How the RSPCA targeted Cameron's local hunt: Judge blasts 'staggering' 330,000 cost of prosecution
Heythrop Hunt Limited and two members admitted hunting fox on CotswoldsDavid Cameron and Rebekah Brooks' husband have ridden with the hunt
Footage showed evidence of 'prolonged and deliberate unlawful hunting'Retired huntsman Barnfield accused RSPCA of playing politics
07:56 GMT, 18 December 2012
David Cameron’s local hunt yesterday became the first to be convicted of illegally killing foxes.
The Heythrop Hunt, which the Prime Minister has ridden with, was fined 4,000 after it admitted four offences under laws introduced in 2005.
All previous prosecutions have been against named individuals. And yesterday Heythrop huntsman Julian Barnfield and recently retired master Richard Sumner pleaded guilty to the same four charges.
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Members of David Cameron's local Heythrop hunt were today convicted of illegal fox hunting. Member Julian Barnfield, is pictured left today, and right, Richard Sumner
Cruelty: The footage which was shown in court shows a fox being killed by hounds during a hunt
However, a judge sitting at Oxford
Magistrates’ Court questioned whether the ‘staggering’ 330,000 the
RSPCA spent on bringing the case was money well spent.
Outside court, Barnfield, 49, said he
had been unable to afford to fight the charges and accused the animal
charity of ‘playing politics’ by targeting a hunt in Mr Cameron’s Witney
The Prime Minister, who has promised a
free vote on hunting in the Commons, rode with the Heythrop six times
before the law changed.
The hunt is popular with his fellow
members of the Chipping Norton Set – an influential group of MPs and
media professionals who live close to the Cotswolds market town.
The Heythrop Hunt's Barnfield, right, and Sumner, left, who were fined today after pleading guilty to intentionally hunting a fox with dogs
Charlie Brooks, the husband of ex-News
International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, is a member, and Top Gear
presenter Jeremy Clarkson has allowed it to ride on his land.
PROSECUTION IS THE FIRST BROUGHT AGAINST ENTIRE HUNT
More than 230 people have been convicted of illegal fox hunting since it was outlawed by Labour almost eight years ago.
The majority of hunts continue to meet by using trail hunting, usually with a hunt member dragging the scent of fox urine across fields and woodlands.
Other hunts use an exemption that allows dogs to flush out quarry from woodland which can then be shot.
Yesterday was the first time the RSPCA had enough evidence to bring a prosecution against an entire hunt, rather than just individuals.
Graphic footage of foxes being
attacked, which was taken by anti-hunt group Protect Our Wild Animals,
was played to the court during yesterday’s hearing.
Describing a hunt in February,
prosecutor Jeremy Carter-Manning, QC, said: ‘The hounds converge in to
semi-circles and the screaming reaches a crescendo. The hounds are
making a kill.’
The next clip showed the bloodied carcass of a fox clamped in the jaws of a hound, prompting gasps from a packed public gallery.
Passing sentence, district judge Tim
Pattinson said: ‘Hunting of foxes provokes extremely strong feelings on
both sides of the argument … Some people see the hunting of foxes as
cruel and immoral, others see it as an essential tradition, part of
countryside management, and say criminalising the activity is
‘The coalition Government has indicated the possibility of a free vote in Parliament at some point in the future.
‘I must put all of these matters to one side. I must sentence fairly and in accordance with the law.’
The footage, pictured, showed evidence of 'prolonged and deliberate unlawful hunting,' said Mr Carter-Manning
Referring to the RSPCA costs for
mounting the prosecution, he said: ‘It is not for me to express an
opinion, I merely flag it up, but I do find it to be a quite staggering
figure.’ He said the costs for all five defendants were only 35,000.
He fined 68-year-old Sumner 1,800 and
Barnfield 1,000 for the offences which occurred on November 23 and
November 30, 2011, and February 29 and March 7 this year.
The hunt was told to pay 15,000 towards the RSPCA’s costs, Sumner 2,500 and Barnfield 2,000.
Outside court, Barnfield said: ‘We conceded because the money wasn’t there to defend ourselves.
‘I would like to stand there and
defend it but there was no way it was possible. The fact a charitable
body can take on this political thing and spend so much money which
other people have given them for another thing, is stunning.
‘I just hope their donors question
what they are doing with their money. They could have picked on any
other hunt but they picked on Heythrop because we are in David Cameron’s
‘They are trying to put pressure on him not to give a free vote like he said he would, to embarrass him in some way.’
David Cameron, left, and Charlie Brooks, right, have ridden with the Heythrop Hunt Limited previously
Speaking after the hearing, RSPCA
chief inspector Mike Butcher said: ‘The evidence in this case was
incontrovertible – it clearly showed hounds being encouraged to pursue a
‘This is illegal under the Hunting Act
and constitutes a wildlife crime.’ A spokesman for the RSPCA denied the
charity had targeted Heythrop and said it would prosecute illegal
behaviour wherever it found it.
In their 2010 manifesto, the
Conservatives promised a free vote in the House of Commons on whether to
overturn the ban, but many doubt it will happen because Liberal
Democrats are opposed to the proposal.
A growing number of younger female Tory MPs, nicknamed the ‘Blue Foxes’, are also said to be against any plans to lift the ban.
VIDEO: GRAPHIC CONTENT. Cameron's local hunt fined for illegal fox hunting
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