Kennels attack linked to assault on hunt saboteur

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The Independent Online

Two police forces are investigating links between an attack by masked hunt saboteurs on a kennels and an alleged hit-and-run assault on a protester the previous day.

Two police forces are investigating links between an attack by masked hunt saboteurs on a kennels and an alleged hit-and-run assault on a protester the previous day.

On Saturday night up to 60 hunt saboteurs wearing balaclavas raided a kennels owned by the Surrey and Burstow Fox Hounds at East Grinstead in West Sussex. During the incident a number of windows were smashed by protesters hurling bricks and stones and a police officer was injured.

The manager of the kennels, Mark Bycroft, said yesterday the saboteurs were "anarchists with no respect for women, children, property or animals".

The saboteurs, meanwhile, say the incident had begun as an initially peaceful demonstration organised after one of their members was seriously injured in a collision with a four-wheel-drive vehicle - allegedly driven by a hunt supporter. Detectives from both the Surrey and Sussex forces are now investigating the two incidents.

The attack on the kennels happened at around 7.30pm when up to 60 saboteurs, who had arrived in Land Rovers and vans, started attacking the three-house compound. During the incident they apparently overpowered three police officers who had been stationed at the kennels after saboteurs had begun gathering at the train station in East Grinstead

Mr Bycroft, 29, said his pregnant wife and 15-month-old child were in one of the houses that were attacked by the protesters, some of whom were using CS sprays

"They were all dressed in black and wearing balaclavas and masks," he said. "They overpowered the police officers, who had been warned they were on the way, shouted vile abuse and just began hurling rocks and bricks indiscriminately. These people have no respect for anything. They are not just anti-hunting, they are anti-everything and have an absolute disregard for the law. They are quite happy to terrify women and children in their own homes at night."

Dave Stevens, 31, a computer engineer and hunt saboteur from Surrey, was among those involved in the attack.

"It had started as a peaceful demonstration," Mr Stevens said. He and the others had hidden their identity through fear of retribution.

"When we arrived two men came out - one with a stick, one with a pick-axe handle. After that it all kicked off. They were threatening people. I don't know how many windows were smashed - things did get thrown but we were provoked."

Mr Stevens said the demonstration had been organised after an incident the previous morning when another hunt saboteur, Steve Christmas, was seriously injured when he was allegedly deliberately hit by a four-wheel-driven vehicle. Mr Christmas, in his 30s and from the Haywards Heath area of Sussex, had been among a small group protesting at a meet of the hunt at Horsted Keynes, near Crawley, West Sussex. Dawn Preston, a spokeswoman for the Hunt Saboteurs Association, said Mr Christmas had to be flown to hospital after being run over by both the front and back wheels of the vehicle. She said Mr Christmas and the others had earlier been attacked by a group of protesters, including Mr Bycroft.

Mr Bycroft said yesterday he had been two miles away at the time of the incident but admitted that he did have a conviction for assault - dating back 14 years - after he was involved in a fight with hunt saboteurs.

Ms Preston said Mr Christmas was still in the intensive care unit at Princess Royal Hospital, Haywards Heath, where he was being treated for a broken pelvis and broken ribs. His condition was described by the hospital as "comfortable" last night.

Simon Hart, spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said he believed everybody had a right to peaceful protest but added: "For these people to say that was a peaceful protest is a joke."

Detective Chief Inspector Brian Russell, of Surrey Police, said an inquiry had begun into "a nasty pre-meditated attack" by hunt saboteurs.

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