Huntsman David Lewis, 50, and former whipper-in Gareth Frain, 25, appeared at Exeter Magistrates’ Court on 15 and 17 February 2021 accused of hunting a wild mammal with dogs on Dartmoor in Devon on 14 December 2019. The court heard both men were paid employees of the Lamerton Hunt, based at Lewdown, Devon. Both men denied the charges.
The court was shown video clips of the defendants wearing red coats and on horseback on the hillside at Lake Down, two miles from Bridestowe, Devon. Prosecutor Greg Gordon said Mr Lewis, of Lewdown, Devon, had primary control of the hounds while Mr Frain, of Egloskerry, Cornwall, acted as his assistant. The defendants had previously told police they were employed by the hunt to control the hounds.
The court was told three prosecution witnesses had seen a fox being pursued by hounds and had heard Lewis shouting to the pack of hounds “on, on, on”, which were voice calls used to encourage the hounds to hunt. The three witnesses also stated that no attempts were made by Lewis or Frain to stop the hounds from hunting the fox. They each told the court that the hounds would have been stopped by ‘rating’ them, that is by cracking a whip and shouting commands in harsh tones at the hounds. The hunted fox managed to escape but the prosecutor said this was not relevant to the case.
Mr Lewis, who has been employed by the Lamerton Hunt for 14 years told the Court that the hunt was not drag hunting or hunting foxes, but was trail hunting and claimed trails had been laid earlier that day. He told the court that the scent used for the trails was fox urine which was laid using a quad bike or on foot when the terrain was more difficult. Lewis said that he could not see or hear the hounds when they first chased the fox and lost its scent briefly, which was the point the prosecution argued that Lewis could have called his hounds back. Lewis went on to tell the court that when he realized the hounds were chasing a fox he told Frain over the radio and to stop the hounds. This was done by getting in front of them. Lewis said the hunt didn’t rate hounds (using whip cracking etc) to stop the hounds and that only the hunt saboteurs did that. He also denied using voice calls ‘on, on, on’ to encourage the hounds and said he has never used those calls. GORDON said that LEWIS intended to hunt the fox and let the hounds get on with it.
Frain told the court that he was informed by Lewis over the radio that ‘hounds had gone wrong’ and that he had then ridden as fast as he was able on the wet ground to where he could get in front of the hounds to stop them. The prosecution alleged that Mr Frain had not been trying to stop the hounds chasing the fox when footage showed him riding towards a road, but merely keeping the dogs safe while the pursued the fox.
Chairman of the Lamerton Hunt Roger Jennings said they had gone out trail hunting when the “hounds went wrong” and he “became aware of a commotion”.
He said he did not see a fox and said the incident was “accidental not deliberate” and the hounds had been impossible to stop. He said within 10 minutes the whole incident was over. The prosecution also alleged that Mr Frain had not been trying to stop the hounds chasing the fox when footage showed him riding towards a road, but merely keeping the dogs safe while the pursued the animal.
Written submissions from the prosecution and defence lawyers are to be made to the court with 14 days. The district judge said he will make a judgement on the case 18 March.