The huntsman and former whipper-in of the Lamerton Hunt have been cleared of illegal fox hunting. Huntsman David Lewis, and his former whipper-in Gareth Frain, who is now huntsman of the North Cornwall Hunt, were each found not guilty of an offence under the Hunting Act 2004 at Exeter Magistrates Court on March 18 2021. The two men stood trial on the 15th and 17th of February 2021 for illegal fox hunting, following an incident on the 14th December 2019 when the hunt met at the White Hart in Bridestowe, Dartmoor in Devon.
The court was shown video footage filmed by members of the Devon County Hunt Saboteurs, in which the Lamerton hounds could be seen engaging in a prolonged chase of a fox. The video, filmed from some distance away, showed Lewis bringing hounds to an area of gorse at Lake Down on the edge of Dartmoor. A fox could be seen running out of the gorse with the hounds in pursuit a short distance behind. Lewis and Frain remained on horseback behind the hounds for the first two minutes of the chase which were captured on film.
Lewis and Frain claimed to be had been trail hunting and both admitted that their hounds chased the fox. However, they denied that they had intended to hunt the fox which eventually escaped unhurt.
The prosecution’s case was that Lewis and Frain failed to intervene when they knew that the hounds were chasing a fox. The court further heard from three witnesses who said they could hear the hounds ‘speaking’ (the noise they make when they are on a scent) and heard Lewis encouraging them using the voice-call ‘on-on-on’. Lewis claimed he never uses that call.
District Judge Callaway acquitted both men of hunting a wild mammal with dogs and said the case against Frain had been ’entirely misconceived’. The judge said Lewis would not have risked upsetting local farmers by allowing the hounds into restricted areas where ewes were lambing. He also criticised the police’s handling of the case, stating that the substantial delay between the incident being reported and the police taking witness statements “cast an unwelcome and avoidable shadow over the case in general and the evidence in particular”.
A spokesperson for Devon County Hunt Saboteurs said:
“We are disappointed but not surprised by the verdict. Every week we witness hunts blatantly chase foxes but in court they are able to claim it was an accident. This is why we continue to take action on the ground to protect foxes. We also note the judge’s criticism of Devon & Cornwall Police’s handling of this case, and in particular his suggestion that the substantial delay in collecting witness statements from our sabs meant their eyewitness evidence could not be given the weight it might otherwise have been given. We chased the police every week over the course of those four months and can only hope that they will act to prevent such avoidable delays in future.”