Villagers seek Asbo to drive Cotswold Hunt from their land

Click to follow
The Independent Online

They are used to being chastised by hunt saboteurs or animal-loving MPs but now Britain's huntsmen and women face a new threat, the Asbo.

The Cotswold Hunt, a pillar of Gloucestershire society, could soon be on the receiving end of a punishment often reserved for young tearaways in "hoodies". Followers of the hunt have allegedly stampeded across private land, leaving a trail of destruction.

Villagers in Elcombe claim the hunt has strayed into gardens, left bloodstains and killed animals illegally in private woodland. Jeanne Berry, a landowner, instructed her solicitor yesterday to apply for an antisocial behaviour order and an injunction against further trespass after the alleged disturbance.

Gloucestershire Police are investigating the complaint that the hunt illegally killed an animal in the Slad Valley last week, and have taken DNA samples of bloodstains found in a clearing.

Ten villagers from Elcombe said they first wrote to the hunt last October requesting huntsmen to keep their hounds off private property. But last Thursday they found signs that the dogs had entered their land again.

Ms Berry said an Asbo would prevent the hunt from causing more damage. "Last October, hounds from the hunt were out of control over various people's gardens and I wrote to the hunt to complain. Then I sent a petition letter signed by many of my neighbours complaining and asking them not to trespass again.

"We had a letter back apologising for one or two hounds going into people's gardens and we thought that would do the trick. We thought they wouldn't dare come back after that, but we were wrong. Last week they were back again. They ran across my ground. I went there later and there was blood on the ground but whatever had been killed had been taken away.

"I don't see why there shouldn't be an Asbo. If they were a bunch of lads with motorbikes and pitbulls then the police would apply for an Asbo straight away."

Denise Ward, a neighbour, described an incident in which she claims to have witnessed the hunt tearing through private woodland. "We heard a terrible noise and looked out to see a whole pack of hounds coming down through the woodlands opposite us, which is private land.

"They went down over the Trantershill Plantation which is also private land and into my neighbour's garden. Then there was this terrible screaming which could have been a fox or a deer. When they were gone I went up there and found fresh blood."

Mrs Ward and Mrs Berry say an Asbo on the hunt would prevent it returning to the valley by banning it from entering a specified area. The orders can carry penalties in the criminal courts.

The hunt, based at Andoversford, near Cheltenham, insisted that nothing was killed last week and that every effort was made to keep hounds away from private land, although the senior master, Bob Cooper, admitted one or two hounds may have strayed. "We know about the Elcombe situation and have sent notification of when we're in the area to those residents," he said. "We only hunt a trail and it is not our intention to hunt live quarry. Residents would hear the hounds and maybe they misunderstood what was happening."