Friday, June 22, 2018
Unelectable and unspeakable but still chasing the inedible
We all know that Prime Minister Theresa May has always been in favour of fox-hunting because she has often told us so.
In return, no less than 84 per cent of the British public have told her and other hunting fans in Westminster that they do not agree with those outdated opinions.
Overwhelmingly the general public wants Labour’s 2004 ban of hunting with dogs to stay firmly in place.
Yet despite hunting being illegal for nearly 14 years, wild animals are still being hunted and killed in the British countryside and those responsible are getting away with it.
Hunts are still killing wildlife. They have found many ways to circumvent the law and get away with slaughtering many wild animals. They do it in many ways — through so-called trail hunting, abusing exemptions in the law and exploiting legal loopholes that mean thousands of animals are meeting cruel and bloody deaths in the countryside every year.
Landowners are still giving hunts and packs of hounds access to land in order to carry out activities barely disguised as a cover for illegal hunting.
Legislation is simply not strong enough to allow the ever-reducing number of rural police to come down hard on illegal hunting.
Fox-hunting has always involved posh country folk dressing up and setting their pack of dogs on a fox and then chasing it on horseback for miles across the landscape. What hunters call a sport most people see as vicious and outdated cruelty.
The public wants nothing to do with May’s idea of repealing the legal ban put in place by a Labour government in 2004.
One of the worst ways the hunts get around this 14-year-old legal ban is called “trail hunting.” Most registered fox and hare hunts claim now to be trail hunting — an activity that was not in existence or even thought off when the Hunting Act 2004 was drafted.
Trail hunting is an entirely new invention which uses an artificial animal scent trail — often fox urine.
It is is not the same as drag hunting, which is a legitimate long established country sport which existed before the Act and, although it also uses packs of foxhounds, is not intended to catch and kill animals.
Trail hunting, on the other hand, deliberately kills many foxes and hares despite the claim from the hunts that these deaths are all accidents. It was simply dreamed up as a false cover for illegal hunting.
Too often the police or the Crown Prosecution Service consider that a case involving trail hunting may be too difficult to prosecute as proving intent is very difficult with the current Hunting Act if the trail-hunting deceit is used. That is why the law needs to be strengthened.
It isn’t just foxes that are illegally hunted and killed. Police are investigating allegations of illegal deer hunting in south-west England, following claims that here too a traditional hunt has been chasing stags with packs of hounds.
The League against Cruel Sports has given evidence to police that the Quantock Staghounds have broken the law.
Although the Hunting Act 2004 banned the hunting of foxes and wild mammals using dogs, hunting deer without hounds remains legal.
Three traditional hunts continue to chase deer on horseback in Somerset and Devon. The law allows hunters to use up to just two dogs to locate wounded deer or to flush out prey.
Darryl Cunnington, a retired police officer and now a League volunteer has given Avon and Somerset police wildlife officers a file of evidence from an incident in January on the southern edge of the Quantock hills, near Bridgwater in Somerset.
His evidence revealed there were seven or eight hounds chasing deer across the moor and the hounds were not called off and may have been actively encouraged. There was no evidence of trail-laying, proving this was deliberate illegal hunting.
A separate incident in September 2016 — filmed by a League volunteer — shows six hounds chasing a deer in Willoughby Cleeve. The man who took the footage, Andy Kendall, was also a retired police officer.
In 2007, local huntsmen Richard Down and Adrian Pillivant were each fined £500 for hunting deer with dogs. The League estimates that around 200 deer are chased and killed every year. Its Animal Crimewatch hotline, received 66 reports of illegal deer hunting in 2017.
So why did May raise the question of hunting just before her misjudged and hastily called general election.
In the campaign she ditched plans that had promised the Tory faithful a free vote to allow the end of the ban on fox-hunting.
It was of course a crude attempt to repair the Conservatives’ reputation on animal rights. May had voted against the original ban when it was introduced by Labour. She told Andrew Marr that she had always supported fox-hunting but had never herself hunted.
Her rival for the job of prime minister, Andrea Leadsom, is an enthusiastic hunter. May made Leadsom environment secretary briefly after the election but soon replaced her with Michael Gove who didn’t take long to spot that a poll just before the election showed 67 per cent of voters believed fox-hunting should remain illegal.
Gove started a concerted Tory campaign to counter social media posts denouncing the party’s record on animal rights.
Labour canvassers discovered Jeremy Corbyn’s long-held views opposing fox-hunting were helping them enormously on the doorstep, while May’s U-turn seems to have unleashed a backlash among Tory supporters both inside and outside the Conservative party.
In previous elections, the Tories have been helped in rural areas by Vote-OK, a pro-hunting organisation mobilising its supporters to back the local Tory campaign. Now Vote-OK is livid at what it sees as May’s betrayal.
Countryside Alliance’s top man Tim Bonner has warned that ditching the hunting pledge would have serious consequences for May’s long-term future.
May’s long-term future? That will certainly take some hunting for.