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Death knell for hunting ban as police
abandon monitoring operations
Police forces are to stop monitoring hunts in a change of
policy that sounds the death knell
for the hunting ban,
The Times has learnt.
Countryside Editor: The Times
Filed 18 May 09
This article was originally published in the The Times on 15th May 2009.
It is reproduced here with the kind permission of its author and of the newspaper
New guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) states that gathering evidence of illegal hunting is difficult, that the ban is hard to enforce and that chief constables have more pressing priorities.
In future, forces should rely on anti-hunt activists to produce information, it says. But they should also be “very cautious” of such groups and recognise that hunting is an “emotionally charged” subject.
Hunts will also no longer be required to inform police in advance of the time and place of meets and their planned route.
Richard Brunstrom, Chief Constable of North Wales and the Acpo spokesman on rural affairs, said: “Hunting is definitely not a policing priority. It is not illegal to wear a red coat and ride a horse in a public place.”
The new guidance undermines one of the most controversial pieces of legislation introduced by the Labour Government, which took up 700 hours of parliamentary time.
Since the Hunting Act came into force in 2004, there have been eight prosecutions, of which only three have been successful, with one pending. Hunting has thrived.
Mr Brunstrom said that police had to chose which areas of law enforcement to devote scarce resources to. He said: “If you look at hunting, the penalties do not include a prison sentence for offenders. This puts the Hunting Act to the lower rather than the higher end of offences. Parliament had the chance to include imprisonment as a sentence but did not do so.”
The new guidance is not binding but was unanimously approved by the country’s most senior officers this week. Officers are urged to avoid “acrimonious, time consuming, frustrating and ultimately fruitless activity”.
Senior officers expressed concern that their neutrality had been compromised by being forced to release details of meets through freedom of information requests to activists who had gone on to disrupt hunts.
David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has made it clear that he favours a repeal of the Hunting Act and in the event of a general election victory will offer MPs a free vote in government time, although a backbencher would have to produce a Bill.
Mr Brunstrom said: “I am pleased with the new guidance but hunting is definitely not a policing priority and don’t let me give you the impression it is. But that does not mean we are not going to deal with it. We recognise it is the law of the land and the duty of the police to enforce it — but to do so proportionately and according to priorities.”
Mr Brunstrom said that forces needed a consistent approach in dealing with reports of unlawful hunting.He also raised concerns about militants becoming involved with anti-hunt organisations and said that police had to be cautious when people made complaints to them. He outlined the difficulties facing police. “If there are offences they are likely to be taking place in a remote rural environment. We are not very well equipped to follow hunts and get evidence and nor do we think we can justify it. Pursuing hunts is an expensive and sophisticated operation.”
He accepted the need to train more police in hunt investigations and said he hoped that the pro-hunt Countryside Alliance and the RSPCA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the League Against Cruel Sports would attend training seminars to give their views. A hunt investigation manual is to be distributed to forces before the autumn season.
The Countryside Alliance said: “We have always understood what a difficult job the police have in dealing with such a confusing piece of legislation. But the guidance suggests that the sort of engagement some police forces have had with animal rights groups should, quite rightly, be avoided.”
A spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sport said: “We fought for 80 years for the hunting ban and, while we accept it is not a high priority for police, a ban was the will of Parliament and is the will of the people and we are going to press for more prosecution cases to be brought.”
Further reading recommended
Editorial (2005). The architect of the anti-foxhunting (Scotland) Bill pleads guilty of being a drunken wilful fire raiser, endangering the lives of others as they slept in a prestigious Edinburgh hotel.
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 07 Sep 05, www.land-care.org.uk Click Here to View
Irvine, James (2007). Another Scottish Labour nasty ASBO at "politician of the year" bash at Prestonfield House Hotel
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 22 Nov 07, www.land-care.org.uk Click Here to View