Barrister with a passion for hunting suffers fatal injuries in fall

By Julia Roberts

Tributes have been paid to a leading figure in the pro-hunting campaign who died after a fall.

Dominic Webber, former chairman of the East Sussex branch of the Countryside Alliance, suffered fatal injuries during a fall while hunting last week.

The rider and campaigner, who lived in Heathfield with his wife Jane and their two grown-up sons, died on Friday (1 March).

Mr Webber was also a well-known and well-respected criminal barrister, and his family was at Maidstone Crown Court yesterday (6 March) to hear tributes led by resident judge David Griffith-Jones QC.

He described Mr Webber’s death, at the age of 59, as “tragic, sudden and cruel”, but added that it came while enjoying his passion for riding.

“The trauma of his death and the sense of loss which it has caused is only increased by the fact he was very much one of us, a stalwart of the Kent bar mess and a regular at the bar of the crown courts at Maidstone and at Canterbury,” Judge Griffith-Jones told fellow judges, counsel and court staff.

“He was a senior, respectable and likeable practitioner. He was a gentleman, a man who appeared to have discovered a sound and happy balance to his life.

“A family man, a man of the country, passionate about the countryside and countryside pursuits and the enjoyment and preservation of them.

“In this regard most particularly he was an ardent equestrian, owning horses he stabled at his family home in East Sussex.

“While the nature of his passing is tragic beyond words there may perhaps be some little comfort to be drawn in that he died doing the very thing he loved so much.

“His passing was sudden, leaving no opportunity to say goodbye other than belatedly by an occasion such as this, inadequate as it is.

“We remember Dominic, sharing the pain of his passing. Our collective pain is nothing compared to that which his beloved family must now be suffering.”

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University-educated Mr Webber was called to the bar in 1985 and was a member of chambers at 5 King’s Bench Walk. He was said to have had a lengthy career, building a strong and thriving legal practice across the southeast and specialising in defence work.

He had also been chairman of the East Sussex Countryside Alliance branch and was a regular follower of the East Sussex and Romney Marsh.

In a letter published in January 2004 following the Boxing Day meet of the Southdown and Eridge Hunt, Mr Webber said those opposed to hunting “had difficulty keeping animal welfare in perspective”, and maintained it was not a cruel sport.

Mr Webber also submitted written evidence to the government’s hunting with dogs inquiry in 2000, and subsequently wrote published paper The Rationale of the Hunting Act 2004: Even Lord Bingham got it wrong.

Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner said: “Dominic brought an analytic mind to the hunting debate and was a determined advocate of hunting as a humane method of wildlife management, which in particular benefited the fox population. He was an associate member of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management which provided the scientific backing for his arguments.”

Also paying tribute at Maidstone Crown Court was Mark Heywood QC, a member of the same chambers and first senior treasury counsel at the Central Criminal Court.

He described Mr Webber, a member of human rights and reform initiative Lawyers for Liberty, as “thoroughly metropolitan by birth, a philosopher by education, and a man of intellectual curiosity by nature”.

“That led him to read about and become interested in all sorts of things and would enter into debates with gusto, including online.”

Mr Heywood continued: “Mr Webber was a contemplative, slightly quirky man, fit for his age. He looked the real deal in his wig and gown. He was a proper advocate and he really could persuade, and more often than not he got a result.”

Mr Heywood also spoke of his colleague’s shared love of the countryside with his wife.

“Dominic came to love the High Weald, the Downs, and to love a rural life. It is an utter tragedy that his life has ended now and all too soon.

“The only comfort is that his injuries came without warning as he was doing what he loved doing on a fabulous, bright, winter’s day and during his best season to date, it is said.

“We have lost a fine advocate, a strong supporter of the (Bar) mess, a chambers man, and, most of all, a very good friend.”

A tribute was expected to be paid at Canterbury Crown Court today (7 March).

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