Fox hunting is illegal in Britain but weak application of the law and loopholes in the legislation allow many hunts to literally get away with murder, writes PETER FROST
Ten years ago last week the Labour government passed a law to stop the cruelty of fox hunting and indeed all hunting with dogs.
Ten years on and after nearly 527 people have been prosecuted under the act, including employees of Prime Minister David Cameron’s old hunt, the cruel and bloody slaughter still goes on.
Members of the local Oxfordshire hunt with which Cameron used to ride were convicted of hunting foxes illegally. The hunt numbers among its supporters Rebekah Brooks and Jeremy Clarkson.
Hunters Richard Sumner, 68, and Julian Barnfield, 49, of the Heythrop Hunt each pleaded guilty at Oxford magistrates’ court to four charges of unlawfully hunting a wild fox with dogs.
The same hunt also pleaded guilty to the same four charges of intentionally hunting a fox with dogs on land in the Cotswolds.
The excuse of accidentally killing a fox is widespread. Thousands of hunters are escaping prosecution by claiming that kills are accidental.
They have even written in an accidental hunt kill into the BBC Radio Four soap The Archers, normally good propaganda for the Tory hunting ’n’ shooting lobby.
There are just as many fox hunts — over 300 — in Britain as there were when the ban was put in place and foxes, hares and deer are still torn apart in the name of country sports.
Despite promises by Cameron, himself a hunter, before the last election that there would be a free vote for MPs to test continuing support for the act, there has been no parliamentary motion since it received royal assent on November 18 2004.
Cameron is getting worried as Ukip is moving in on the hunting community.
Nigel Farage never fails to get his picture taken with the local hunt when the occasion arises. Add to that that many of Cameron’s otherwise loyal MPs are actually opposed to the bloody slaughter of the hunt.
Meanwhile 10 years on animal welfare campaigners are demanding that these wildlife killers should face prison sentences.
The League Against Cruel Sports has called for a strengthening of the law to close what it believes are loopholes in the legislation. The maximum penalty should rise from a £5,000 fine to six months in prison, it urges.
The league’s report points out that polling last year showed that 80 per cent of people in Britain want fox hunting to remain illegal and is now calling for an extension of the act to include a prohibition on the use of dogs below ground where the worst cruelty occurs in hunting.
Not only are wild foxes and badgers pursued underground with limited opportunity to escape but the practice is also cruel to the hunting dogs.
The existing act permits a maximum of two dogs to flush a fox or other quarry towards someone who will shoot it.
The league also calls for a new clause to prevent the killing of wild mammals during a drag or trail hunt.
As I have said, the hunts normally claim these are just unfortunate accidents although the number of kills is large. Many packs of hounds use drag hunts and following trails as a cover for illegal hunting of live foxes.
Maximum penalties need to increase dramatically. Only prison sentences and higher fines will convince these hunters to obey the law.
Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, told us: “The Hunting Act has proven to be an effective and popular piece of legislation, with a higher number of convictions than similar wildlife laws. Public support for the prohibition of hunting has always been high, but this has also increased substantially over the past 10n years.
“Yet, since its introduction, the act has been the target of considerable attack from the pro-hunt lobby, which has waged an ongoing and concerted campaign of disinformation to publicly discredit the legislation and promote their campaign for repeal.
“The problem is not with the law. It’s with those that flout it. It is time to now build on the successes of first 10 years and strengthen the Hunting Act to ensure the spirit of the act is fulfilled.”
Defra, the department responsible for animal welfare legislation, does not rule out a vote before the next election. A spokesperson said: “We will bring forward a motion on a free vote enabling the House of Commons to express its view on the repeal of the Hunting Act, when parliamentary time allows.”
The hunt season is now getting into full swing. The biggest day for hunting is Boxing Day, less than a month away. There is no better time to stop the murder in our green and pleasant land and bring peace, harmony and a genuine ban on hunting.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 29 November 2014.