Police have arrested almost a dozen hunt supporters across the country for alleged public order offences on the hunting field last season before the Hunting
Act came into force. The arrests were made after video clips were handed to police.
Solicitor Jeff Hide, from Knights, said: “There appears to be a dramatic increase in action by police in various counties — Sussex and Essex in particular — based on allegations by hunt saboteurs. They are the sort of allegations that police did not follow up before the Hunting Act.”
According to Knights, there have been three arrests in Sussex, one in Gloucestershire, four in Essex and one in Cambridgeshire during the past few weeks. Joint-masters and hunt followers are among those arrested.
The arrests are for public order offences and include allegations of assaulting saboteurs and damaging vehicles. Most of the alleged offences took place between September 2004 and February 2005 — before the Hunting Act was implemented.
Hide added: “The sabs are doing what they have always done — taking selective video evidence to police — but the police appear to be following up their allegations this time. They seem really to be taking them on board, spending time and money to investigate. ”
One joint-master of a south-eastern hunt, who did not want to be named, was called last month by police to view footage submitted as “evidence” from an alleged attack in October 2004.
“The sabs were being more provocative than usual in the run-up to February, and the police are now looking into things that happened during the season,” the joint-master told Horse & Hound. “I had allegedly attacked an anti with a hunting whip and I had to go to the police station to give my side and help the CPS decide whether to prosecute.
“All the footage showed was me trotting down the road, followed by a clip where an anti says: ‘He just hit me.’ But if I hadn’t taken a lawyer and had my wits about me, they could have constructed a case against me.”
The antis’ evidence did not result in a prosecution against this joint-master — although he had to foot a legal bill of £700 — but a separate incident with the same hunt is still under investigation.
The joint-master added: “We realise that our few hunts in the south-east carry the can for the rest of the country when it comes to antis — and that will continue into next season. The police are petrified of the antis because they know the law inside out.”
An Essex joint-master, who was arrested in February and is waiting to hear if he will be charged, said: “Last season, the antis were putting more pressure on us and becoming more physical: we were doing everything to the letter of the law but were being harassed — both by sabs and police.
“The police weren’t keeping the two sides apart. Whether that is coincidence or the police have directives to put pressure on us, I don’t know. We’ve written to them to try to point out that the two sides need to be kept apart, but receive standard letters in reply.”
Essex hunts are due to meet shortly to discuss reinstating a hunt stewarding system that operated around eight years ago.