Christmas fox hunts reduced to pantomime.

It is now 17-years since fox hunts were banned, but thanks to what seem purposely included loopholes in the law and the impossibility of enforcing it, illegal hunting continues.

It is now 17-years since fox hunts were banned, but thanks to loopholes in the law and the impracticability of enforcing it, illegal hunting continues under the guise of exercising the hounds and drag hunts.

As entertainment, city and rural folk alike still love the theatre, tradition and fun of watching the hunt congregate and set off and will turn out in their thousands for the Boxing Day and New Year hunts little caring what happens afterwards. In areas that host a hunt it is all Tally Ho, port and mulled wine and of course children just love to mingle with the hounds.

Fox hunts Hound pack

Fox hunts have become pantomime.

There will be cheers and clapping from supporters and jeers and boos from a handful of valiant protestors to give the event some element of spice and a few police officers to keep things orderly.  Sadly the Yuletide hunts have become pantomimes for families looking to get some fresh air after the big day. Everyone will have a good time and the reason for any commotion caused by demonstrators will no doubt pass them by.

Violence is still common between the opposing sides and this state of affairs has perpetuated for nearly two decades and will continue probably for several more until the hunts fulfil their aim of overturning the ban. The more we attend these pantomimes without thought to what they represent the more credence we give to this aim. It gives them the opportunity to point out how much the public love them.

It does appear that the general public are not sufficiently aware of what constitutes a legal or illegal meet or even care. They may also be getting weary of the subject and have come to accept that hunting with dogs whether legal or not is here to stay. They obviously put their trust in the pillars of society who they see before them on horseback dressed in their liveried smart red, blue, yellow or black jackets to do the right thing. But as a recent event has shown this trust is unworthy.

Illegality encouraged by a hunt governing body.

There is no doubt that illegal fox hunting is common and that this trust we appear to have is undeserving, a fact well illustrated by the recent prosecution and guilty verdict of Mark Hankinson, the Director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association on the 15 October 2021. He was found guilty of encouraging illicit meets by holding secret webinars explaining to hunt bosses the best ways to disguise their drag hunts and was fined £1000 with costs of £2500. The judges summing up was quite condemning:

I am sure that the Defendant through his words was giving advice on how to illegally hunt. This was through the pretence of laying trails which it could be said the hounds were following. As he himself said, he was speaking to ‘like-minded people’ and could therefore speak freely. He did not expect his words to be recorded and released into the public domain.  It was clearly advice and encouragement to commit the offence of hunting a wild mammal with a dog. I am sure he intended to encourage the commission of that offence. I find the Defendant guilty of the offence before me.

Regina v Mark Hankinson

This even prompted the National Trust, a bastion of history and rural tradition to vote two to one to ban drag hunting on their land as many other landowners are doing.

Fox hunts Policing a fox trail hunt.

Class war obsession with fox hunts.

There has always been the accusation from hunt supporters that the ban was an attack on rural traditions and was part of a “class war obsession“, but fox hunting with hounds cannot be considered as an inclusive sport by any means.

There is a rather pompous etiquette associated with the sport which both human and equine participants must adhere to and a hierarchy amongst the inner sanctum. You need a sturdy bank balance just to kit yourself out without taking into consideration the cost of owning and caring for a horse. This discounts most normal hardworking people (as Governments like to call us) from being able to partake.

Worst gaffe is to refer to the hounds as dogs.

Among many other things the etiquette stresses that smartness is essential with a tweed, black or navy jacket worn over a shirt with a knotted tie, pale breeches, clean boots and gaiters, and dark gloves and hats. If a body protector is worn it must be under the jacket so as not to spoil the ensemble. For the “girls”, hairnets are allowed but only subtle make-up.

For some strange reason a horse’s mane must be plaited “as a courtesy to those whose land you are crossing,” otherwise you might be sent home like a naughty schoolchild. And most importantly you must smile and politely pass the time of day with the farmer or landowner whose land you are trashing should you come across him or her leaning on a gate.

Among the worst gaffes you can make is to refer to the hounds as dogs, is to overtake the master during the hunt and most importantly after the hunt has ended not to say thank you and goodnight (“which is the traditional way to say goodbye even if it is 9 a.m.”) to the master and secretary.

With all this in mind it is difficult not to label the blood sport as a class and well-heeled person’s pastime, but easy to believe that the present status of fox hunting can only be described as a charade.

Related Articles:

A Guide to Reporting Animal Cruelty in the UK

All the essential contact details and advice you need for reporting animal cruelty in the UK.

There are many agencies for reporting animal cruelty in the UK who unlike the RSPCA actually have legal powers to investigate, prosecute and intervene in matters of animal abuse. These include the Police, local authorities and DEFRA.

Most people mistakenly believe that the RSPCA in England or SSPCA in Scotland are the only agency legally responsible for investigating and prosecuting animal abuse. There is considerable confusion over what powers the RSPCA have. They have in fact none, but they have still become the default agency to go to as all the other agencies lack the time, inclination or the funds to do the job.

The U.K., Scotland and Northern Ireland all have different laws and procedures and within each country there are various authorities tasked with dealing with certain issues. Most of the confusion in the UK was caused when the government in its wisdom introduced the all-encompassing new Animal Welfare Act 2006, but failed to appoint anyone to officially enforce it.

Reporting animal cruelty in the UK
It is important to report animal cruelty whenever you come across it. Don’t leave it to someone else.

Who do you call?

Reporting animal cruelty in England& Wales

The Police, local authorities and the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), can all investigate and prosecute animal abuse dependent on the type of animal involved, but not necessarily a statutory duty to do so.

For farm animals, transport of livestock, slaughterhouses, etc contact:

DEFRA 03000 200 301 or 020 7238 6951 (England) 0300 303 8268 (Wales)

For all animals including wildlife crime:

Police on 101 or 999 if urgent. See also wildlife crime later in article.

OR

RSPCA 0300 1234 999

Depending on the circumstances an RSPCA Inspector might:

  • persuade or educate the person responsible for the animal to look after the animal properly
  • give them a care notice – stating what the person is failing to do and giving them a period of time to take action to improve the animal’s welfare. If they don’t follow a care notice properly owners run the risk of being charged with an offence and prosecuted.
  • start criminal prosecution proceedings by reporting the case to the the RSPCA legal department who will decide whether to take a private prosecution under section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act (POA) 1985.

The English government increased the penalties for animal cruelty in June 2021 to bring them more in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland. The maximum penalty is now 5 years imprisonment and/or £5,000 fine.

For pet shops, riding stables, zoos, animals in entertainment and companion animals:

Your local Council animal welfare inspector or environmental health department.

NOTE: If you contact a Police call centre they will usually automatically refer you to the RSPCA because in practice the English police generally feel they have no statutory duty (not forced by any law) to investigate. You can insist they take action if it is an emergency, but it can be hard work.

Scotland

Animal cruelty and welfare laws are enforced by the Police and Local Authority animal welfare inspectors and SSPCA Inspectors. The SSPCA are designated as a ‘Specialist Reporting Agency’, with similar powers to the police unlike in England. They report the facts of a case of cruelty to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (the equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service in England) who decide whether the evidence warrants a prosecution and is in the ‘public interest’.

Scottish SPCA 03000 999 999

OR

Local Authority Animal Welfare Department

OR

Police Tel: 101

Depending on the circumstances of the case an inspector might:

  • persuade or educate the person responsible for the animal to look after the animal properly
  • give them a care notice – stating what the person is failing to do and giving them a period of time to take action to improve the animal’s welfare. If they don’t follow a care notice properly they’re likely to be charged with an offence and prosecuted.
  • start criminal prosecution proceedings by reporting the case to the Procurator Fiscal

Penalties that can be imposed on offenders:

Serious neglect or cruelty, animal fighting or serious crimes to wildlife: up to 5 years imprisonment and unlimited fines.

Other penalties include fixed notice fines for failing in owner’s duty of care or abandonment and other less serious crimes.

The judge can also impose a Deprivation Order which removes the animal from the owners’ care or a Disqualification Order which stops the owner from owning or working  with animals for a specific period. They may also be added to an animal cruelty data base.


Northern Ireland

Local Authority Animal Welfare officers under the Welfare of Animals (Northern Ireland) Act 2011 are responsible for investigation cruelty to companion animals. They work on a regional basis and basically work office hours with an out of hours contact number.

Report cruelty to companion animals

  • Belfast City Council 028-90270431
  • Eastern Region 028 90494567
  • Northern Region    028 25633134
  • Southern Region    028 37515800
  • Western Area    028 82256226

For welfare of Farm Animals & Pet Shops

Department of Agriculture (DARD) 0300 200 7840 office hours. Out of hours police or local vet.

Wildlife crime.

Police Tel: 101 or 999 in an emergency

The USPCA does not get involved in prosecutions but campaigns against major issues like puppy farming, dog fighting and tame deer hunts.

USPCA 028 3025 1000

reporting animal cruelty in the UK

More on Wildlife Crime

There are no other charities which take regular prosecutions under animal welfare and protection laws, but it is worth reporting incidents of wildlife crime to these:

The League against Cruel Sports

The charity has a useful online and telephone contact to help you report wildlife cruelty such as illegal hunting anonymously.

Animal Crimewatch 01483361108 or online Animal Crimewatch Report

Royal Society for Protection of birds (RSPB)

Wild Birds and the Law | Reporting Crimes Against Wild Birds – The RSPB. Use the online reporting form or call Investigations on 01767 680551 (England, Wales, NI) or 0131 3174100 (Scotland), or email [email protected].