Police repeatedly fail to act on opportunities to tackle illegal foxhunting when handed evidence, according to analysis by campaigners of forces’ actions.
Officers are far more likely to challenge saboteurs and monitors in a vehicle than hunters on horseback, a report found.
And it claims some forces do not accept there is organisational bias either towards the hunts or against “wildlife guardians”, while training in the Hunting Act is highly variable and can be perceived as bias.
The report, Counting the Crimes 2, compiled by the Action Against Foxhunting organisation, follows on from a first study last year, which concluded that police around England regularly ignored reports of illegal foxhunting or showed no interest in claims the law had been broken.
Researchers also took into account meetings with and responses from police chiefs, as well as 274 reports and surveys over the past 15 months from saboteurs and monitors.
Last month the conviction of leading huntsman Mark Hankinson was seen as a landmark case, cementing claims that “trail-hunting” is used as a cover for foxhunting when the judge said the defendant had encouraged “the mirage of trailing to act as a cover for old-fashioned illegal hunting”.
The new report says in view of the verdict, police can no longer ignore that foxhunting – made illegal in 2004 - is widespread.
Officers habitually ask for names and addresses of monitors and saboteurs, when officially they may speak only to the driver of a vehicle, the document claims, or they have good reason to believe the person has committed an offence.
“They are rarely seen to ask the hunt for the same details, even when they have been called for illegal foxhunting,” the report authors add.
In addition, the analysis – which runs to 39 pages – claims:
- A focus on public order is a “significant barrier” between police and monitors, and avoids focus on breaches of the Hunting Act
- There appears to be no clear national direction for tackling illegal foxhunting because it is a low priority
- Police are frequently called to hunting incidents but it is rare for an officer to challenge a hunt. Resources and the low priority of breaches of the law were given as reasons for not tackling illegal hunting
- Some forces are prepared to address poor relationships with wildlife guardians and enforcing the ban, while others are not
- Police websites are inadequate for helping the public recognise illegal foxhunting
Asking hunt opponents for their names and addresses but not doing so for hunters causes friction, the document warns.
However, it recognises that many officers are impartial and act fairly. “It is also highly likely that most officers who appear not to be impartial are just poorly trained,” it says.
“Organisationally, police are keen to avoid unconscious bias, but it is very clear from our research that there is much room for improvement with regard to the way frontline wildlife guardians are treated.”
Analysing the responses of 34 forces to the first hard-hitting report, the document claims: “Most forces have no straightforward, easily accessible system for recording and cross-referencing hunting offences.”
Police – who say they lack resources to do more - say edited footage is likely to be unusable in court and that the unwillingness of witnesses to provide personal details may prevent action being taken.
Recommendations in Counting the Crimes 2 include:
- Forces should acknowledge illegal hunting is widespread, and address it, regarding saboteurs and monitors as a resource like Neighbourhood Watch groups
- Forces should recognise and tackle increasing hunt violence towards opponents
- Officers should be prepared to tackle breaches of the law, not resort to public order issues
- Police websites should provide detailed information about illegal foxhunting
- Forces should have robust aide memoires so officers can recognise illegal foxhunting
At the same time as these findings, AAF also revealed results of a survey of more than 600 rural UK householders, whose comments overwhelmingly showed they were “sickened, distressed, angry” and “infuriated” by hunts going through their areas.
Some said they were “physically sick” at finding animal entrails.
Another reported: “During hunt season there is a constant sense of fear and anxiety. I feel a great deal of responsibility because who will unblock the badger setts if not me? Who will chase the quads away if not me? Who will care if not me? It’s very lonely and stressful and can really make me quite depressed at times, so much so that we are considering moving away from the countryside.”
The Independent has asked the National Police Chiefs’ Council to comment.
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