7th February 2020
Animal welfare campaigners have described a not guilty verdict as a hollow victory for hunting after two men associated with the Quantock Staghounds deer hunt avoided a criminal conviction at Taunton Magistrates’ Court on February 4.
Richard Down, former Huntsman, and Martin Watts, former Whipper-in and current Huntsman of the Quantock Staghounds, had been charged with hunting a wild mammal with a dog contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act 2004.
The district judge David Taylor agreed that an illegal deer hunt had taken place on National Trust land but that the defendants could not be identified at the scene in the evidence produced in court.
The case follows an investigation by Avon and Somerset Police based on evidence obtained by volunteers from Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime, who monitored the Quantock Staghounds on March 18, 2019 at Trendle Ring in Somerset. They filmed two hounds chasing a stag with horse riders following on the side of a nearby hill and making no efforts to call the hounds off.
The judge said that the mounted followers of the hunt also had a case to answer for illegal hunting, which could lead to the followers of hunts being charged in future court cases.
Martin Sims, director of investigations at the League Against Cruel Sports, who is also a former head of the police’s National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “Despite our disappointment at the failure to gain a conviction, this is a hollow victory for the hunt after the judge agreed the illegal hunting of a stag was taking place.
“The police will now be able to charge not just the Huntsman and Whipper-in of any hunt filmed chasing British wildlife, but the mounted followers too.
A spokesperson for the Countryside Alliance said: “Today’s verdict highlights yet another example of evidence provided by anti-hunting activists failing to support their claims of illegal hunting activity.
“Just two weeks ago, the huntsman of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale was also found not guilty of offences under the Hunting Act. Both cases have resulted in a huge amount of valuable police resources and court time being wasted when there was never any valid evidence that an illegal activity had occurred.”