War is being waged in the countryside, in the fields and along the quiet lanes, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Dorset and Somerset ‘territory’ of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt. On one side are the foxes and the hunt saboteurs; on the other the masters, the huntsman and hunt followers of various kinds.
The ‘sabs’, dedicated to protecting wildlife, are being targeted by people intent on ignoring the 2004 Hunting Act. The hunts believe the countryside belongs to them and they have the right to act as they please, regardless of law – a powerful lobby that seems to have a stranglehold on the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The sabs film everything, gathering evidence of hunting laws being broken by the hunts. And they film incidents of their vehicles being smashed, themselves being assaulted, badly beaten and in several cases hospitalised with their injuries. In the 1990s two sabs were killed yet no prosecutions followed. The situation hasn’t improved, as the lack of law demonstrates. And now the CPS has refused yet another case on ‘insufficient evidence’.
The ‘insufficient evidence’ consists of a film of a woman being deliberately galloped over by the BSV huntsman Mark Doggrell. Several other sabs witnessed the event. Having sent the woman flying, Doggrell galloped on without a backward glance. This happened during an evening cubbing meet in August near the Hunt’s kennels at Charlton Horethorne.
When contacted after the incident, the investigating officer said that, although he’d welcome additional evidence, he felt the police already had enough to prosecute. The additional evidence, from a farmer who needed to remain anonymous, was that the Hunt masters met with Doggrell that evening and decided on the statement he should give to the police.
During the meeting they reportedly said that they “couldn’t afford a hiccup this early in the season,” the implication being that they would have no one to take his place as huntsman, the man who looks after the hounds. Arrested and charged, he was soon seen back in the saddle.
Doggrell’s prepared statement said that the woman had deliberately jumped in front of his horse. The video clearly shows that she did not move from where she and her companion were standing with their backs to the oncoming horse.
The woman lost consciousness shortly after being struck. She had seven broken ribs, a punctured lung and ‘trauma’ to her shoulder. It was feared at the time that her spine had also been injured. An air ambulance attended the scene, partly because riders and horses blocked the normal ambulance from accessing the injured woman.
Mark Doggrell is a violent man. Last November he reportedly assaulted a young man at the local Hunt Ball, breaking his nose. Years ago while in his teens, after an argument with a young gamekeeper, he took an axe to the gamekeeper’s front door only, so local gossip had it, to be met on the other side of the broken-down door by the gamekeeper’s shotgun!
Since this incident the Dorset Hunt Sabs have been the target of ‘Anti-antis’, groups of violent masked men dressed to look like sabs and allegedly shipped in from other hunts. They appear at any BSV meet and attack the legitimate sabs, the most recent incident involving 30-40 of them. The BSV tells everyone that these thugs are the sabs, spreading the propaganda that the Hunt is squeaky-clean innocent and the sabs are criminals.
After the CPS decision the hunt sabs released the video to the press. According to the Sunday Times, “Michael Felton, senior master of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt, said the incident occurred during a legally permitted drag hunt that did not involve any live foxes being chased.” Well sorry Mike, this was a ‘cubbing’ meet, and the Hunt was witnessed drawing a cover to flush out foxes. There is a deal of difference between drag hunting (following a pre-laid scent) and fox hunting. The BVS wouldn’t be seen dead engaged in drag hunting.
The Countryside Alliance, with strong links to the NFU and founded during the campaign against the Hunting Act, gives the impression that all ‘real’ country folk support hunting. Not true. Many farmers dislike the hunts but are afraid to ban hunting on their land because of the attacks they suffer from hunt followers. As one farmer said, “my life wouldn’t be worth living.”
The hunts have never stopped breaking the law, taking full packs out and killing foxes, assaulting and injuring sabs while apparently safe from prosecution. And the war against people trying to stop hunting has reached a new and more violent stage.
The situation is not helped by the CPS refusing to prosecute what appeared, from a police point of view, to be a clear case. How much ‘sufficient evidence’ is needed? And one has to ask: who owns the law? The hunts? The landowners? The Countryside Alliance? Certainly not the people fighting to get the law complied with, and who should be protected by the law, not simply left to recover, as best they can, from their injuries.
On the positive side, because of the infamous badger culls in which sabs have played a vitally important part in preventing the needless killing of badgers, membership of the Hunt Saboteur Association has soared. More and more people are bravely standing up to defend both the law and our wildlife.
10/02/15 © Lesley Docksey
Detective sergeant Dan Mason 2141 Tel: 01935 402156