Huntsman of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt has been found not guilty of illegal fox hunting.
Mark Peter Doggrell of Bishops Down, Sherborne, was accused of hunting a wild mammal with a dog in a two-day trial at Taunton Magistrates Court, where video footage was played of the incident. The incident was alleged to have been committed in Charlton Horethorne, near Wincanton and Sherborne, on Saturday 23rd February 2019.
Video evidence taken by members Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off was played in the court and showed a fox running through a churchyard of Church of St Peter and St Paul. Several hounds ‘in cry’ then entered the churchyard in pursuit of the fox. Three of the members video recorded the incident and the court was shown the incident from three different perspectives. One of those recording challenged the whipper-in to “leave that fox right now”.
Doggrell, 50, a huntsman of 14-15 years, claimed to be trail hunting and admitted he was in charge of a trail hunt on that day. He explained to the court that hounds are trained to hunt scented rags from a young age and would be “introduced” to farm animals and other dogs to teach them how to behave around others. When asked if his hounds would react differently if they had smelt a trail or live animal, he said: “Their voices would make the same noise as hunting a trail as they would a live animal.” While Doggrell was in a neighbouring field to the churchyard, he claimed that he used his horn as “encouragement” to re-group and call the dogs out of the churchyard.
He said: “I realised there were hounds in the churchyard as some had come from over the wall. They obviously temporarily left the trail so that’s why I made the noise (with my horn) to get them onto the lead hounds. They were all together then and then went across the grass field and exited via the gate.”
When challenged by the prosecution that he was “aware that there was a fox in that churchyard” and if he “deliberately surrounded the church” to hunt the animal, Doggrell replied “no”.
Doggrell also denied saying ‘gone away Guy’ – referring that the chase for the fox was on – and said he had only became aware a fox was in the area after his whipper-in (Guy) attempted to stop the hounds. Referring to the video, he said: “I could see up the lane and (Guy) needs to do something. He sees the fox, turns his horse away and towards where the hounds came from. I could hear him stopping them. I stopped them with my horn.”
He admitted he was aware that his hounds were not permitted to enter the churchyard or a nearby private garden.
Reacting to the decision, Countryside Alliance welcomed the verdict but criticised the “allegations made by deeply prejudiced activists”.
A spokesman said: “There is a long history of such cases resulting in not guilty verdicts when the evidence fails to meet the claims made by people who are only interested in attacking hunting. This is another example of police resources and court time being wasted when there is no valid evidence that illegal hunting has taken place. We would urge the police and CPS to carefully consider whether allegations made by committed activists should really lead to charges being brought.”
A spokesman for Somerset Wildlife Crime called it a “very disappointing result” and believed it was an “open and shut case of illegal hunting”. He continued: “The hounds tore through consecrated ground, in pursuit of an identified wild mammal, and they were urged on by the huntsman. The law isn’t working, and this case signifies exactly why we need a recklessness clause added. With it, British wildlife would be afforded the protection they were meant to benefit from when the Hunting Act was passed nearly 15 years ago. There is no excuse for any hounds to pursue a fox, hare, stag or any other animal.”