Although aggravated trespass is a criminal offence, the Countryside Alliance says ‘very few’ prosecutions are being brought against animal rights extremists ‘despite clear evidence’ being available, so what is the next step to offer greater protection to hunts and land owners?
Enforcing the law on aggravated trespass could help combat “intimidatory and disruptive” hunt saboteurs, it is hoped.
The Countryside Alliance is using the current debate on trespassing in relation to travellers — the Conservatives said in their election manifesto they would make intentional trespass a criminal offence in this situation — to challenge current law.
Aggravated trespass — trespassing on land with the intention of disrupting or obstructing a lawful activity, or of intimidating someone involved in such an activity — is an offence.
“There can only be two reasons animal rights activists are not being prosecuted; either the law is not being enforced, or it is not fit for purpose,” said Alliance CEO Tim Bonner. “Whatever the reason, it needs to be addressed, and addressed rapidly.
“There is increasing concern in the countryside about the behaviour of extremists intent on interfering with farming activity, sabotaging shoots and game farms and, of course, attacking hunts. In all these cases, activists trespass, seemingly with impunity, and commit the offence — aggravated trespass — which was created to tackle exactly such behaviour.”
Mr Bonner said while the law seems to cover the behaviour of saboteurs, “very few” prosecutions are brought against animal rights extremists “despite clear evidence”.
He added that while criminalising any form of trespass would not be realistic or reasonable, the Alliance will press ministers and police on why the law on aggravated trespass is not working.
“It is simply not good enough for the police to stand back while activists invade farms and disrupt lawful rural activities,” he said.
Peter Saunt, a foot-follower with the Atherstone, told H&H saboteurs’ trespassing is a major issue.
“They’re always crossing land, trying to provoke you, cameras in your face,” he said.
“If you come to a gate, they’ll climb it, rather than open it, knowing it could damage it.
“We managed to stop them coming over a gate once and they went straight through the hedge and across a planted field. They show no regard.
“They can be intimidating and I think it would make a big difference if they knew they could be arrested for it.”
Alliance head of hunting Polly Portwin told H&H aggravated trespass is a law that should be enforceable.
“Yet there have been countless occasions this season alone where hunt supporters have felt threatened by those trespassing with the intention of disrupting or obstructing legal trail hunting activities,” she said.
“If the law, as it stands, is not working or protecting victims of aggravated trespass, the government needs to review the law as soon as possible to ensure that it is enforceable.”
Lee Moon of the Hunt Saboteurs’ Association told H&H he believes sabs are not committing aggravated trespass as “hunts are acting unlawfully”.
“They’re breaking the Hunting Act and we’re intervening to stop them so they’re not, as far as we’re concerned,” he said, adding that the association is “happy to admit to trespass” but that he would “fully expect sabs to treat the land respectfully”.
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