Huntsman Derek Hopkins and terrierman Kevin Allen of the Leicestershire based Fernie Hunt had their appeal dismissed at Leicester Crown Court. They had each been found guilty at Harborough Magistrates Court earlier in the year of hunting a wild mammal with dogs and for interfering with a badger sett during an incident which took place in January 2010. Footage taken by investigators from the League Against Cruel Sports showed hounds hunting across open fields before marking to ground at a hedgerow. Shortly afterwards the huntsman arrived and took the hounds away to a nearby field while terriermen entered a terrier into the sett and proceeded to dig it. After about twenty minutes a fox was bolted and pursued by hounds.
Hopkins and Allen claimed to be trail hunting and that the sett that had been interfered with was not a sett in current use by badgers. However, Judge Michael Pert QC told the court that Hopkins was found to be “an unconvincing and unimpressive witness” and that Allen was even less impressive” and was “shifty and evasive”. He also told the court that the sett was “plainly a badger sett in current use” and that Hopkins and Allen had pretended to be following a trail scent to cover up the illegal pursuit of a fox. Their conduct amounted to “cynical subterfuge”. The Judge also criticised the expert witness for the appellants Paul Caruana, who claimed that the sett was not one in current use by badgers and said he “lacked the objectivity of an expert witness”.
Dr Pamela Mynott, secretary of the Leicestershire Badger Group and director of the Badger Trust and Professor Stephen Harris both gave evidence in which they both concluded that the sett was in current use by badgers. The Judge stated that Dr Mynott had an “impressive CV” and that the court was “satisfied with her expertise in this area and we were impressed both with her knowledge and integrity”. Professor Harris had organised the first National Badger Survey in the UK and wrote the final report on behalf of the Nature Conservancy Council. The Judge told the court that Professor Harris had “unrivalled expertise in surveying badgers in the field and identifying their field signs”. The Judge also commented on the League’s witnesses: “We have evidence from four investigators employed by the League Against Cruel Sports. Whatever their motive for being present on that occasion, the evidence that they presented to us was objective video and audio of what was happening. In each case it was possible to locate both in time and place the circumstances of the recording. In any event there was no challenge to the accuracy of their evidence”.
When originally convicted Hopkins was fined £850 and had to pay a £15 victim surcharge and £1,250 in costs. Allen was fined £650 and had to pay £15 a victim surcharge and £900 in costs. The original sentences were confirmed but with additional costs added – £3,630 for Hopkins and £2,730 for Allen.
Read: Fernie Hunt judgment