Opinion

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I have discussed the challenges of hunting in the 21st century in the south-east many times, but just in case our opponents are reading, can I make it clear once and for all and for the avoidance of doubt.

Since the ban in 2004 we at the Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent (OSB&WK) have been hunting within the law by simulating a day’s hunting as it used to be. We do this by laying a fox-based scent (you can’t make it up) for our hounds to find and follow. We lay the trails in ditches and hedgerows and in woodland and across open grassland, and we cross land we have been invited to cross. We’re a club more than 100 years old and we enjoy huge support around Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

We are an employer and we are in the entertainment business.

Don’t take it from me — listen to what our opponents posted online two weeks ago.

“We saw hounds in full cry following a clearly laid trail. A full day of what we could see as an attempt at legal trail-hunting, which is fine with us.”

That comes from a Facebook post written by the Surrey Hunt Monitors reporting on behalf of the Guildford sabs and North Downs and Croydon sabs, who came out to monitor the OSB&WK. Pretty conclusive that we hunt within the law.

Protective law

Why, then, do these activists continue to target us as individuals using methods such as harassment, intimidation and online trolling?

Why do we care what an anonymous, faceless cretin writes about us online? We care because we have no way of replying and standing up for ourselves, and it seems anyone can lie about another person and be rude to them with little or no chance of retribution from the authorities.

This has got to change and the law should protect those being targeted. At the very least the authors should have to verify what they are saying, so that what people are reading is based on fact — a legal requirement.

Our society is heading down a very dangerous path if a handful of people can target a venue, for example through social media, and by peddling lies and telling venues they are “hosting killers and people who take part in an illegal activity”, the venue can then be persuaded not to host the said event as it’s too much hassle.

This has happened only last year to one of the south-east packs, who had to cancel at the last moment, and also to our own hunt.

Relentless targeting by a few individuals put our annual dinner at the Copthorne Effingham Park hotel near Gatwick for 500 people in jeopardy. In the end extensive meetings saw common sense prevail, but it was close. These people promised chaos and rioting. In fact there were 20 to 30 of them on the night shouting abuse — and then they went home! Not quite the disruption they had promised.

However, more security was put in place so more money was spent, and so much time was spent on preparations for every eventuality. They have continued to target the hotel throughout the summer.

If this continues we will be forced to target our opponents’ venues of choice; what else can we do? The helpless nature of a one-sided attack is starting to depress many of us, and those with any energy left will fight back, because being “kicked” repeatedly is not an option.

It is time to unmask these people, both online and in the field, and find out who they are and what their agenda is. Who are you that you dress like a terrorist on a Saturday and go to work dressed as a normal person on a Monday?

Ref Horse & Hound; 21 December 2017