HUNTING ACT 2004 PROSECUTIONS OF ORGANISED HUNT MEMBERS
- Cautions are treated as charges and convictions for purposes of these figures
Where a whole Hunt has been prosecuted as a body corporate charges are treated as if against one person
Asterisk against Date indicates that charges under other animal protection Acts were also made. See separate table for details
Table last updated 23 September 2020 Alan Kirby MSc
The table below shows details of all known completed Hunting Act prosecutions launched/police cautions issued against persons affiliated to organised Hunts in England/Wales since the Hunting Act came into effect on 18-2-2005.
It shows that, in those 15 years,:-
- Just 53 completed illegal hunting cases [3.5 per year] have been brought against 121 persons [from 39 different organised Hunts, plus 1 whole Hunt. [Counted as a 'person' in table and henceforth here]
- 121 'persons' from organised Hunts have been charged with a total of 191 charges for HA offences [8.1 persons per year, 12.7 charges per year].
- 53 of the 191 charges resulted in conviction or caution [27.7%].
- 44 of the 147 charges that went to court resulted in convictions [29.9%].
- 35 of the 39 Hunts to have members charged [includes cautions] are fox hunts, 2 deer and 2 hare.
- 3 persons have been charged twice, one three and one four times.
- 38 persons [including Heythrop FH as body corporate] of the 121 charged [31.4%], were convicted or accepted police cautions, of a total of 53 proven HA offences.
- 52 of these charges were re. the big Heythrop trial. Excluding that case, there have been 139 HA charges against organised hunters [9.3 per year].
- The Hunt Monitors Association - all volunteers, most POWA members - provided evidence for 59 of the 191 HA charges against organised hunters [30.9%,].
- League Against Cruel Sports monitors [mostly employees] provided evidence for 56 of the 191 HA charges [29.3%].
- 34 people of the 81 whose charges went to court were acquitted of ALL their HA charges after trial/appeal [42%].
- 48 people of the 121 charged escaped conviction after ALL their HA charges were dropped, either before court or during trial [39.7% of all charged]. This does not include cases where the charges were dismissed by the judge, which count as acquittals.
- Thus, 81.7% of all organised hunters charged with Hunting Act offences have escaped conviction.
- 96 of the 191 Hunting Act charges made were dropped either before or at trial [50.3%]. 40 of these related to the big Heythrop trial.
- Over half  of all the cases have been brought by the main prosecuting authority, the CPS, and they have lost or dropped 23 of them [69.3%], so their success rate is just 30.7%. They dropped 9 cases before trial [29.7% of total cases]. Given how very reluctant the CPS has proved to bring Hunting Act cases at all, this is an indication of how very difficult the extremely high evidential bar set by the Hunting Act is to successfully surmount.
- Just 26.4% of Hunting Act cases brought by the CPS against organised hunters have resulted in at least one conviction [8 out of 33], compared with 87% for all crime. Also, 58.1% of such Hunting Act charges have been dropped by the CPS pre-trial [36 out of 63] compared with just 10% for all crimes. [ 'All crime' figures are based on 2017-18 statistics, the latest we have been able to find.]
- LACS has brought 12 Hunting Act cases and achieved at least one conviction in 5 of them [42.5%].
- The League Against Cruel Sports used to prosecute their own cases, with a little more success, but changed policy a few years ago and decided to pass them to the CPS instead. It did, since then, entrust one case to the RSPCA, which failed. Subsequent to the policy change, the LACS did bring one case which the CPS had declined. Charges were dropped at trial after the defence challenged the impartiality of the League's expert witness.
- The RSPCA has brought 6 HA cases and gained at least one HA conviction in 3 of them [50%].
The RSPCA attracted such vitriolic propaganda from the pro-hunt side after the very large and expensive Heythrop Hunt case in December 2012 that that they appointed the former Chief Inspector of the CPS to examine their prosecutions policy. Stephen Wooler reported in September 2014. He said that, among other things, monitoring evidence showed beyond doubt that Hunts were extensively flouting the ban. But he determined that the rewards of prosecuting them, partly because of the paltry fines levied, too small to justify the cost to the RSPCA. He urged the CPS to bring more Hunts to justice and also said the Society should press for the Hunting Act to be strengthened. Although the RSPCA has decided since to prosecute one HA case that the CPS declined, since the Society's review of its prosecution policies seems it has now ceased prosecutions of organised hunters. The society is yet to clearly call for strengthening of the Hunting Act, unlike POWA, IFAW, LACS and the HSA.
The great majority of HA cases have relied on evidence from hunt monitors, and some from sabs, but only a very small proportion of those reported by them, with video evidence, have resulted in prosecutions, even though both understand that their evidence needs to be very robust to make it even worth reporting. Their experience is that to obtain evidence sufficient to convict, even when hunting is conducted pretty blatantly in front of them, is extraordinarily difficult, partly because what the Hunting Act allows Hunts to do looks, at least to those not steeped in the ways of their practices, so like the actual hunting of live quarry that it is very hard to convince police, prosecutors or courts that this is precisely what they are doing. And it is very easy for Hunts to trot out seemingly feasible, and by now well-rehearsed, excuses. See 'Reform not repeal' http://www.powa.org.uk/reform.html for an explanation of why this is so and the manifold ways Hunts have found to evade prosecution or conviction whilst continuing to hunt wild mammals. See also IFAW's excellent report 'Trail of Lies' https://www.huntingact.org/.../ifaw-trail-of-lies-full... which exposes 'trail hunting' to be a clever, but false, alibi, custom-designed to allow Hunts to carry on live quarry hunting whilst minimising their chances of being prosecuted.
Four persons have successfully appealed a Hunting Act conviction [the Huntsman of the Exmoor FH, in 2009, 3 from the Grove & Rufford FH in 2018]. but the hunt side got a huge benefit from it from the first one. 'Searching' was declared not to be 'hunting' within the meaning of the Act [though DEFRA had previously stated it was] and the judge emphasised that illegal hunting must be proved to be intentional. He also stressed that, if the accused claims to have been 'Exempt Hunting' the onus is on the prosecution to prove it was not exempt.
Disposals for those convicted of Hunting Act offences have been as follows;- Fines - 41 Conditional Discharges - 2 Cautions - 5 [excludes one originally fined but later acquitted on appeal].
The maximum fine allowed for any one offence was, until a few years ago, £5000. It has since been made unlimited, as with all Level 5 offences. The average levied on conviction where a fine was imposed [for 43 offences] has been £541 [10.8% of maximum when limit was £5000]. The highest levied has been £3000 [offender was a multi-mllionaire], the lowest £100 [2% of the then maximum].
Even on the rare occasions organised hunters are convicted, the sanctions imposed are generally pretty slight and, because they are not recordable, do not result in offenders acquiring a criminal record and convictions are not added to an existing criminal record. This also means that police do not keep specific records of alleged Hunting Act offences reported to them, though records of prosecutions are kept by the court service. The Hunting Act, unlike other animal protection legislation, and unlike the equivalent Act in Scotland, has no provision for prison sentences. The former maximum fine was £5,000, but the average one, where imposed, has been just 10.8% of this - and six offenders have escaped with just a caution or a Conditional Discharge.
The Act has provisions for confiscation of animals and equipment used in the commission of Hunting Act offences, but these have never been used against organised hunters, though a number of 'lurcher brigade' offenders have had their dogs taken from them and even had their vehicles seized and crushed.
The numbers of - cases completed [A], charges made [B] and offences convicted/cautioned [C] per year are as follows:-
In March 2016, 2 staff members of the Jedforest FH were charged with illegal hunting under the Scottish Act . Trial began 16-3-17 and was spread over several weeks. They were both convicted and fined. This was only the third time that Scottish Act had been used against organised hunters. There had previously been no convictions of organised hunters in Scotland. The Scottish government, following the Bonomy Review, announced that it intends to strengthen the Act there but has, as yet [23-9-20] produced no proposals. 2 members of the Buccleuch FH were tried in December 2018 on illegal hunting charges but were acquitted.
On 14-2-18 the Labour Party announced that they would strengthen the Hunting Act 2004 [England & Wales], if elected. However, the Party lost the 2019 election decisively. PM Boris Johnson, a previously vocal supporter of live quarry hunting, has said they do not intend to repeal the Hunting Act, but some Conservative MPs are suggesting it might be attempted.
The numbers of - cases completed [A], charges made [B] and offences convictied/cautioned [C] per year are as follows:-
5 people have been arrested and charged under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, in relation to alleged incidents involving the South Herefordshire FH in April/May 2016. Trial is pending. Six officials and servants of the Meynell FH were charged with illegal hunting in April 2019.
In March 2016, 2 staff members of the Jedforest FH were charged with illegal hunting under the Scottish Act . Trial began 16-3-17 and was spread over several weeks. They were both convicted and fined. This is only the third time that Scottish Act has been used against organised hunters. There had previously been no convictions of organised hunters in Scotland. The Scottish government, following the Bonomy Review, has announced that it intends to strengthen the Act there. 2 members of the Buccleuch FH were tried in December 2018 on illegal hunting charges but were acquitted.
On 14-2-18 the Labour Party announced that they would strengthen the Hunting Act 2004 [England & Wales], if elected.
ORGANISED HUNT MEMBER PROSECUTIONS UNDER OTHER ANIMAL PROTECTION ACTS
The table below details all known prosecutions of hunters from organised Hunts in England and Wales since the Hunting Act 2004 came into force, under animal protection Acts other than the Hunting Act.