A huntsman and a former whipper-in of the Quorn Hunt have been cleared of an offence under the 2004 Hunting Act part way through their trial after prosecutors reviewed the evidence of the main witness in the case.
John Oliver Finnegan, 36, and Rhys Matcham, 30 were both found not guilty at Leicester Magistrates’ Court after the Crown Prosecution Service accepted the case had no reasonable prospect of conviction.
Huntsman John Finnegan, who lives at the Quorn Hunt premises near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, and former whipper-in Rhys Matcham of Kennel Drive, Badminton, South Gloucestershire were on trial for breaching the 2004 Hunting Act in Leicestershire last year. The pair claimed the hunt on 4 February was legitimate with a pre-laid scent.
Leicester Magistrates’ Court heard the men were filmed by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) near Breedon-on-the-Hill, Leicestershire. Prosecutors claimed the footage showed “a proper fox hunt going back to the olden days”.
Explaining the decision to drop the case, prosecutor Mark Fielding said: “The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have a duty to review the prospects of success of a matter at all times, up to and including the end of the case. Suffice to say, having listened to Mr Swain giving clearly honest and truthful evidence in cross-examination, for which he is to be commended, my impression, was that this case no longer had a reasonable prospect of success. Bearing in mind what the Crown are asking the court to do is interpret actions of the hunt as we saw on the film, the concessions made by Mr Swain… reduced the prospects of success.”
As a result the chairman of the magistrates’ bench entered not guilty verdicts for both defendants.
Martin Sims, director of investigations at the LACS, said they were disappointed with the result and would be asking Leicestershire Police and the CPS to “explain the handling of this case”.
The Countryside Alliance said the defence team “were always of the opinion that this was a very weak case”.
Their statement added: “Ultimately, it resulted in a huge amount of valuable police resources and court time being wasted. We need to consider the impact on the defendants who have constantly maintained their innocence and have had to live with this allegation hanging over them for over 18 months.”