When the Hunting Act became law in 2004, those who had campaigned so hard for its success surely did not expect to be spending their subsequent Boxing Days repeating the usual anti-hunting mantra. Part of that battle was to convince the public, press and politicians that it would all be over soon after the law was passed. Clearly, they got that very wrong.
Problems within the League Against Cruel Sports hit the headlines earlier in the year, revealing that the then chief executive, Joe Duckworth, had left the organisation after a pub brawl, a futile spending spree and mounting internal disputes. The difficulty for the LACS, however, was once again they had forgotten that being a charity means abiding by charity rules and these do not allow for the paying out of large sums of money to keep awkward incidents like that involving Mr Duckworth out of the media spotlight.
A prosecution brought by the LACS against the Lamerton Hunt collapsed in a spectacular fashion when the relationship between Professor Stephen Harris, acting as an expert witness, and the LACS was revealed. Costs were thought to be on the region of £100,000 and shortly afterwards the LACS solicitor and acting chief executive, Rachel Newman, departed.
In the final weeks of 2016, the Report of the Review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 by senior judge Lord Bonomy was published. It had been prompted by a sensible proposal from the Westminster government to amend the Hunting Act to allow a larger number of dogs to be used to flush out wild mammals, as permitted under an exemption. It would also bring the English and Welsh law into line with that in Scotland. The Scottish National Party, having previously said they would not vote on issues that did not relate to Scotland, decided that it was more important to play party politics and oppose the Conservative government by threatening to vote down the measure. The numbers for and against were tight and so the proposal was withdrawn, but the anti-hunting law itself then became an embarrassment to the SNP. The Bonomy Report was commissioned, I have absolutely no doubt, with the aim of providing a ‘legitimate’ basis for the Scottish government to recommend a reduction in the number of flushing dogs. However, the report concluded that a pack is necessary for the exemption in the law to work properly and criticised the confused nature of the legislation. Not exactly what the SNP and their anti-hunting friends had expected.
So while Boxing Day 2016 appeared to follow the usual lines in many ways in attempting to boost anti-hunt morale, the reality is nothing of the sort. An investigation by The Times was published just before Christmas and highlighted the ‘secretive’ nature of Conservatives Against Fox Hunting – a group known as the Blue Foxes. How had they been funded and who was that mysterious ‘animal welfare charity’ that had given them thousands of pounds? The LACS paid for hotel accommodation for CAFC personnel and my understanding of charity law is that such a donation to a non-charitable, party political group is definitely illegal.
While the situation is now to be investigated by the Charity Commission, senior Conservative MP, Sir Edward Garnier QC, has written to Tory Party chairman, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, saying, “The Conservative Party needs, I suggest, to consider whether or not it is comfortable with a close relationship between groups that market themselves as an animal welfare arm of the Conservative Party and charities that are keen to campaign against the Conservative Party”.
Boxing Day bungling continued with the ludicrous claim from the new LACS chief, Eduardo Goncalves, that the Hunting Act has been broken 200,000 times – a slightly puzzling statement given that there has been no successful prosecution involving a hunt for over two years. In the same breath, Mr Goncalves, presumably with a straight face and without a shred of evidence, appeared to contradict himself by saying that those attending Boxing Day meets were opposed to traditional hunting.
One tactic that is always used on Boxing Day is the latest public opinion poll on hunting. Polls can genuinely reflect pubic views, but they can also give highly misleading results; it all depends on the questions asked. Consider for a moment what would happen to tigers, wolves, lions and all the many other predators if the conclusions of a recent YouGov poll were put into law. This poll found that when watching wildlife films on television, 48% of the public side with the prey species as opposed to 9% who side with predators. It may be an understandable response, but show a starving cheetah cub and a very different conclusion would be reached. Polls on hunting are just as misleading and no basis for law-making.
The LACS sees illegal hunting at every turn and tries to convince politicians that ‘trail hunting’ is just an excuse to carry on as normal, while drag hunting is, of course, totally different. If this latest campaign to strengthen the Hunting Act (after years of telling us that it is robust and sound legislation) is successful and ‘trail hunting’ is prohibited, it would in effect mean the end of drag hunting and bloodhound hunting. The LACS knows little about each sport and, having witnessed anti-hunt aggression directed at a bloodhound pack, it seems that some animal rightists couldn’t care less if all forms of hunting ended. Here is an extract from the LACS website:
“In drag hunting, or in bloodhounds hunting (or hunting the ‘clean boot’ as it is also known) where the scent of a human runner is followed instead of a drag, the trail never contains animal scent, is never laid in areas likely to have foxes…”
The obvious question is where, in the length and breadth of the UK countryside, might that area exist?
It’s not surprising that LACS staff make outlandish comments. So many have come and gone recently that they hardly have time to learn their job titles let alone the complexities of hunting and wildlife management. Claims such as 400,000 badgers being snared every year (which could very well be the whole badger population in the UK) are laughable, or they would be if it ended there. The real danger lies not in what LACS say, but those who are gullible enough to believe them and are in a position to put their ignorant demands into action.
The fact is, though, all of these idiotic claims, campaigns and demonstrations should be seen as just one thing – frustration. For despite all the usual poll results, the mad comments on social media, the so-called ‘monitoring’, the predictions of hunting’s demise and the ridiculous Hunting Act itself, hunts are still here.