20 JULY 2019
A hunt led by the sister of Diana, Princess of Wales is facing a six figure claim for damages after one of its staff assaulted a legal observer, leaving him with a broken neck.
Former police officer Darryl Cunnington, 60, suffered a fractured vertebra after being pushed down a steep slope while monitoring the activities of the Belvoir Hunt.
The hunt’s kennel man, George Grant, 58, and his 26-year-old son Thomas were both sentenced to 13-months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty to assault causing grievous bodily harm, actual bodily harm, theft, and criminal damage to property.
At his trial Princess Diana’s eldest sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, vouched for Grant, telling Judge Jinder Singh Boora that he would lose both his home and his job if he was jailed.
Lady McCorquodale, who is joint master of the Belvoir Hunt, said Grant’s actions had been “out of character” and that she had “never seen him lose his temper like that.”
The former High Sheriff of Lincolnshire and president of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, told Leicester Crown Court: “We’ve had contact on a regular basis through my role as joint master of the hunt. He has always been courteous, polite, hard working and a good communicator.
“I’ve seen him under pressure on many occasions when the ‘anti-s’, or whatever you want to call them [hunt monitors], were there and he was slow to burn. I’ve no idea what happened on this occasion.”
But Mr Cunnington, an investigator with the League Against Cruel Sports, and his colleague Roger Swaine, 47, are now suing the hunt for damages of £100,000, saying it was “vicariously liable” for the actions of its employee, which left them in agony for weeks and suffering from stress and anxiety.
Mr Cunnington and Mr Swaine were attacked after four men in balaclavas were called by Grant and his son during a hunt on March 12, 2016.
The pair were observing the hunt from a bridleway near Strathern, in Leicestershire, to ensure it was taking place in a lawful manner.
Leicester Crown Court heard in June 2018 that during a confrontation with Mr Cunnington and Mr Swain, Grant told his son: “Go and get the boys and come back”.
His son returned a short time later with four “masked men” wearing dark clothes, their faces covered by balaclavas.
In the ensuing melee Mr Cunnington was pushed off a ledge and down a 14ft slope and repeatedly kicked as he lay on the ground.
Mr Swain was pushed down a 6ft slope. His camera was stolen and the assailants also tried to steal Mr Cunnington’s camera.
A writ now lodged with the High Court claims Grant and his son, a volunteer with the hunt, refused to name the four masked men, who have never been traced.
Mr Cunnington, of Melton Mowbray, was forced to wear a neck brace for weeks after the incident, to treat a fractured vertebra. He also suffered an injury to his shoulder and developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
The writ says Mr Swaine, of Derby, suffered cuts and bruises and developed a generalized anxiety disorder.
The two men say the Belvoir Hunt, based at Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Lincs, is vicariously liable for the attack carried out by Grant and his son, and that they are entitled to aggravated damages.
There is no suggestion that the Belvoir was illegally hunting foxes on the day of the attack.
The hunt denies it was responsible for the actions of Grant or his son and denies “aiding and abetting the assault and harassment”.
In its defence statement it said: “George Grant was not acting in the course of his employment by the Defendant, nor was such behaviour remotely connected with the work which he was required to perform for the Defendant. Quite the contrary was the case: he would have been acting in complete disregard of the specific instructions with which he had been issued.”
A spokesman for the Belvoir Hunt added: “As this is an ongoing legal matter, it would be inappropriate to comment any further other than to say that as a hunt, we condemn violence of any kind.”