Short of turning up at court in a red coat and wielding a whip, district judge Tim Pattinson could not have made it more obvious that he thinks parliament was wrong to ban the setting of dogs on to wild animals for “sport” (Cameron’s old hunt fined £4,000 after RSPCA brings landmark prosecution, 18 December). The judge not only launched an outrageous attack on the RSPCA for achieving a successful corporate prosecution of the gang of criminal animal abusers known as the Heythrop hunt, but he also turned down the request for reasonable costs – castigating the society for spending £330,000 bringing these well-heeled members of the “Chipping Norton set” to justice.
The judge also failed to praise the local voluntary and mostly elderly hunt monitors who as private citizens, at their own cost, in their own vehicles and using their own cameras, captured the evidence of hunt members breaking the law. In 2008, the Thames Valley and Gloucestershire police viewed the monitors’ evidence and submitted a case to the CPS, which then charged the huntsman of the Heythrop with three charges of illegal hunting. The charges were inexplicably dropped. Clearly the hunters thereafter considered themselves virtually immune from prosecution, but the monitors continued to collect evidence of the hunt chasing and killing foxes and submitted it to the RSPCA – hence the subsequent launch earlier this year of 48 charges of illegal hunting of foxes in breach of the Hunting Act 2004.
The simple fact is that the RSPCA Act 1932 empowers the RSPCA to prosecute criminal offences of cruelty to animals. Over the years they have brought low-life cock-fighters, badger-baiters and dog-fighters to justice. In 1997 the House of Commons voted by 411 votes to 151 to outlaw bloodsports such as fox hunting, and although Tony Blair (as he has since boasted in his autobiography) managed to delay and eventually water down the bill, it finally became law in February 2005.
It is a disgrace that an animal welfare charity should have to prosecute breaches of state law. After all, we don’t expect the NSPCC to prosecute child cruelty cases or Age UK to prosecute the mugging of pensioners.
•?I am glad there is now a “blue fox” group of Conservatives – including more than 20 MPs – who, quite apart from questioning the morality of hunting animals for sport, realise that party plans to repeal the act lose more potential supporters than gain them. If David Cameron really wants to detoxify the Tory party he should stop spending unnecessary time on the gay marriage issue and simply say in one sentence that he will abandon plans to repeal the Hunting Act and instead give the CPS more resources to do a job which most taxpayers would wish it to do.
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
•?The judge at the trial of the Heythrop hunt was simply being helpful to question the RSPCA’s wisdom in bringing the prosecution. Given that independent research has proved that with hunting with hounds the fox is either killed outright or escapes, the RSPCA would be best advised to focus its resources on its otherwise excellent work in things like dogs in hot cars and general animal welfare. People might want to consider going along to their local Boxing Day hunts and thereby discover a cross-section of people who have the highest respect for animals and conservation. And, into the bargain, have infinitely more genuine fun and sense of community than those who go like “lemmings” to the sales.
Pulborough, West Sussex
•?Why indeed did the RSPCA have to spend this money, when surely the CPS should have prosecuted the case? Could the answer possibly reflect a wish not to confront the Heythrop, with its Chipping Norton set (and royal) connections?
•?For wealthy Heythrop hunters whingeing that they’ve been picked on, a few thousand quid is a fee, not a fine, for disobeying a law they don’t like. Motor insurance evaders have their vehicles seized and are banned from driving, so by the same token we should take the transport used to commit the crime and impose riding bans on the convicted hunters – see how quickly they and other hunts will comply in future.
Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire
• I applaud the RSPCA for taking the Heythrop hunt to court. Why should a set of people think they can flout the law of the land with impunity? I’m making a donation to the charity to thank them.