A prominent chief constable has denied that police will use “vigilantes” to enforce the hunting ban despite reports that hunt saboteurs are as active as they were before the ban.
Nigel Yeo, public order working group lead and assistant chief constable for Sussex Police, issued an internal pre-ban memo to all police forces in mid-January. He said: “[Anti-hunting] groups are committed to working with police to secure prosecutions relevant to anything they identify. Their hunt monitors may become witnesses. We should be mindful of their safety.”
But in a reply to a letter from a Wiltshire hunt supporter, Alastair McWhirter, spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) on hunting with dogs, appears to contradict Yeo’s instructions.
In his more recent letter McWhirter said: “The Police Service recognises that there will be some… groups, who… will wish to disrupt legal hunting and inform police about any illegal activities. The Police Service actively discourages this and does not wish to use, or have any part, in such activities… we will not be using vigilantes.”
McWhirter added that there was “no national formula” about which anti-hunt organisations were considered legitimate to provide evidence.
Since the ban, saboteurs have been as active as ever. The Countryside Alliance estimates that the “level of hassle” is the same as before the ban.
Last weekend, five carloads of saboteurs followed the Essex Farmers and Union on hound exercise. A joint-master, who claims he was hit in the face, and a saboteur were arrested. The Surrey Union, South Dorset and Avon Vale were also scrutinised by video camera-wielding “monitors”.
Around 40 “monitors”, many in black balaclavas, followed the Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray the previous weekend. As a consequence, joint-master Nick Bamber wrote to his local chief constable to ask: “Should a number of saboteurs over, say, six, be allowed to ‘monitor’ when more than this is intimidating? When [they] walk over the scent line, is this disruptive — as hounds may cast off the line, with possible difficult results as far as the law is concerned?”
He added: “Saboteurs do not seem to accept or believe that we are acting within the law. A further concern is that saboteurs simply wish to see mock hunting erased from country activities.”
Saboteurs in the south have also been seen to spray citronella across a manmade trail, and to lay their own scent trail.