‘They’re anarchists, it’s a class war’: hunt chairman cleared of assaulting sabs

A hunt chairman who was found not guilty of attacking two saboteurs has said he will now be making a complaint against the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Immigration judge Mark Davies was involved in an altercation with sabs at a meet of the Barlow on New Year’s Day 2019, but was the only one who found himself in court despite having photographic evidence of the bloodied nose and lip he sustained.

The 67-year-old was cleared this week of assaulting Sheffield Hunt Saboteurs members Austin Jordan and William Robinson in a field on private land at Highlightley Farm in Barlow, Derbyshire.

Ruling on the case at Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court, Judge Davison said that the circumstances had indicated aggravated trespass on the part of the saboteurs who were disrupting a legal activity. He also accepted that Mr Davies had acted in self-defence.

Mr Davies’s solicitor Stephen Welford told H&H that the decision to prosecute his client was one of the most surprising he had come across in 20 years of practice.

“In my view it was unreasonable and irrational in the light of the totality of the evidence the prosecution had,” he said.

The day after the trial, Mr Davies said he hoped the case had “shown these people [the saboteurs] for what they are”.

“They are anarchists with no interest in animal welfare at all, it’s a class war,” he said.

He described how the protestors had plagued almost every meet of the Barlow, of which his wife Joan Williams — a former superintendent at South Yorkshire Police — is a joint master.

“While the landowners are very supportive, these people just trespass and don’t get off when they are told. They think they have the legal right to go where they want because they claim we are committing offences,” he said.

“I am a person of good character and I have never used violence against anyone in my life. My wife spent 30 years in the police and is well used to these situations but their behaviour has caused a lot of anxiety.”

Mr Davies and his wife, whose arm was in a sling, were observing the hunt on New Year’s Day when they were approached by the sabs wearing combat clothing and masks.

In court, he told how he had “felt intimidated” by the group and stepped towards them with his arms out to prevent them trespassing further. He said that the next thing he recollected was being struck in the face by someone he later found out to be Mr Jordan.

After he found himself “surrounded” by the antis, he jumped to his feet and took Mr Jordan down in a “rugby tackle” to avoid being assaulted again.

Mr Davies made a complaint of assault but it was not taken further by Derbyshire Constabulary. Yet after they were called in for interview in February, sabs Mr Jordan and Mr Robinson alleged it was they who had been attacked.

Mr Davies told H&H he believes his position had made him a target for prosecution.

“As a judge I am very vulnerable — it’s newsworthy if a judge allegedly assaults someone as judges don’t behave like that,” he said.

“Derbyshire Constabulary and the CPS should hang their heads in shame the way they have behaved in this matter. I will be making another formal complaint to the chief constable and crime commissioner and a formal complaint to the director of public prosecutions who oversees CPS East Midlands.”

Mr Davies, who has been the target of abuse online, added that social media sites also needed to “bear up to their responsibilities” and stop “aiding and abetting” the victimisation of individuals.

Mr Welford has taken on many cases for hunts in the past decade and said there has been a recent increase in the number of prosecutions.

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Rather than breaches of the Hunting Act, the cases were typically complaints of assault made by saboteurs.

“There is a marked increased in attention from hunt saboteurs who are becoming increasingly sophisticated in ways of interfering and sabbing, as well as their widespread use of video equipment,  they are also very good at provoking a reaction from members of the hunt,” he said.

“Of the 30 or so police stations I am called to each year, I would say 90% of the complaints are violence alleged by hunt sabs. They are convinced the hunts aren’t trail hunting and are adamant they are allowed to go wherever they like to spot illegal hunting but they are not.

“Many times you find cases where a person of good character has asked a trespasser to leave — and they are legally allowed to use reasonable force — and the situation has ended up out of hand.

“Hunts can’t just keep their heads down any more,” he added. “Sabs make a lot of allegations but there are rarely any from the hunt supporters.”

In a statement, Sheffield Hunt Saboteurs described the verdict of Mr Davies case as “disappointing” and claimed the case was originally taken to the police by the hunt as “a spurious complaint against a sab”.

A spokesman for Derbyshire Constabulary said the force had not yet received a complaint from Mr Davies, but if it did, it “would consider it”.

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