Illegal Hunting

Policing of hunt activity

Does the Cheshire Constabulary know how to identify an illegal hunt?

We follow NPCC guidance, training is provided to understand the legislation, and information is provided by the CPS on what type of evidence needs to be collected in order to mount a successful prosecution.

How do the police identify what is and what isn’t illegal activity regarding hunting?

Potential evidence is identified and sought at the time of the illegal activity being reported and then through speaking to all relevant parties to identify lines of enquiry and further evidence required after the event. All of these things together help us to identify whether the hunting activity could be illegal.

What is the pro-active approach taken by the Constabulary to police hunting activity and incidents that occur surrounding hunt activity?

Our officers regularly engage with both pro and anti-hunt groups before, during and after the traditional hunt season. Our dedicated wildlife officers, in particular, strive to keep in touch with all parties, ensuring that they are informed of any decisions made in relation to allegations, or outcomes of investigations.

What priority does Cheshire Constabulary give to policing hunting activity and the behaviour of those who both support and oppose hunting?

The Constabulary prioritises all incidents on threat, risk and harm caused to or has the potential to cause to any victim or community. Policing hunting activity is no different.

How does Cheshire Constabulary use modern technology such as drones and body cameras to support the policing of hunting?

Cheshire Constabulary is constantly exploring how new technology can help prevent and detect offences. The drone is utilised when appropriate. Officers also have discretion to activate their body worn cameras wherever they feel it will assist in gathering evidence of criminal activity. All parties have been informed this is a potential tactic and the reasons for this.

What is the Constabulary policy of the wearing of balaclavas and or scarfs to cover individual faces by pro and anti-hunt persons attending hunts in Cheshire?

The police powers in relation to removal of face coverings is very restricted and can only occur in certain circumstances. Section 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 provides powers to require the removal of disguises at public order events where a section 60 authorisation is in force. An Inspector has to authorise and there are specific circumstances around which an authority can be given.

 

Prosecution

What is the process from a member of the public reporting an offence to the point of submission of evidence to the CPS?

The public are encouraged to call our non-emergency number 101 to report a crime or if they have any information about a crime. Always call 999 where there is a threat to life or a crime in progress.

The information will be assessed and consideration given as to whether officers should be deployed and/or if specialist resources may be required.

Once officers arrive, they will speak to witnesses, gather evidence where possible, seize exhibits if appropriate, and effect arrests if necessary.

The matter may then be investigated by detectives. Whilst the Hunting Act 2004 is summary only (police charging decision), CPS Prosecutors will review all cases in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and, if so, whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.

What evidence is needed for prosecution?

This is a complex piece of legislation and many facets have to be evidenced for the complete offence to be proved.

Any prosecution must evidence a deliberate act with active participation before an offence can be made out and it can be evidenced that an individual has intentionally set out to hunt a fox. The death of a fox is evidence of this, but does not in itself constitute an offence.

Why, given evidence collected, has there been a perceived reluctance for Cheshire Constabulary to refer matters to the CPS?

Most offences relating to hunting activity do not require submission to the CPS. However, any offence alleged to have bene committed under the Hunting Act 2004 will be reviewed by the CPS, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

Why in your view has Cheshire had no prosecutions?

It can be extremely challenging for the police to prove intent, which is required by the hunting Act 2004.

Cheshire has secured one successful prosecution under the Act, but this was not in relation to a traditional hunt, nor anyone associated with a hunt (male letting dogs out of vehicle to kill a fox, which was caught on CCTV).

It is worth noting that very few police forces across the country have had successful prosecutions for hunting foxes in particular, as shown in the following table relating to 2017/18.

Table showing offences charged and reaching a first hearing at Magistrates court – Hunting Act 2004

Police Force

2017-2018

Fox hunted as opposed to another animal

Traditional fox Hunt (i.e. hounds and horses)

North Yorkshire

30

5 (2 appealed = 3)

5 (2 appealed = 3)

Lincolnshire

18

0

0

Suffolk

7

1

1

Norfolk

5

0

0

West Mercia

5

0

0

Cheshire

4

1

0

Dorset

4

1

1

Kent

2

0

0

South Yorkshire

2

N/K

0

Derbyshire

1

0

0

Humberside

1

0

0

Total

79

8 (6)

7 (5)

 

How does the Constabulary work with the CPS to ensure that the best possible evidence is being provided?

We work with a CPS specialist and follow their advice and guidance when investigating such matters.

 

Impartiality

How does the Constabulary ensure that it is seen to be taking an unbiased, balanced position and one which is focused on upholding the law and addressing allegations made by all parties?

The Constabulary investigates all criminal allegations made based on the evidence provided. We endeavour to proactively inform the public of allegations that are made, ensuring that statements are factual and released in a timely manner.

There is a perception that Cheshire Constabulary show bias to one side or the other – what work is being undertaken to address any such perceptions

Cheshire Constabulary recognises that both hunt and anti-hunt supporters have very strong views about hunting with hounds and we will not provide comment on these conversations. We also take extreme care in how we police these events to ensure fairness on all sides – and the continued training of our police officers will help us to achieve this. We are open, transparent and cannot engage in emotive social media debate surrounding hunting.

Are members of Cheshire Constabulary allowed to participate in hunts? Do they have to declare an interest?

Yes, police officers are allowed to participate in hunts. They do not have to declare an interest. We are not aware of any who do, however, our officers are not required to disclose this. However, any police officer or staff is not allowed to participate in illegal activity and are duty bound to be interviewed in illegal activity should it take place.

What action is taken against those in the anti-hunt community who are alleged to have harassed and pursued huntsmen and their families?

Any criminal allegations are investigated and appropriate action taken in consultation with the victim.

Public communication has been an issue for the Constabulary – how will the Constabulary seek to ensure that the messages and statements it publishes are clear, impartial and timely?

The Constabulary has reviewed its communications strategy, consulted independently and with specialist rural crime officers, which has been agreed at a senior level.  The objectives we have set are to adopt a proactive approach to communicating hunt-related incidents to keep the public informed of police investigations and operational activity and to educate and inform the public of the legislation and the role of the police. All statements are factual and released in a timely manner.

Why do you act as personal security for the hunt? I’ve seen the video of one of your officers doing it.

We don’t act as personal security for the hunt. We are impartial, and our presence at hunt meetings is primarily to keep the peace.

There was a widely publicised incident in December 2016 of an off-duty officer intervening during a hunt when the landowner had requested her help. She directed both the hunt and the saboteur groups off the land. The matter was reviewed by the Force’s Professional Standards department, which found that she was there to prevent a breach of the peace and therefore there was no case to answer.

What are the Constabulary’s plans for the future when it comes to policing of hunting and potential illegal activity associated with wider hunting and anti-hunting activity?

  • Minimise disruption to the local residents and those in the vicinity of the Hunt.
  • Reduce the risk of a breach of the peace or other public order offences.
  • Support the right to protest and also the right to ride with hounds.
  • Engage the media positively to provide accurate, timely and relevant detail in order that the public can be kept informed.
  • We will monitor events and should police intervention become necessary, particularly in relation to any alleged illegal activity, we will do so robustly but with an even handed, proportionate and balanced approach.

Are any of the Cheshire Police or the police commissioner and his staff participants or supporters of the hunt?

Cheshire Police does not hold this information, and we cannot compel officers or staff to disclose an interest.

Are you being paid by the hunt to ignore illegal hunting?

Certainly not. Cheshire police always endeavours to treat individuals and communities fairly and do not, and will not take sides.

The role of police is to protect everyone’s rights by ensuring public safety, facilitating lawful protest and minimise any disruption to communities.

Why did you attack anti-hunt groups with the statement you released saying don’t believe everything you read on social media?

The Constabulary did not release this statement. A journalist from a national publication formed an interpretation of some of the information on our website for an article that highlighted the ongoing debate around hunting.

Our position is that we recognise that much discussion, comment and posting of digital material around hunting takes place on social media, from all sides of the issue. Many comments are based on partial information that does not always reflect the full scenario. This is true in all matters, not just hunting.

In light of news reports of the Attorney General’s links to hunting, how are we supposed to believe that police and the CPS are impartial?

Cheshire police always endeavours to treat individuals and communities fairly and do not, and will not take sides.

 

Training

What training do police officers have regarding Hunting Act and policing of hunts?

Staff are provided with an input into the Hunting Act 2004, and other relevant legislation, for consideration and use if involved in any hunt-related matter. Staff are also provided with an aide memoir which contains relevant legislation and the points to prove required under the Act. The training is provided to frontline officers and PCSOs who are likely to be called upon to attend incidents involving hunts.

How are training needs identified?

Officers will identify their own training needs in liaison with their Sergeants, through performance conversations and during Continuous Professional Development (CPD) days. The CPS / Force leads on hunting may identify training opportunities or learning from cases or investigations brought and feedback. We have already trained officers based on the likelihood of those officers becoming involved in policing hunts.

What is contained in the training and are you confident this is enough?

Training consists of a general understanding of the Hunting Act 2004 and other legislation that could be used to deal with incidents of public order, road traffic issues etc.

Training is also provided with regards to the make-up of a Hunt meet which includes an explanation of relevant parties whether Pro or Anti-Hunt and also consideration and understanding of community issues. We have an ongoing commitment to training our frontline officers in relation to hunt-related activity. We have trained officers who can be deployed in areas where hunts are operating and where there is a community issue.

What specialist support is provided to officers attending / investigation the hunts?

A dedicated Detective Inspector and one or more detective constables lead and manage hunt investigations, which is CPS advice and best practice.

There are also two wildlife officers with specialist knowledge of hunting on hand to give advice.

We have access to CPS specialist reviewers, while we can also deploy a drone and additional officer support if required.

How often is training undertaken?

Annually.

 

Use of scent

What scent is laid, who checks what scent is used and where it is laid?

Trail hunting is an activity which involves someone laying an animal scent trail for dogs to follow. It was invented following the introduction of the 2004 Act and it remains legal to hunt an artificial trail.

The scent is an artificial animal-based scent which is usually mixed with oil to improve the lasting effect once laid.

There are no checks made on the scent used or where it is laid, although Cheshire Police have seen and checked the authenticity of the purchase of the some scent used.

Do you ever witness the trail being laid, and why do hunts seem to deviate from it so often?

Cheshire Police do not witness the laying of the trail, in fact the trail is only known by the trail layer. It is therefore unknown if the hunts are deviating from the trail. However, an explanation for the deviation could be that the weather conditions, the passing of time or other conditions dissipate the scent and reduce the ability of the hounds to remain in constant contact with it.

When investigating an allegation of illegal hunting what checks are made regarding trail setting?

A Hunt Group would provide evidence of trail-laying only in the event of a prosecution being progressed to court and the Hunt will only then provide Trial laying footage as part of their defence.

Has the Constabulary engaged with the hunt from a crime prevention perspective regarding the use of a new and different scent and regarding the monitoring of trail setting?

This suggestion has been made to the hunt, however they will not use an alternative. Use of scent including urine is not illegal. Hunts may record the laying of a trail, but will usually only disclose this video, or confirm its existence, in the event of a prosecution as part of their defence. We have previously attended, at the invitation of one of the hunts, to view a trail being laid and the mixture being made up, to better understand the process.

Why don’t you arrest the hunt when a fox is killed?

Evidence of a fox being killed is not, on its own, an offence and forms only part of an investigation into illegal hunting. If the fox has been killed accidentally, this is not an offence.

Ultimately, whilst the legislation seeks to reduce the harm to wild mammals, in order to prove an offence it is essential to demonstrate that an individual has intentionally set out to hunt a fox.

 

Impact of hunting activity on public roads

What is done by the Constabulary to address potential road traffic offences that are committed by those involved with, following or objecting to the hunt?

Any offences being committed on the road will be investigated. Warnings are also given where there is not enough evidence to progress otherwise.

Members of the public are encouraged to submit evidence such as dashcam footage via the Cheshire Police reporting page on the website for review and progression of potential offences under the relevant road traffic legislation.

Why is there a perceived acceptance that horses and hounds used in the hunt are able to block road and highways without challenge?

If the hunt is causing a wilful obstruction of the highway, it will be dealt with appropriately and proportionately. This may be simply by asking the riders to move on.

What is the policy of Cheshire Constabulary regarding the policing of hunt and anti-hunt activity that may contravene road traffic laws?

Any offences being committed on the road will be investigated. Warnings are also given where there is not enough evidence to progress otherwise.

 

The role of terrier men

What checks are undertaken to ensure that they are acting lawfully and appropriately?

Officers will respond to allegations of illegal activity by terrier men. Officers attending any hunt will monitor the activity of all those taking part, including terrier men, to ensure activity is lawful.

How does the Constabulary work with the hunting community (both pro and anti) to understand the role of terrier men?

The wildlife officers communicate regularly with both pro and anti-hunt groups and have a very good understanding of the current role of the terrier men, which should be to follow the hunt in order to open and close gates or mend fences where damage has been caused by the hunt, etc.

The wildlife officers pass this understanding on to other officers, who are likely to respond to hunting activity, through training. Officers on the ground will also gather intelligence in relation to any potential activity which does not reflect current understanding of the role. This will then form feedback for the hunts or could potentially lead to further action if there is evidence of illegal activity.

Do officers have a clear understanding of the purpose of terrier men?

During specific training, officers are provided with an input which covers what the terrier men used to be used for and what their role should be now.

 

Future of policing of hunting activity

How is the Constabulary intending to build public confidence and reassure the public that they are committed to enforcing the Hunting Act?

The Constabulary’s approach to all communications is to be open and transparent. It adopts a proactive approach to matters relating to hunting with hounds to make sure that the public is aware of what police are doing in relation to reports and investigations. It also endeavours to educate and inform the public of the legislation and the role of the police.

How much more proof of illegal activities do you need? You seem to stand by and do nothing.

We rely on witnesses providing evidence and information that will allow us to conduct effective investigations that can be seen to be fair, open and transparent to all involved.

We will always seek to use our resources effectively and we do not have any policy that would prevent the use of any tactics or resources in the investigation of matters relating to illegal hunting.

Cheshire police is fully committed to investigate and, where sufficient evidence exists, bring to justice anybody found breaking the law.

How does the Constabulary intend to take the recommendations of the review forward in terms of the policing of potentially illegal activity outside of simply the Hunting Act e.g. anti-social behaviour, cyber-crime, road traffic offences?

The Constabulary already pursues other criminality resulting from hunting activity, which has led to a number of successful prosecutions.

How does the Constabulary intend to engage all elements of the pro and anti-hunt community in their plans?

Our rural crime officers have regular dialogue and engagement with all parties to ensure they are kept informed of police investigations and operational activity. In December 2018, senior officers also met all parties individually to listen to their concerns, explain our policing approach and the legislation. Our observations were that constructive conversations were had at all these meetings.

How does the policing of hunting fit within the delivery of the rural crime strategy?

Our general policing strategy that deals with policing public order incidents and investigating crime supports our policing approach to illegal fox hunting activity. This also links in to community engagement and confidence. We have two dedicated hunt SPOCs to liaise with both pro and anti-hunt groups to maintain contacts and build relationships.