AVON AND SOMERSET POLICE
On 14th January 2019, two citizens of Avon and Somerset went to see the Police Crime Commissioner at her surgery in Wells. The PCC’s job is to liaise between the police and the people, bringing the people’s concerns to the police’s attention. The two citizens – both ladies of a certain age – went to discuss the following matter. Hunts, they said, regularly intimidate people who openly oppose their cruel and illegal activities. Hunts do this because they feel they are above the law. One of the reasons for this is the police’s failure to take any action against them for obvious breaches of laws other than the Hunting Act – eg Public Order, Road Traffic Offences, Firearms Offences and Trespass. Here is their account of what the PCC and the police said.
We explained that we were there to bring to the Commissioner’s attention that we (and many others) were being intimidated by the hunts in our areas because we object to illegal hunting. We gave several examples of what had happened.
Ms Mountstevens was concerned and agreed that we should have every right to express our opinions without fear of reprisals. We did not ask her what her views are; however, as she didn’t know that terriermen rode quad bikes, we guessed that she was one of the majority of people in the country who don’t know much and don’t really get involved on one side or the other.
We also explained that we (and many others) don’t think that the police take enough action with regard to the hunts’ actions – both for illegal foxhunting and intimidation. We said that many of us believe that this is because the police are biased (we gave personal examples of this). Ms Mountstevens assured us (and we believed her) that “nobody pulls (her) strings.”
We drew the Commissioner’s attention to Gloucester Police, and the action they are taking to police illegal foxhunting. We said that it should be a role model for other forces. She was interested in this and made a note to look into it.
She then referred us to the Rural Crime Officer, who had come to the Town Hall specifically to deal with hunting issues, which they had anticipated would come up. We found that a little suspicious; had they looked my name up in advance? Or was it because of the events at the Evolve Animal Sanctuary?
The Rural Crime Officer (for that area only) is Rowan Hawkins.
We asked Rowan Hawkins why terriermen on quad bikes were not being pulled over for obvious breaches of the law: not showing number plates; overloading their quads and for trespass. The police should be checking insurance and their firearm licences. She avoided answering these questions.
We asked Rowan Hawkins whether she could guarantee that the police would attend if a hunt monitor were being intimidated. She could not guarantee that they would come because it might not be high enough priority.
We asked why the police in this region make no effort to prevent the crime of illegal foxhunting. We said that given the equipment the hunts take with them, it is clear that they are intending to break the law. She said that if the police turned up, the hunt wouldn’t break the law. She was thinking only of convictions and not prevention. We pointed out that it was then left to monitors and sabs to police the hunt and try to gather evidence of illegal hunting – both of which are difficult if the hunts are killing on private land. Monitors and sabs are then putting themselves at risk of assault and intimidation. We concluded that the police are not interested in preventing the crime of illegal foxhunting, nor in prosecuting anyone for it. They are not going to interfere with illegal hunting, especially if it happens on private land. Rowan Hawkins repeatedly warned us not to trespass.
Several times during our conversation, PC Hawkins asked for the name of a contact with Locals Against the Mendip Farmers. We did not give names. Later on, we wondered if the Rural Beat Manager had attended for that purpose.
She also said that recent video evidence passed to them by an “anti” showed not that the hunters were breaking the law, but that the anti was. She also emphasised that sabs often intimidated hunters, and that sometimes it was “pretty terrible”.
We reminded her that we are not sabs – that we are ordinary people who object to cruel and illegal activity. We emphasised again that we do not feel supported by the police and we strongly suspect them of having sympathy with the hunt.
Our conversation with Sue Mountstevens was encouraging. We have summarised the conversation in an email to her and will see her again in a few months to ask if any progress has been made. We made the very serious point that if the hunt’s behaviour continues without active police intervention, somebody will be killed.
Our conversation with the PC Hawkins was not in any way encouraging. It has only confirmed what we already suspected: that the police are not interested in violations of the Hunting Act and have no intention of doing anything at all about it. We also concluded that we cannot rely on the police to support us when we are intimidated by the hunt. We also believe that because of police inaction the hunts will take this as an invitation to do whatever they like, without any fear of repercussions.