The hunts are a barbaric throwback to crueller times and should have no place in a modern, compassionate society.
Two men received suspended prison sentences at Leicester Crown Court yesterday for seriously assaulting two League Against Cruel Sports professional investigators who were attacked whilst monitoring a fox hunt on behalf of the animal welfare charity.
One of the investigators, former policeman Darryl Cunnington, had his neck broken in three places during the assault, which took place as they monitored the activities of the Belvoir Hunt.
Read Roger Swaine's shocking first hand account of the attack at The Ecologist...
Lady Sarah McCorquodale, older sister of Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, joint master of the Belvoir Hunt and former High Sheriff of Lincolnshire, gave a character reference in court for George Grant, one of the men being sentenced.
George Grant, the Belvoir Hunt terrier man, and his son Thomas Grant – both of whom pleaded guilty to charges of grievous bodily harm on investigator Darryl Cunnington, actual bodily harm on investigator Roger Swaine, theft of a video camera and criminal damage of a memory card – received the following sentences:
For the charges of grievous bodily harm to Darryl Cunnington, both received 18 months imprisonment with 25 per cent discount making 13 months and two weeks suspended for two years.
Additionally, over the next 12 months they have to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work and to pay a victims surcharge.
For the charges of Actual Bodily Harm to Roger Swaine and theft of camera and damage to a SD card, a three months custodial sentence to run concurrently, suspended for two years for both of them. Both have to pay £500 compensation to Darryl Cunnington to be paid in full within 28 days.
The attack took place on March 12, 2016 close to the village of Stathern in Leicestershire and involved the two convicted men and four unidentified masked men who punched and then pushed the investigators off a 14-foot ridge before escaping with one of the investigator’s cameras.
Martin Sims, League Against Cruel Sports Director of Investigations, and former Head of the Police’s British National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “The people who are employed by or support hunts often act like gangsters and this case illustrates what a dark and menacing blight they are on the countryside. The hunts are a barbaric throwback to crueller times and should have no place in a modern, compassionate society.
“The hunts have been conning the British public about their bloodthirsty hunting with hounds ever since the ban was introduced and they are clearly prepared to resort to desperate measures to maintain that deception.
The fact that both guilty men made ‘no comment’ throughout this investigation shows their lack of courage when confronted with the part they played in this brutal and unprovoked attack on our professional investigators. Why didn’t the hunt come forward with the names of the people who escaped prosecution when in court today it was stated that those individuals had been given the role of shadowing the investigators?”
Four other individuals were involved in this attack on Daryl and Roger and the League will consider a reward for any information that leads to their conviction.”
Darryl Cunnington, League Against Cruel Sports Head of Field Operations, said: “l am very lucky that the assault has left me with no long-term serious injuries. After falling fourteen feet, finding myself unable to move, I feared I was paralysed.
“The offenders refused to cooperate with the police and showed no remorse or concern. They must both think they are very fortunate not to have gone to prison today.”
Roger Swain, League Against Cruel Investigators Field Operator who was also assaulted, said: “The Investigations team have a policy of non-interference and we are there purely to record any hunting or other cruelty offences.
"We were filming the Belvoir Hunt from a public bridleway from a distance of 1km. This violent response by an employee of the Hunt and five others was unprovoked and a complete overreaction.”
The East Midland BBC Inside Out programme filmed with the investigators during the 2016 fox hunting season and took footage of the aftermath of the assault and shared it on their Facebook account.
The case comes 14 years after fox hunting was banned in England and Wales with the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004 which came into force in 2005.
Professional investigators from the League Against Cruel Sports monitor hunts across the UK to obtain evidence that they are still illegally chasing and killing foxes, hares and deer.
In traditional fox hunting a hunt would employ one or more terrier men. Their role was to stop up fox earths and badger setts before a hunt to prevent foxes from taking refuge below ground and to ‘deal’ with foxes that had managed to go to ground during the day’s hunting.
Martin Sims added: “This case highlights the sheer thuggery and lawlessness of fox hunts and their blatant disregard for the laws of this country.
“Despite being banned in 2004, hunting is still widespread and endemic across the British countryside hence why we employ professional investigators to monitor their activities and bring them to justice. “The presence of terrier men exposes the lies of the hunts and shows they are clearly targeting foxes.”
Andrew Knot, Interim CEO of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “We are proud of Darryl Cunnington and Roger Swaine – their courage and integrity stands head and shoulders above the people that attacked them.”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the League Against Cruel Sport. The League is encouraging members of the public to sign their petition titled ‘stop the killing of animals by hunts in the UK’.