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Blandford Town Council Meeting 8th July 2019

I attended this meeting with the aim of asking for Blandford Town Council’s support in banning the Portman Hunt from parading through the town on Boxing Day. I was representing Dorset Action Against Foxhunting.

I had already contacted the Town Councillors and one of them – Cllr Osborne – had responded and had given me advice and guidance about how to go about attending and speaking at the meeting.

In advance, I sent a document listing the Portman’s bad behaviour over the last season, with photographs and links to video evidence – available on request.

Two members of the hunt had come along to observe. They denied that was why they were there; but as they got up and left as soon the item was over, I think that was untrue.

The Town Clerk told me that the Leader of the Council was vehemently opposed to foxhunting and did not feel she could chair the debate on the issue impartially.

The Town Clerk allowed me three minutes to put my case – see appendix 2. I also showed the councillors photographs of foxes that had been hunted.

After I had spoken, the Councillors debated the issue. Several councillors spoke against the hunt; no one spoke for them. The minutes of the meeting will record what the councillors said.

The main issue is this. The Portman Hunt’s Boxing Day Meet actually takes place on private land in a field beside the Crown Hotel. The Crown Hotel claims that it is not involved but it is a Hall and Woodhouse pub, and this Brewery is openly pro-hunt. The Hunt arrives via public roads and Blandford Town Council has no say in who uses the roads; this means they cannot ban the hunt themselves. (I already knew this). But, the council was very concerned about public safety issues. They were aware that the Boxing Day meet is a “flashpoint’ because two opposing groups meet openly in the street. Last year’s event was angry and potentially violent.

BTC, however, were keen to do something to support Dorset AAF. One councillor made a proposal: that the Council write to Dorset Police, expressing concerns about public safety at the Boxing Day Meet and asking what the police intend to do about it. It was seconded and put to the vote. Out of 16 councillors, 11 voted for the proposal. Others abstained. *

This means that Blandford Town Council have openly declared that they are not comfortable with the hunt holding their meet in the town. While they are unable to prevent it, they were keen to take some sort action and writing to Dorset Police was the limit of their powers.

After the meeting, I stayed to speak to some councillors. I asked where we could take this next. A LibDem councillor (one who spoke against the hunt) suggested that we hold a public debate, hosted by the LibDems. I said it would be good if we could get some cross-party involvement here; and the Cllr Osborne said he would be involved too.

I also spoke to a Conservative Councillor. He said that he would never support any anti-blood sports groups because sabs deliberately frighten horses. I have heard this argument before and know it to be false. He then went on to say that a “nasty” woman, about my height and with my colour hair (red) had abused him at the Boxing Day Meet.  He then said, “I hope it wasn’t you”. This made me very angry and I told him that I don’t have red hair. He muttered something about the light and left swiftly. I have emailed him privately to explain that AAF’s guiding principle is to be courteous and non-violent. If I don’t receive and apology, I will make a formal complaint. He said this in front of other councillors and it was unacceptable.

Three minute speech to Blandford Town Council

Foxhunting is like bull-fighting: it’s recreational animal cruelty or killing animals for fun. Despite the 2004 ban, the hunting of live animals with hounds has never stopped.  The hunts say they are trail hunting, but they are not. There is a mass of evidence showing that they are killing foxes regularly – some of which you have seen in the document sent to you by the Town Clerk prior to this meeting.

All the animal organisation agree on this: RSPCA, IFAW, The League Against Cruel Sports, Hounds Off, Hunt Investigation Team (cubbing prosecution in Hereford) Action Against Foxhunting and many others, big and small.  Some businesses – like Lush, for instance, also agree.  Dorset Wildlife Trust never allow hunts sporting rights on their land, if it is in their gift.

However, this isn’t the only thing. 85% of people oppose hunting, and out of the 15% that support it, only a very small minority of them actually go out on a horse to hunt.  It works out at only 1% of the population. But, we in the countryside all suffer from their activities. They block roads, damage fences, trespass, and put domestic animals and farm animals at risk.  They also intimidate anyone who gets in their way.

If any other organisation behaved in this reckless way, they would have been shut down ages ago.

Additionally, those who support hunting – like The Portman Hunt – are campaigning for the ban to be lifted. Here are some photos of foxes which have been killed by hounds. The hunts are ok with this – they have no moral objection to chasing a wild animal till it can run no longer and then allow it to be torn apart by hounds.

Tensions between the anti-blood sports groups and the hunts are very high. Any meeting between the two groups is a flashpoint – and it will (in my opinion) at some point, end in serious injury or even death.

This brings me to the Portman Hunt and their public Boxing Day Meet in Blandford. I’ve provided a table showing the incidents with the hunt over the last season and before, with photographs and links to video evidence. AAF has held public outreach in Blandford on two occasions and we have found that this town is no different – the majority of people oppose the hunt. I know, because I’ve asked them. (maybe even a bit angrier than anywhere else because of the disruption the hunt causes)

The Dorset group of Action Against Foxhunting would like to put an end to this public meet. A group of people who are reckless and violent with our wildlife and should not be seen parading in public; if they want to do that sort of thing, then they should find somewhere private to do it. I was there at the last Boxing Day Meet and I don’t want to repeat that experience. It was hideous for everybody and a shameful display in a public place.

I would ask that the council considers seriously what I have said. I must reiterate that if you do support AAF in this, then you would be representing the 85% of people who oppose foxhunting and not the 15% who enjoy treating our wildlife as disposable playthings.