Policing of hunt activity

Does the Cheshire Constabulary know how to identify an illegal hunt?

We follow NPCC guidance, training is provided to understand the legislation, and information is provided by the CPS on what type of evidence needs to be collected in order to mount a successful prosecution.

 

How do the police identify what is and what isn’t illegal activity regarding hunting?

Potential evidence is identified and sought at the time of the illegal activity being reported and then through speaking to all relevant parties to identify lines of enquiry and further evidence required after the event. All of these things together help us to identify whether the hunting activity could be illegal.

 

What is the pro-active approach taken by the Constabulary to police hunting activity and incidents that occur surrounding hunt activity?

Our officers regularly engage with both pro and anti-hunt groups before, during and after the traditional hunt season. Our dedicated liaison officers, in particular, strive to keep in touch with all parties, ensuring that they are informed of any decisions made in relation to allegations, or outcomes of investigations.

 

What priority does Cheshire Constabulary give to policing hunting activity and the behaviour of those who both support and oppose hunting?

The Constabulary prioritises all incidents on threat, risk and harm caused to or has the potential to cause to any victim or community. Policing hunting activity is no different.

 

How does Cheshire Constabulary use modern technology such as drones and body cameras to support the policing of hunting?

Cheshire Constabulary is constantly exploring how new technology can help prevent and detect offences. The drone is utilised when appropriate. Officers will activate their body worn cameras wherever they feel it will assist in gathering evidence of criminal activity. All parties have been informed this is a potential tactic and the reasons for this.

 

What is the Constabulary policy of the wearing of balaclavas and or scarfs to cover individual faces by pro and anti-hunt persons attending hunts in Cheshire?

The police powers in relation to removal of face coverings is very restricted and can only occur in certain circumstances. Section 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 provides powers to require the removal of disguises at public order events where a section 60 authorisation is in force. An Inspector has to authorise and there are specific circumstances around which an authority can be given. However, in the current climate of the Covid-19 pandemic, we accept that people may be wearing face coverings for a justified reason.

 

Prosecution 

What is the process from a member of the public reporting an offence to the point of submission of evidence to the CPS?

The public are encouraged to call our non-emergency number 101 to report a crime or if they have any information about a crime. Always call 999 where there is a threat to life or a crime in progress.

The information will be assessed and consideration given as to whether officers should be deployed and/or if specialist resources may be required.

Once officers arrive, they will speak to witnesses, gather evidence where possible, seize exhibits if appropriate, and effect arrests if necessary.

The matter may then be investigated. Whilst the Hunting Act 2004 is summary only (police charging decision), CPS Prosecutors will review all cases covered under this Act in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and, if so, whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.

 

What evidence is needed for prosecution?

This is a complex piece of legislation and many facets have to be evidenced for the complete offence to be proved.

Any prosecution must evidence a deliberate act with active participation before an offence can be made out and it can be evidenced that an individual has intentionally set out to hunt a fox. The death of a fox is evidence of this, but does not in itself constitute an offence.

 

Why, given evidence collected, has there been a perceived reluctance for Cheshire Constabulary to refer matters to the CPS?

Most offences relating to hunting activity do not require submission to the CPS. However, any offence alleged to have been committed under the Hunting Act 2004 will be reviewed by the CPS, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

 

Why in your view has Cheshire had no prosecutions?

It can be extremely challenging for the police to prove intent, which is required by the Hunting Act 2004.

Cheshire have secured prosecutions under the Act, but this has not been in relation to a traditional hunt.

It is worth noting that very few police forces across the country have had successful prosecutions for hunting foxes in particular.

 

How does the Constabulary work with the CPS to ensure that the best possible evidence is being provided?

We work with a CPS specialist and follow their advice and guidance when investigating such matters. The CPS will provide an action plan where they feel there are evidential gaps.

 

Impartiality

How does the Constabulary ensure that it is seen to be taking an unbiased, balanced position and one which is focused on upholding the law and addressing allegations made by all parties?

The Constabulary investigates all criminal allegations made based on the evidence provided. We endeavour to ensure that public statements released by the Constabulary are factual and timely, while maintaining open dialogue with all parties involved.

 

There is a perception that Cheshire Constabulary show bias to one side or the other – what work is being undertaken to address any such perceptions

Cheshire Constabulary recognises that both hunt and anti-hunt supporters have very strong views about hunting with hounds and we will not provide comment on these conversations. We also take extreme care in how we police these events to ensure fairness on all sides – and the continued training of our police officers will help us to achieve this. We are open, transparent and cannot engage in social media debate surrounding hunting. 

 

Are members of Cheshire Constabulary allowed to participate in hunts? Do they have to declare an interest?

Yes, police officers are allowed to participate in legal hunt activity. They do not have to declare an interest. We are not aware of any who do, however, our officers are not required to disclose this. However, as a matter of routine we do ask specialist officers to declare whether they participate or not.

 

What action is taken against those in the anti-hunt community who are alleged to have harassed and pursued huntsmen and their families?

Any criminal allegations are investigated and appropriate action taken in consultation with the victim.

 

How will the Constabulary seek to ensure that the messages and statements it publishes are clear, impartial and timely?

The Constabulary annually reviews its communications strategy. The objectives we have set are to adopt a proactive approach to communicating hunt-related incidents to keep the public informed of police investigations and operational activity and to educate and inform the public of the legislation and the role of the police. All statements are factual and released in a timely manner.

 

Why do you act as personal security for the hunt? I’ve seen the video of one of your officers doing it.

We don’t act as personal security for the hunt. We are impartial, and our presence at hunt meetings is primarily to keep the peace.

 

What are the Constabulary’s objectives for policing of hunting and dealing with potential illegal activity associated with wider hunting and anti-hunting activity?

  • Maintain public safety
  • Facilitate legal hunting activities, monitoring, and peaceful protests
  • Prevent and deter crime and disorder
  • Maintain business as usual
  • Minimise disruption to the local residents and those in the vicinity of the Hunt.
  • Engagement with key stakeholders
  • Maintain public confidence
  • Identify and implement learning

 

Are any of the Cheshire Police, or the police commissioner and his staff, participants or supporters of the hunt?

Cheshire Police does not hold this information, and we cannot compel officers or staff to disclose an interest.

 

Are you being paid by the hunt to ignore illegal hunting?

Certainly not. Cheshire police always endeavours to treat individuals and communities fairly and do not, and will not take sides.

The role of the police is to protect everyone’s rights by ensuring public safety, facilitating lawful protest and to minimise any disruption to communities.

 

Training

What training do police officers have regarding the Hunting Act 2004 and policing of hunts?

Staff are provided with an input into the Hunting Act 2004, and other relevant legislation, for consideration and use if involved in any hunt-related matter. Staff are also provided with an aide memoir which contains relevant legislation and the points to prove required under the Act. The training is provided to frontline officers who are likely to be called upon to attend incidents involving hunts.

 

How are training needs identified?

Officers will identify their own training needs in liaison with their Sergeants, through performance conversations and during Continuous Professional Development (CPD) days. The CPS / Force leads on hunting may identify training opportunities or learning from cases or investigations brought and feedback. We have already trained officers based on the likelihood of those officers becoming involved in policing hunting activity.

 

What is contained in the training and are you confident this is enough?

Training consists of a general understanding of the Hunting Act 2004 and other legislation that could be used to deal with incidents of public order, road traffic issues etc.

Training is also provided with regards to the make-up of a Hunt meet which includes an explanation of relevant parties whether Pro or Anti-Hunt and also consideration and understanding of community issues. We have an ongoing commitment to training our frontline officers in relation to hunt-related activity. We have trained officers who can be deployed in areas where hunts are operating and where there is a community issue.

 

What specialist support is provided to officers attending / investigation the hunts?

A dedicated Detective Inspector leads and manages hunt investigations, which is considered best practice.

There are also wildlife officers with specialist knowledge of hunting on hand to give advice.

We also have access to CPS specialist reviewers.

 

How often is training undertaken?

Annually.

 

Use of scent 

What scent is laid, who checks what scent is used and where it is laid?

The scent is no longer available in the UK, although it is not illegal to use. Police have no power to check the scent or where it is laid.

Trail hunting is an activity which involves someone laying an animal scent trail for dogs to follow. It was invented following the introduction of the 2004 Act and it remains legal to hunt an artificial trail.

The scent is an artificial animal-based scent which is usually mixed with oil to improve the lasting effect once laid.

There are no checks made on the scent used or where it is laid, although Cheshire Police have seen and checked the authenticity of the purchase of the some scent used.

 

Do you ever witness the trail being laid, and why do hunts seem to deviate from it so often?

We don’t have the power to demand sight of the intended trail so wouldn’t know if there was a deviation of the route.

Cheshire Police do not witness the laying of the trail. However, recently hunts in Cheshire have become more open about trail laying and anti-hunt groups have had the opportunity to view this process.

It will sometimes be unknown if the hunts are deviating from the trail. However, an explanation for the deviation could be that the weather conditions, the passing of time or other conditions dissipate the scent and reduce the ability of the hounds to remain in constant contact with it.

 

When investigating an allegation of illegal hunting what checks are made regarding trail setting?

A Hunt Group would provide evidence of trail-laying only in the event of a prosecution being progressed to court and the Hunt will only then provide trail laying footage as part of their defence.

 

Why don’t you arrest the hunt when a fox is killed?

Evidence of a fox being killed is not, on its own, evidence of an offence and forms only part of an investigation into illegal hunting. If the fox has been killed accidentally, this is not an offence.

Ultimately, whilst the legislation seeks to reduce the harm to wild mammals, in order to prove an offence it is essential to demonstrate that an individual has intentionally set out to hunt a fox.

 

Impact of hunting activity on public roads 

What is done by the Constabulary to address potential road traffic offences that are committed by those involved with, following or objecting to the hunt?

Any allegations of offences being committed on the road will be investigated. Warnings are also given where there is not enough evidence to progress otherwise.

Members of the public are encouraged to submit evidence such as dashcam footage via the Cheshire Police reporting page on the website for review and progression of potential offences under the relevant road traffic legislation.

 

Why is there a perceived acceptance that horses and hounds used in the hunt are able to block roads and highways without challenge?

If the hunt is causing a wilful obstruction of the highway, it will be dealt with appropriately and proportionately. This may be simply by asking the riders to move on.

 

What is the policy of Cheshire Constabulary regarding the policing of hunt and anti-hunt activity that may contravene road traffic laws?

Any allegations of offences being committed on the road will be investigated. Warnings are also given where there is not enough evidence to progress otherwise.

 

The role of terriermen

What checks are undertaken to ensure that terriermen are acting lawfully and appropriately?

The police investigate any allegations of unlawful activity.

Officers will respond to allegations of illegal activity by countrymen (terrier men). Officers attending any hunt will monitor the activity of all those taking part, including countrymen (terrier men), to ensure activity is lawful.

 

How does the Constabulary work with the hunting community (both pro and anti) to understand the role of terriermen?

‘Terriermen’ is a term used before the implementation of the Hunting Act 2004 and is used subjectively. The Hunts know them as ‘Countrymen’.

The primary use of quad bikes during a hunt meet are for the purpose of mending fences etc while the hunt is taking place.

In addition, some hunt meets have a number of quad vehicles which are used by hunt followers to keep up with and observe the hunt in operation.

If our liaison officers feel the countrymen are causing issue, this information will be relayed to the relevant hunt.

 

Do officers have a clear understanding of the purpose of terriermen?

This is covered as part of the training delivered to officers.

During specific training, officers are provided with an input which covers what the countrymen (terrier men) used to be used for and what their role should be now.

 

Future of policing of hunting activity 

How is the Constabulary intending to build public confidence and reassure the public that they are committed to enforcing the Hunting Act?

The Constabulary’s approach to all communications is to be open and transparent. It adopts a proactive approach to matters relating to hunting with hounds to make sure that the public is aware of what police are doing in relation to reports and investigations. It also endeavours to educate and inform the public of the legislation and the role of the police.

 

How much more proof of illegal activities do you need? You seem to stand by and do nothing.

We rely on witnesses providing evidence and information that will allow us to conduct effective investigations that can be seen to be fair, open and transparent to all involved.

We will always seek to use our resources effectively and we do not have any policy that would prevent the use of any tactics or resources in the investigation of matters relating to illegal hunting.

Cheshire Police is fully committed to investigate and, where sufficient evidence exists, bring to justice anybody found breaking the law.

 

How does the Constabulary intend to engage all elements of the pro and anti-hunt community in their plans?

Our liaison officers have regular dialogue and engagement with all parties to ensure they are kept informed of police investigations and operational activity.

 

How does the policing of hunting fit within the delivery of the rural crime strategy?

Our general policing strategy that deals with policing public order incidents and investigating crime supports our policing approach to illegal fox hunting activity. This also links in to community engagement and confidence. We have dedicated liaison officers who engage with both pro and anti-hunt groups to maintain contacts and build relationships.

 

Covid-19

Is hunting allowed during the Covid-19 pandemic?

The advice we have received is that, yes, it is allowed provided that the rules relating to local restrictions are being adhered to. However, hunts are not permitted to meet during periods of lockdown. More information on this can be found on our website (link to position statement)

 

Why is hunting allowed when it involves more than six people?

The legislation allows for hunts to take place on the basis that the activity has been organised by them as a registered business or charity – the legislation can be found on our website (link to position statement)

 

Can I attend a hunt (whether in support or against it)?

You can, provided the country is not in lockdown, but you must adhere to the regulations relevant to the area in which you live, and where the hunt is taking part. In the event of a lockdown, the hunt activity should not be taking place at all.

 

Will you take action against those who don’t follow the Covid-19 rules?

The Constabulary will investigate all actions of breaches of the Covid-19 rules. Our approach to potential breaches remains to engage, encourage and explain, and as a last resort we will enforce by issuing a fine.

 

For further details about the Covid-19 regulations, please refer to the gov.uk website.