Fox Me Stoopid! - Hunting Bill
editorial - SchNEWS, 25 February 2005
"It's not the police we've got to watch, it's the antis with their video cameras."
- Graham Bridgeman, Chairman, Eggesford Hunt.
Finally seven years after Neo-Labour promised to ban hunting with dogs, the law's been passed. Foxes can relax and hunt sabs can hang up their balaclavas....Or can they? Things ain't what they seem in the countryside. Hunts are still riding out in red coats and killing foxes while the police turn a blind eye. In fact the hunting fraternity are promising to kill even more foxes as some sort of sick revenge for the ban. In a classic example on the day after the ban the Master of the Old Surrey and Burstow hunt, Graham Worsley, held up a shot fox in front of a crowd of three hundred hunt supporters and said "Tony Blair made me do this" as if the Prime Minister was a voice inside his head.
Despite a manifesto commitment and a clear majority of the public and MPs wanting a hunt ban, the ban has taken years to introduce - having to fight the power of the hunting elite and their friends in the media, Lords and police. It has been often sidelined in committees and continually dismissed by the House of Lords (funny that), Tony Blair has tried to reach every form of compromise possible - but has been dragged kicking and screaming to a hunt ban by his backbenchers.
Despite recent attempts to paint foxhunts like the Belvoir, Cottesmore and Duke of Beaufort as more working class than a colliery brass band, hunting remains the preserve and pastime of the rural elite, the aristocracy and royalty. Hunt sabs have long felt that they're not so much anti-capitalist as anti-feudalist. Otis Ferry and his cronies who broke into the House of Commons as a protest against the ban are all well connected and sure in the knowledge their money will keep them safe from the consequences of their actions. Just as those five can expect an easy ride with the law (they were only charged with threatening behaviour, imagine if they'd been animal rights activists!) so it seems can the whole hunting brigade. Like the 'riot' in Parliament Square, ironically surpassing anything pulled off by Mayday anarchists, involving fireworks being thrown at the police has resulted in a handful of prosecutions for minor public order offences. Now there is to be an inquiry into the police's "rough handling" of hunt protestors - but it's not exactly the first time the Met have split a few heads is it? Funnily enough neither the Murdoch press nor the Mail ran their usual "0800 shop a rioter" pages.
The police have adopted a similar approach. An internal Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) document showed that police forces would give the ban a "low priority". Police are also now publicly worried that the ban may be unenforceable because so many of their own officers are so pro-hunt, something which has been impossible to get them to admit before.
Hunts have always had virtual impunity from the law anyway. Attacks on saboteurs, which have resulted in many serious injuries and two deaths have either not resulted in prosecutions or been punished in a desultory manner, e.g. a conditional discharge for one six foot man who punched a middle aged woman in the face breaking her nose. Hunt violence has escalated massively in the run up to the ban, with little sign of police response.
Police complain they haven't got resources to police hunts, but seem to have amnesia as hunting has always had enormous police resources thrown at it - devoted to harassing, intimidating and arresting opponents of hunting. In fact Sussex Police used to gleefully waste bucket loads of cash careering around the downs in 4x4s, fielding up to seventy officers a week across the county during Operation Rook to protect hunts. Surrey police went one better; they used to have two coppers on horses riding with Surrey Union hunt - on one occasion they arrested six hunt sabs who were trying to stop the hunt illegally dig a fox out of a badger sett, one policeman said "They are allowed to do that and we will call up every available police officer in Surrey to stop you interfering." Eventually the sabs had their charges dropped when the prosecution finally admitted it was a badger sett. SchNEWS wonders if the hunt will be prosecuted for disturbing a badger sett and if the police will be prosecuted for aiding and abetting a crime. Don't hold your breath.
In a bizarre twist the police are asking the general public to turn vigilante and start to enforce the law, provoking visions of masked-up community support officers pursuing red -jacketed toffs shouting "I'm your worst nightmare - a sab with a badge".
Up until recently the Countryside Alliance (which functions as a sort of self help group for blood-junkies, toffs, cap doffers and forelock tuggers) was predicting mass public disorder if a ban was introduced. Peculiarly the bloodcurdling threats of mass defiance and civil war have given way to the more moderate promise of hunting within the law - which means not hunting at all. The CA's stance on the law now seems to be one of defying it by obeying it. This extraordinary climb down requires a little explanation - it seems the hunts are relaxing in the knowledge that the deal they've done with the state is that the police won't enforce the ban if the hunts pretend not to break it - so they are drag hunting (following a scent) which may "accidentally" pick up the scent of a fox, chase and kill it.
But what about the pesky anti, lurking in the hedge with her video camera? Simple! If the police are there, they might warn her to leave the land for disrupting the lawful activity of drag-hunting. If they're not various hunts including the Crawley and Horsham have begun to hire private security to supplement their volunteer thugs. Hunt violence has become big news in recent days, because the hunts are willing to be violent even in the face of national organisations. On Saturday hunt supporters assaulted a BBC cameraman in East Kent, while a van with an ITN crew in it was rammed off the road in Sussex. On both occasions the police made no arrests.
If the hunt ban is to be enforced then it is up to people who are opposed to hunting to get out in the field, record the activities of hunts and save the lives of foxes, hares, mink and deer.
* Hunt Saboteurs are still be going out to save animals lives and monitor hunts.
tel - 0845 4500727
* The League Against Cruel Sports has set up a Hunt Crime Watch Programme with a useful guide on how to spot an illegal hunt.
- SchNEWS (25th February 2005)