Someone will be killed by hunt activity on roads, warns crash investigator

Exclusive: Expert who documented 200 dangerous cases says hunters face no sanctions for flouting health and safety laws

Jane Dalton
Sunday 26 December 2021 15:34 GMT
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Hunts and hounds have been caught on camera forcing traffic to slow down or stop

A specialist crash investigator has warned that someone will be killed by hunt activity after he documented 200 “near misses” and other dangers.

In just over three years he collected evidence, including photos and videos, of scores of incidents that he says put public safety at risk.

Seventeen cases involved road traffic collisions, nine involved railways, and one meant an airfield had to shut, diverting planes.

The experienced road safety expert, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal by hunt supporters, said hunts were “blatantly endangering” themselves and the public, as well as livestock, pets, foxhounds and horses.

He highlighted footage from last month in which a hunt rode after dusk and were filmed blocking a road.

West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs backed the expert’s view, saying: “They were so desperate to get a kill they hunted into the darkness, until it got to the point where neither hounds nor riders could be properly seen on the road.

“They were hunting on a road, endangering the lives of their hounds and horses as well as putting other motorists at risk. No one from the hunt wore any high-viz clothing.”

The group said it was only a matter of time before there was a serious accident.

A few days later, it noted that the Warwickshire Hunt rode down the busy A423, “taking up both lanes and riding the wrong way down one lane on a section of the road where overtaking is forbidden, putting their hounds, horses and other road users in danger”.

The Independent has been shown footage from elsewhere in England, in which vehicles including an ambulance were forced to queue while foxhounds ran randomly around the highway.

About a dozen horse riders overtook vehicles on both sides simultaneously on muddy roads, followed by a quad bike. Most quad bikes are not legally allowed to be ridden on public roads.

In another case, a participant in the hunt narrowly avoided a collision with an ambulance by not stopping at a T junction.

The highways specialist, who has been called as an expert witness at inquests, told The Independent: “Large efforts are being made to create safer environments and transportation generally in this country and internationally, so why is it that hunts sit outside of all of this and continue to regularly and blatantly endanger themselves and members of the public in the way they do?

“I believe everyone, regardless of who they are, should be subject to the same laws, so I am particularly annoyed by the constant high degree of arrogance demonstrated by some hunts, who apparently don’t believe they should be subject to the laws that don’t suit them.”

Most of the cases he has documented are described as “creating dangers and obstruction on the highway”, with many involving dogs running loose, horses in the road, or “unsafe traffic management”.

In 2019, a Shropshire airfield was forced to close when hunting dogs ran loose on the runway.

Most hunts operate as businesses, he said, so are obliged by the Health and Safety at Work Act to protect people.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), together with other authorities, is responsible for enforcing the act.

The expert began collecting evidence following an accident on a dual carriageway three years ago, which he says was caused by a hunt. Police said they could not prosecute without HSE involvement.

He said he was frustrated by the refusal of the executive to investigate cases or take enforcement action, and he disputes claims by the organisation that it has no responsibility.

It “allows hunts to get away with what they do and [feeds] their arrogance”, he said.

“Incidents of this type are occurring regularly across the country, and are being caused by multiple UK businesses wilfully and recklessly putting their employees and the public at risk.

“After a series of communications I have had with the HSE, it is clear to me and my colleagues that, if proper enforcement action isn’t taken, someone will inevitably be killed.”

But the HSE insists hunting does not meet all the criteria for it to investigate, saying local authorities and police are responsible for road safety in relation to hunts.

“This is genuinely an appalling and shocking response from the organisation that is responsible for ensuring that UK businesses adhere to health and safety legislation,” the expert added.

He said the executive’s refusal to be involved contravenes its stated mission “to prevent death, injury and ill health in Great Britain’s workplaces”, and has submitted a formal complaint and appeal against its refusal to investigate.

In a 2019 letter, seen by The Independent, the HSE wrote: “We do not currently consider it necessary to take a proactive approach to health and safety matters relating to hunting with hounds.”

HSE guidance states, among other things, that high-visibility garments should be worn when working on or near roads, and the Highway Code advises riders to always keep to the left and to wear reflective clothing if they must ride at night.

A spokesperson for the executive said: “Enforcement of health and safety law is not the sole responsibility of HSE. It is split between HSE and local authorities (LAs), depending on the activity.

“Unless under the control of a local authority, LAs are the main enforcing authority for the sport/leisure industry. This means that hunting, including the management of hunt kennels, comes under the remit of LAs, not HSE.

“The exception would be where a hunt was managed by another entity that came under the remit of HSE for another reason. Full details are set out in the Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority) Regulations 1998. If there was any doubt about enforcement responsibility in a specific case, HSE would liaise with LAs until a decision was made.

“Sometimes, for example where other legislation applies, enforcement agencies must work together, but one agency will generally take primacy.”

Police have primacy over road safety and accidents, the spokesperson said, because such incidents are not reportable under regulations or because use of road traffic law is more appropriate.

The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance did not respond when twice asked by The Independent to comment on the Warwickshire Hunt’s actions and on road safety in general.

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