RECENTLY, Agromenes came face to face with the hunt saboteurs. For the most part, they’ve left our local hunt alone. We’re not really smart enough for them and we don’t fit their image of the chinless aristocracy baying for blood. There’s nothing posh about my local hunt. Not a title between them—working their own farms, livery stables or small businesses, riding to hounds for the sheer joy of it, for the beauty of the countryside and the sounds and companionship that people like them have known for generations.
It was a a shock, therefore, when six balaclavawearing men toting cameras and one strident woman shouting the odds turned up to the village green outside our favourite pub. They were intending to menace, hiding their identities and shouting abuse, but the crowd of hunt supporters behaved very well, contenting themselves with some well-aimed repartee and a bit of barracking, particularly when the noisy lady yelled ‘Justice for the fox!’, given that we are harriers!
My only worry was when a young, fit hunt supporter muttered: ‘The last time I saw men in balaclavas, they were from ISIS and out to kill me.’ Happily, he moved away from trouble; the military discipline told.
There is, of course, no arguing with these people. They’re out to cause trouble and the cameras are there to film that. Even if the law is meticulously obeyed, they want to cause an incident. That’s why country people should be so pleased at the two recent occasions on which hunting people have been found innocent when taken to court. In Cheltenham, Ledbury huntsman Mark Melladay was cleared of assault just a matter of weeks after Taunton Crown Court had declared Blackmore & Sparkford Vale huntsman Peter Doggrell not guilty of inflicting bodily harm on a protester.
Of course, Agromenes would never countenance assault of any kind, even on people whose actions are designed to harry and disrupt. We must obey the law, however discriminatory and illadvised. However, what is appalling about these two cases is that both came to court only because of the uproar the saboteurs caused. They used every device to make the Crown Prosecution Service feel that it had to proceed. This was not a careful, deliberative decision to prosecute; it was taken in the midst of enormous pressure after the authorities’ initial view that neither case was strong enough to proceed.
This process of shouting loudly to influence the judicial process doesn’t just occur when hunting is the issue. It’s now clear that the police harassment of the dying politician Leon Brittan and the continuation of investigation into entirely unfounded allegations happened because of the pressure of campaigners. They were entirely uninterested in the truth of their claims, but were pursuing an agenda without regard to the damage it did to the innocent individuals they targeted.
Nor is the importance of their cause any excuse for distorting the process of justice. There can be few issues more vital than the protection of children from abuse, but that doesn’t mean that people should be pronounced guilty when there is no evidence. If that rule applies to child abuse, it certainly applies to hunting.
Self-righteousness is never an attractive trait and it becomes a danger if it’s allowed to interfere in the process of law. However strongly people feel about an issue, attempting to set aside the protection of the innocent that the law provides is never justified. The law protects our right to protest, but protestors must not use their freedom to pervert the system that defends them.
Protesters must not use their freedom to pervert the system that defends them