders for an animal welfare based outcome Baily’s is ready to answer the call to work towards an accountable self governance regime for hunting with hounds and its long term future.  How many other pro-hunting organisations will stand with us?