Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Fol­low @agromenes on Twitter

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

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