Huntsman of the Quantock Staghounds Richard Down, 54, of West Bagborough, and whipper-in Martin Watts, 55 of Washford, stood trial at Taunton Magistrates’ Court on November 12th and 13th accused of illegally hunting deer with dogs on the Quantock Hills on January 22, 2018, contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act 2004. Mr Watts was released from court on Monday after Judge Taylor said he had no case to answer and Richard Down was found ‘not guilty’.
The court was shown footage, obtained by The League Against Cruel Sports, of the alleged offence where a pack of hounds was seen chasing two deer, a hind and calf. Huntsman Richard Down, however stated this was a trail hunt and that at one stage the hounds were “rioting” – a term describing the dogs as chasing something they should not have been chasing. Mr Downs added he had made attempts to calm the hounds. Quantock Staghounds member, Elizabeth Gibbons, produced evidence after she said had laid the trail for the hunt that day. While a cross-examination suggested no trail was laid that day and was instead a cover up, Mrs Gibbons denied this claim.
Before delivering his verdict, Judge Taylor questioned why the prosecution had not used hunting experts to clarify what had happened or its context. He said: “What I don’t have in this case is any expert evidence. “Neither witnesses have put forward an expert or invited to tell me the characteristics of hunting.”
Martin Sims, Director of Investigations at the League Against Cruel Sports, and former Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and a serving police officer for 31 years, said:
“It is a national disgrace that members of the Quantock Staghounds will go unpunished for chasing extremely vulnerable mother deer and their young with a pack of baying hounds for nothing more than ‘sport’. Wild animals were evidently caused considerable distress through these indefensible actions and the Hunting Act must be strengthened as a matter of urgency, to ensure those contemplating or engaging in similar acts are not let off the hook.
“Our footage shows the hounds following the exact same path as the deer, just a minute later. But the hunt say the hounds were following a trail of aniseed they had laid earlier. So their defence is that the deer, hounds and hunt all followed the exact same path within minutes of each other? That’s a pretty amazing coincidence. We believe there was no trail, and that the hunt were deliberately chasing the deer.
“All too often hunts give the excuse of ‘following a trail’ as a deliberate cover for pursuing wild animals with hounds. When cases come to prosecution, the authorities find themselves unable to convict those responsible due to technicalities. We believe in this case that the huntsmen were commanding a pack of hounds to follow the scent line of fleeing deer – because that is what stag hounds are bred to do.”
Stag hunts actively pursue hundreds of red deer to the point of exhaustion with stag hounds, across the Somerset countryside each season. This includes exceptionally vulnerable wild animals, such as those which are young or pregnant. Once the lengthy pursuit has come to an end, each of the deer receives a bullet from a shotgun-wielding huntsman, before the animals’ limbs and innards are carved up and handed out as trophies.
Martin Sims, said:
“With at least 87% of the public opposing hunting deer with hounds and over 100,000 people signing the League’s petition to strengthen the Hunting Act, there is clearly strong support for the law being enhanced to give wild animals the protection from cruel ‘sports’ which they deserve. How much longer will the law tolerate magnificent creatures being hounded for miles across the Somerset countryside before being shot and carved up as trophies?”