THE Countryside Alliance (CA) wants police to assure hunts that meet information will not be passed to animal rights activists through requests under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

In an interview two weeks ago with The Times, Richard Brunstrom, rural affairs spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and chief constable of north Wales, said hunts no longer needed to provide advance details of meets, as they have done since the introduction of the Hunting Act in 2005.

The same article stated that “senior police officers” were concerned that their neutrality had been compromised by being “forced to release details of meets through FOI requests to activists who had gone on to disrupt hunts”.

CA spokesman Tim Bonner said the statement was “surprising and concerning”.
“It would be a very negative step if hunts were not able to share information on meets with their local police,” he said.

“Prior knowledge of hunting activity allows the police to reassure the public about the legality of hunting and to avoid [them] being dragged into unnecessary activity by spurious complaints from animal rights activists.”

The FOI Act 2000 gives the general public the right to access information held by public authorities. But it exempts information that relates to law enforcement from having to be disclosed if that information is likely to prejudice the administration of justice.

Solicitor-advocate Jamie Foster from Clarke Willmott regularly represents and advises people within the hunting community.

“I have great sympathy for the position police find themselves in,” he said, “but it would appear fairly self-evident that providing animal rights activists with detailed information about the location and timing of meets is likely to prejudice the administration of justice.

“And as the police themselves would recognise, there is also the possibility of public order offences arising out of the information being disclosed.”

Tim Bonner added: “We will be advising hunts to continue to liaise with their local police and to provide information about hunting activity where there is an assurance that it will be exempt from an FOI request.”

He said the CA is unaware of any occasions where the FOI Act has been used successfully by animal rights activists to access information on meets supplied by hunts.

Chief constable Brunstrom was unavailable for comment.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (28 May, ’09)