The former huntsman of the Cambridgeshire based Fitzwilliam Hunt has been found guilty of illegal hunting. On the 4th April 2018 after a two day trial at Peterborough Magistrates Court retired huntsman George Adams (66) was convicted of using a pack hounds to kill the fox on January 1 2016. Also on trial was Falconer John Mease who was found not guilty of any Hunting Act offences and also found not guilty of causing unnecessary cruelty to an animal relating to the hunting of a fox in 2013.
The court heard evidence from prosecution witnesses, hunt saboteurs Ruth Nicholls and Stephen Milton who had been monitoring the hunt on New Year’s Day. Video footage taken by Stephen Milton showed the hunt, which included a pack of forty hounds in a field near Wansford, Cambridgeshire. The hounds picked up the scent of a fox and the sound of the hunting horn was heard. Mr Milton said he did not hear anyone from the hunt calling the dogs off the fox after they picked up its scent. Miss Nichols also said she had not heard calls to slow the hounds down during the hunt. The fox was killed by the pack of hounds and Mr Mease’s golden eagle was not released. Video footage taken from a headcam worn by Mr Mease was shown to the court, and he could be heard saying the fox would have escaped had the groups of saboteurs not been blocking its escape route – something denied by both Mr Milton and Miss Nichols.
Professor Stephen Harris, expert witness for the prosecution told the court hunts would regularly use packs of dogs with up to 40 dogs in before the hunting ban was implemented, but hunts using birds of prey in the past would only use two or three to catch the fox. He also said: “Dogs can be trained not to catch certain animals – the fox hounds here do not go chasing after sheep, which is their natural prey. “In the footage there is also no-one from the hunt who is telling the dogs they have done wrong when they had killed the fox.”
Adams, who joined the Fitzwilliam Hunt in 1981 and became a huntsman in 1984, told the court he had not seen the fox before it was killed. When asked if it was his intention to kill the fox with hounds, he said: “Absolutely not. We wanted to flush it out for the bird of prey.” Mr Mease told the court there was no chance for him to release his golden eagle to catch the fox because the saboteurs were in the field, which would provide a risk to the bird. He was asked why he never radioed Adams to call the hunt off. He said: “A hunt is a fluid thing. “It was changing minute by minute. “It was the heat of the moment and it was the first time I had come across saboteurs in my 11 years.” He told the court he was in charge of the bird – but had no control over the pack of hounds, which was Adams’ responsibility. It was suggested the hunt could have used other breeds of dog, such as spaniels and pointers, to flush out the fox, which could have been trained not to kill the animal – and fewer dogs would have been needed.
The court was also shown headcam footage from Mr Mease taken in November 2013, when he used the golden eagle to catch a fox. He then used a falconers knife to kill the animal by driving the spike through its eye. It took him 47 seconds to kill the fox from the moment it was caught by the eagle. Mr Mease said: “No-one else could have done it quicker.” He denied hunting for sport and described himself as a pest controller.
District Judge John Woollard said he had heard no evidence the hunt had made any changes to their activities – other than using the falconer – since the hunting act was introduced in 2005.
Joe Bird, prosecuting, alleged that the eagle was used as a “smokescreen” to allow the hunt to continue as it had before the law was changed. He said: “The set up was never going to work. It was a smokescreen. There were so many occasions when they would not have been able to fly the eagle.”
Stephen Welford, defending both men, said: “There is video footage of Mease using his eagle to kill a fox. That would not exist if it was a smokescreen.”
Adams was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay a £100 victim surcharge and £930 costs.
Hunt Saboteurs Association spokesperson Lee Moon said after the trial: “To anyone who witnessed the events on the day in question it was abundantly clear that a wild mammal was hunted and killed illegally, in a most gruesome manner. The loopholes and exemptions in the current act have always been cynically exploited by hunts in order to operate much as they would have done prior to the ban.”
Adrian Simpson, from the Countryside Alliance, said they believed the judge had made the wrong decision, and said Adams was planning to appeal.