April 19, 2015
Rural campaigners are stepping up pressure to have violent anti-hunt protesters unmasked after police unexpectedly dropped an investigation into an horrific attack.
The pro-hunt Countryside Alliance wants police forces to use more widely the powers they already have to force masked demonstrators to show their faces. In the longer term they want a change in the law to make it easier for officers to insist protesters take off their masks.
The Alliance’s campaign was launched after a series of high profile incidents involving masked demonstrators, including one which left a Wiltshire huntsman with head injuries.
Wiltshire police have now suspended their inquiries into that incident, despite witnesses providing them with video evidence, the names of alleged attackers and car registration numbers.
A police spokesman said: “‘We have been unable to move the inquiry further forward. At this stage the case has been recorded as undetected, however should other evidence come to light then it will be re-opened.”
But the Alliance – which believes protesters on either side of the hunting debate, pro or anti – should be unmasked – fears the case will send a message to the thugs that covering up allows them to attack knowing they will go unpunished.
Tim Bonner, director of campaigns for the Countryside Alliance said: “The fact that the law on face coverings is so unwieldy is an incitement to violence. These anti-hunting thugs are carrying out attacks with impunity knowing they can hide behind their balaclavas and will not be brought to book.
“There have been at least three vicious attacks in recent years where those responsible could not be identified – will it take a death before action is taken to remove this loophole in the law?
“The police need to look very closely at this issue and we believe there needs to be a change in the law to allow police officers to unmask these violent criminals.”
A video of the Wiltshire incident along with other evidence was given to the police after the assault at Everleigh, near Amesbury.
Thirty 30 riders and their hounds who were following an artificial scent came under attack in January.
The victim, Mike Lane, is joint master of the Tedworth Hunt. He was sent flying to the ground, before being kicked in the head. He was admitted to hospital with concussion and broken teeth and his face was swollen. Since the attack he has suffered memory loss.
Despite the masks, the face of the thug who kicked Mr Lane was captured on video and police issued the suspect’s photograph, although he has not been identified.
Mr Lane has now told the Mail on Sunday: “I’ve been told by police they are shelving their inquiries due to insufficient evidence. It’s angered us because we gave them evidence. I’m beginning to lose my trust in the police.”
There have been a series of other rural incidents in the South West – including one in Dorset alleged to have involved hunt followers attacking protesters – in the past few months.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association has repeatedly defended the right of its members to wear masks when peacefully protesting against hunting, claiming it protects them against intimidation and reprisals.
North West Hunt Saboteurs Association
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