“Insufficient evidence”: Misleading the way on fox hunting

In February this year, news broke of an alleged assault by a Surrey Union Hunt member against a member of Guildford Hunt Saboteurs. The assault, which was captured on camera, shows Mrs Lulu Hutley whipping an activist who is pinned against a fence at a hunt in Bramley. Despite this video having been submitted to the authorities, it was announced yesterday that Surrey Police have dropped their investigation, citing “insufficient evidence” as their reason.

The words “insufficient evidence”, or ones similar to them, are heard far too often when it comes to fox hunting. Unfortunately, the evidence seems to be disproportionately insufficient when hunt members assault saboteurs, rather than when the roles are apparently reversed.

It’s no surprise, and not unreasonable, that many people question whether a systemic bias against hunt saboteurs exists within the police community. In certain rural areas where local Conservative authorities are so often propped up by pro-hunting lobbyists, is it possible that a police bias is being used as a weapon to allow illegal hunting to continue?

Of course, it’s not just assaults on hunt saboteurs that seem to go unpunished. Up and down the country activists record and submit footage of foxes being killed by hounds and yet over and over we hear of charges against those responsible being dropped. Due to “insufficient evidence”.

In 2015 Warwickshire Police claimed that there was “not enough evidence” to prosecute members of the Atherstone Hunt. This was despite video footage of 20 of the hunt’s hounds killing a fox. Later evidence submitted included witness statements and the Atherstone Hunt itself admitting to killing the fox. If this is considered “insufficient evidence”, then how do we possibly enforce the hunting ban?

The fact is, for the most part, we don’t. Since the ban came into force in February 2005, there have been 430 successful prosecutions. However, the majority of these have been against poachers, as most police forces are more keen to investigate poaching rather than hunting by organised groups. Chief Executive of pro-hunting group the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, claims that these figures prove that the ban doesn’t work. Going further than that, Mr Bonner calls for the ban to be repealed in order for police to concentrate their time on more urgent matters. Unfortunately there is some truth in the statement that the ban is failing to lead to convictions. This, however, is no reason to consider repealing a ban that between 84% and 90% of the country support.

Across the country, and every week, activist and saboteur groups submit videos to the police of foxes being killed during illegal hunts. The International Fund for Animal Welfare state on their website: “IFAW hasn’t monitored every hunt but we suspect that most of those that we have monitored have indeed broken the law on several occasions. We did not always manage to persuade the police to investigate, even if we believed that there was enough evidence. We have not seen any evidence that supports the hypothesis that most hunts obey the law at all times.”

Despite this constant stream of evidence, there seems to be an inadequately disproportional amount of convictions. Whilst hunt saboteurs are often labelled as extremists for attempting to ensure the law is upheld, the police go unquestioned for failing to clamp down on illegal hunting activities. The question eventually has to be asked; are the police siding with the hunters, or are they simply unable to enforce the law?

The problem with the hunting act is not the law itself, but the loopholes that exist within it. A direct response by pro-hunting groups to the implementing of the hunting ban was the creation of “trail hunting”. This adaption of traditional drag hunting entails placing real fox scents on a series of trails across a certain area. By using real fox scents the hunt groups increase the chances of a fox “accidentally” being caught, whilst simultaneously creating an alibi to shift any blame from the hunt members themselves.

Loopholes such as these make it almost impossible for the police to bring hunt members to justice, and give groups like the Countryside Alliance fuel to call the ban a waste of resources. However, repealing the ban is not the answer; strengthening it is. By amending the law to include a recklessness clause, authorities could create a situation in which “trail hunting” was no longer an acceptable excuse for foxes being killed. In addition, the introduction of custodial sentences to coincide with other wildlife crime legislation is vital.

IFAW explain on their website: “After 10 years in operation any law would benefit from a tightening and improvement, and the Hunting Act is not an exception. Although as a law the Hunting Act may be working, the problem is that it has not been properly enforced, so we believe that amendments that improve enforcement are needed.”

Whatever direction the country takes after the upcoming general election, it’s crucial that we advocate for the hunting ban that the vast majority of us support to be reinforced. It’s time to end the biased pro-hunting narrative that labels hard working activists as thugs and extremists. It’s time to tighten the law on hunting with dogs, and clamp down on illegal hunts by closing easily exploited loopholes. It’s time to stand together as a country and make sure that the hunting act becomes something more than just words on paper. Whatever happens, it’s time to stop pretending that we successfully banned fox hunting in 2005, and start working on actually doing so in 2017.

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Anti hunting march 2017: A nation united in compassion

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Open Farm Sunday: How much do we really want to show our kids?

For the 12th year running, farms across Surrey and Hampshire will open their gates to the public in June as part of a national event organised by LEAF. Intended as an opportunity for people to witness the work required to produce food and manage the countryside, parents are encouraged to bring their children to meet the animals and enjoy an educational, fun day on a working farm.

Most children, however, will have no concept that the animals they are interacting with are destined for slaughter; and even those that do understand this will likely never have to witness the journey from farm to plate. If our society wishes to keep promoting animal products as part of the national diet, then should we not also be having open slaughterhouse days, with tours and demonstrations? I doubt very much that any parents would be happy to allow their children to watch a pig being slaughtered, and yet this is just as much a part of the process as rearing and feeding them on the farm.

The fact is, when it comes to producing animal products there are only certain stages of the process which are suitable to show to the public, especially to our children. We would happily show a video in a school of apples being picked and processed, or bread being made; yet showing the “processing” of animals for meat would more than likely traumatise any child who watched it.

For the vast majority of vegans and vegetarians, the decision to give up meat was sparked by watching a video of animals being slaughtered by one of the many “humane” methods used in slaughterhouses across the country. For vegans, that decision goes one step further, as the production of eggs and dairy also leads to animals being slaughtered. Although it may be inviting to think that not all slaughterhouses are the same, or that free-range, organic or RSPCA monitored animals are killed in a “kinder” slaughterhouse; the fact is despite how they are raised, all animals are transported to the same destination in the end; there are no free-range slaughterhouses.

As a nation of animal lovers, we raise our children to love and respect our furry friends, and to never be cruel to them. We teach them that animals are sentient beings with personalities, that they dream and enjoy certain activities. We love to walk through the countryside with our children when the lambs are bouncing around the fields, with not a care in the world. Yet behind closed doors we allow something to take place that we could never bear to tell our children about, much less show them.

Open farm days may be informative, but they only show a fraction of the true story; and the fact is, few of us could stomach seeing the rest of what happens. So the question is: should we really be feeding our children something that they would almost certainly object to eating if they saw how it was produced?

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Surrey Vegan 2017

Vegan festivals have been growing in popularity for a number of years now, and some events such as "Vegfest" have become big players on the scene; but you don't have to venture to a capital city to get your vegan fill.  Local vegan festivals are popping up all over the country, and last weekend saw the Surrey Vegan Fair land at the HG Wells Centre in Woking.

We hit the festival early and wasted no time in tracking down some breakfast; this came in the form of a "hot tasty dog bite" (courtesy of @NoBaloneyUK); a vegan sausage, marinated in a tomato sauce and griddled in a breaded wrap. It looked good, it smelled amazing and yet still it managed to surprise us both by tasting even better than either of us had anticipated.  Coupled with a spicy bbq dipping sauce, it couldn't have been better.

Hunger satiated we headed into the hub of the fair to browse the stalls. The organisers of Surrey Vegan had made really excellent use of the space within the venue and there was such a variety of products to look at from all over the country.  Like a kid in a sweet shop I couldn't help but gradually empty my wallet as I spotted one amazing product after another (namely an all natural deodorant from Indigenous Beauty; a shea butter hair and body moisturiser from Plantes d'Eden; an activated charcoal toothpaste from Fit 4a Kiing; and a delicious "camembear" spread from Lettices).

It didn't take long for (an early) lunch to roll around (who could blame us?) and we decided to hit the food stalls again.  I opted for a jerk soya wrap from Brownins Bakery, whilst Amy tried the creamy mushroom stroganoff from Little Ginger.  Both dishes were delicious, and neither of us minded swapping a few forkfuls here and there; especially since we couldn't decide between us which was tastier.

Of course you can't visit a vegan festival and not take the time to listen to some of the talks.  We dipped in and out of the talks room throughout the day and were especially impressed with two speakers in particular; Vegan Geezer and Nick Bean.

Vegan Geezer (Martin Menehan) brought something to everyone's attention that has been on my mind a lot in recent months; and that's how we engage with one another within the vegan community.  He talked about different types of activism and how each method, whether direct or otherwise, can be equally effective.  Martin finished his speech by delivering a beautiful spoken word poem that undoubtedly left a few members of the audience with a lump in their throats.

Nick's speech took things in a different direction and explored the history of meat eating, his own vegan journey and the rise of vegan activism.  This was Nick's first time speaking publicly although nothing about his natural presence on the stage and hard hitting delivery would have given that away.  Nick's speech created a sense of urgency that reminded us in the audience that we don't have time to procrastinate; that we need to act now and we need to act quickly if we want to have any chance of making the change we all want to see in the world.

For us the day came to an end after Nick's speech and we were unfortunately unable to stay for the last few talks or Q&A session; but the day really had delivered more than either of us had anticipated.  Vegan Surrey may be in its infancy, but it already feels like an established festival and is a shining example of how a local vegan event should be operated.  The organisers successfully created something that felt bigger even than the venue itself, hosted a stunning lineup of speakers and showcased a range of vegan products that could sway even the most sceptical critic.  If this is the template for future Surrey Vegan events then I eagerly await them.

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