Archive for January, 2010

Dara’s dead greyhound

A racing greyhound part-owned by Irish comedian Dara Ó Briain has been killed following an injury sustained while in a race.

Snip Nua, at the tender age of 19 months, competed in just 7 races before she was deemed a financial liability by her 16 affluent syndicate members, to include the Business Editor of the Irish Times – Frank McNally and of course, the ‘joker’ in the pack, Dara O’Briain. Her final race – in which she sustained a broken hock – was at Harold’s Cross track on 14th December.

Find out more about our greyhound campaign.

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Image of the Day – 80

Quite a bizarre image today, from a past Tendring Show. There’s never a dull moment at the League!

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Image of the Day – 79

From 1992, the body of a hind killed by the hunt is ‘dealt with’ by hunt followers.

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Our letter to Hunt Masters

This week, we have written to the master of every registered hunt in England and Wales, to help them cut through the spin issued by the Countryside Alliance. Here’s the text of the letter the hunts have received.

Dear Master

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and Hunt Monitoring

In recent weeks there have been some articles in the press and on websites which may mislead hunt supporters into believing that hunt monitoring is in some way illegal. These articles are based on a misunderstanding of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) and the relationship between the police and hunt monitors.

RIPA primarily deals with the interception of telecommunications and public postal services. The provisions of RIPA recognise the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Article 8 of which deals with the right to respect for private and family life and requires that:

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right, except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Part II of RIPA, by creating a strict regulatory framework, provides for surveillance and the use of covert human intelligence sources by organisations such as the police and local authorities who are governed by the Act. That surveillance can be directed, covert and intrusive. Police and other authorities covered by the provisions of the Act have to put in place procedures for the issuing of approvals which show and record why the surveillance being carried out, is a necessary and proportionate response to the concerns, and to the evidence already to hand.

Where a police force or other public authority instructs a member of the public to carry out that surveillance on their behalf, RIPA approval procedures do apply.

Members of the public, and non governmental organisations such as the League Against Cruel Sports are not bound by the provisions of RIPA as long as they are not acting as controlled or contracted agents of the police or any other public authority.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have confirmed to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) that where the police are provided with surveillance and other evidence by non governmental organisations, such as the League Against Cruel Sports, they should use that information and investigate further. They have further requested to be informed if there is any evidence of police forces refusing to accept such evidence. The CPS have also made it clear that they will prosecute Hunting Act and related offences as a matter of public interest if the evidence is sufficient.

Some recent press articles and web postings have gone as far as to suggest that the police should not accept evidence of wrong doing from people monitoring the activities of hunts and their supporters and some have even suggested that such monitoring activities are in fact illegal. This is simply not true.

The law in these matters is very clear. Peaceful monitoring of hunts and hunters is a lawful and legal activity. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have made it very clear in their recent judgment that hunting is a public activity and that there is no right to act in an illegal manner on privately owned land. The CPS have made it very clear that the evidence gathered by people monitoring hunts and their supporters can and will be used by the police and the CPS to prosecute wrong doing if they suspect that to be the case.

The League is concerned that, having read some of the misleading and inaccurate reports in the press and on the web, hunt supporters may mistakenly believe that the monitors are themselves committing an offence when they monitor, and this is not the case. Furthermore the League is also concerned some in the hunting community may think that evidence of wrong doing cannot be used by the police and the CPS, if it is obtained by monitors or members of the public, and may feel more able to break the law without legal consequence.

Given the increasing public profile of the hunting issue because of the forthcoming General Election, the League is concerned that in the field relationships between those who support and those who oppose the Hunting Act will deteriorate. Incorrect allegations that monitors are committing a crime by monitoring will further inflame passions and there is a consequential risk of public disorder and assaults on lawful monitors as a result.

The League requests that in the interests of public order and the prevention of assaults on monitors and other members of the public, that you advise hunt followers and supporters that:

• hunt monitoring and filming by monitors and observers is a lawful activity

• evidence of illegality gathered by the monitors can be used by the police and the CPS to prosecute any person thought to be in breach of the relevant legislation

• road blocking, abuse and intimidation of members of the public, including monitors, are road traffic and public order offences respectively

• the use of flashing lights and beacons (generally to indicate the presence and location of monitors) is a Road Traffic Act offence, and

• the Hunting Act offences apply to anyone who is engaged in, actively allows, or facilitates or permits an act of illegal hunting.

The League has instructed its monitors to avoid confrontation with hunts and their supporters and to ensure that they do not interfere with the lawful activities of exempt hunting, trail following and hound exercises.

In essence, the key factor for consideration must be that those who hunt within the law have nothing to hide from hunt monitors.

Finally, in order to assist you in fully appraising your staff and followers of the law, I enclose a copy of the guidance issued by the CPS to Chief Constables and ACPO.

Trusting that you will agree to assist with upholding the law.

Yours sincerely

Douglas Batchelor
Chief Executive

We think that makes the situation clear – though no doubt we’ll have yet more spin in an attempt to confuse the situation even further. Plus ça change!

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Time for democracy

This week’s note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.

As every week goes by the temperature seems to rise on the hunting issue. In part it is a symptom of the 24/7 world we all now inhabit and in part it is connected with the lead up to the forthcoming general election.

As has long been their practice the hunters now seem to be well into their usual habit of shooting the messenger. The attacks are getting more and more personal, and they are now delivered by email, and blog, Facebook and Twitter as well as in the news and letters columns of the media. Rather than face up to public debates about why they want to chase and to kill for fun, the hunters put more and more effort into denial, and into denigrating all and any who oppose them.

This week I fully expected the hunters to try and use the report of the ‘Better Government Initiative’ (BGI) to claim that it was wrong of Tony Blair’s Government to pass the Hunting Act 2004, and I was right. That particular dead horse got very little coverage but that didn’t stop them flogging it.

Hunting presents a real issue in a democratic sense. When the majority find the practice of hunting for sport morally and ethically indefensible, to us it seems reasonable to enact that judgement in law, as Parliament finally did in 2004.

To the hunters, and apparently to the retired mandarins at the BGI as well, that isn’t how they see the political process at all. For the mandarins it is all about the scientific evidence and not about public opinion. For the hunters it is all about what they claim as their personal right to be free to do as they wish, never mind the science and the morality of it.

The same dilemma affecting the decision making process plays out with every single decision in government, regardless of its political complexion. To use the ‘Yes, Minister’ analogy, Sir Humphrey will tell the minister,

“this is bound to be a contentious decision. The opponents of the decision will quite likely seek Judicial Review in the courts if they can’t get their way in Parliament. If it goes to court you will have to show the reasonable basis on which you took that decision. To do that, Minister, I recommend that you hold an inquiry and that you then undertake a full public consultation on what you propose. In that way no one will be able to say that there was not due process when you bring forward your recommendations.”

The Party Whips will tell the minister that they have a lot of business to get through both Houses and that contentious measure will simply stuff up the progress on a load of other more important work, while the opponents of the bill play it as long as they possibly can. To put it bluntly, a contentious bill is one for the last six months before an election; until then one should play for time.

The Minister will leap up and down, bang the desk and say, “I told people I was going to do this as soon as I got in”. Sir Humphrey will say,

“Yes Minister, but that was then and this is now. I am sure the Cabinet will understand and support you in the inquiry and consultation you plan. My fellow mandarins will help with that. And of course you can hold a vote now to see if there is a will to do anything at all about the issue, because that doesn’t actually commit you to anything! However, you will be able to say that you said you would do it and you have, so now back off and wait till the time is right. I’ve got a lot of other more pressing business to deal with. So reasonable an approach minister!”

What is so disturbing about the way government actually works is that most of the decisions taken are pragmatic rather than principled. They are pragmatic in that they try to balance and almost cancel out the opposing forces with a ‘something for everyone’ approach, if they can find one. They take decisions based as much on what they think they can get through the parliamentary system quickly as much as on what is morally right. The result is that people distrust the process and the politicians and civil servants who run it. People see that lack of principle, the politics of legislative convenience and they then lose interest in the whole political process.

As a result of all this you can be quite sure that the retired mandarins would criticise the time and effort put into the passage of the Hunting Act. As they would see it, too much time was taken on it and the better solution would have been a licensing system that ministers of successive governments could have bent with the political wind of the day. That would have been Sir Humphrey’s solution; practical not moral.

The trouble with the Sir Humphrey’s of this world is that they don’t live in our real world. The Hunting Act is a classic example of that, where over 75% of the public agree with it, think it should be enforced and are against its repeal. For the vast majority of the public, hunting with dogs for sport is a moral and ethical issue and not one for pragmatism. As far as they are concerned it is wrong, and it is a crime. For Sir Humphrey, seven hundred hours of parliamentary time and the civil service workload associated with that just doesn’t compute. The fact that it was those opposed to the Act who made it take so long, doesn’t change his view, it simply leads him to say that a compromise would have been far better, whatever your principles.

For politicians the hunting issue is a grade one political banana skin. A small minority passionately want the Hunting Act repealed. The vast majority think the issue has already been dealt with and as far as they are concerned it would be nonsensical to spend more time turning the clock back to cruelty. There will be hardly a constituency in the country where hunters are a significant sector of the local vote. Typically with over 60,000 constituents the average constituency will have less than a hundred passionate hunt supporters. Even the most rural and ‘hunting heartland’ of seats will probably have less than three hundred passionate hunt supporters in it.

When candidates are looking at the realpolitik of trying to get elected, they have to balance the views and support of the few hundred vociferous hunters in their constituency against the usually much quieter 45,000 who support the Hunting Act and are opposed to its repeal. Their choice is whether to go with public opinion or with the noisy bloodsporting minority? For some candidates who have supported hunting for sport it seemingly isn’t an easy choice. Because hunting is regarded as a free vote issue, they have to consider where they personally stand on the principle of cruelty to animals for sport, as well as what their possible constituents think.

Significant numbers of candidates who have reportedly previously pledged support for hunting to the hunters are now not saying publicly where they stand on the hunting issue. Others are saying they will decide how to vote when they see the proposals. The beauty of the Keep Cruelty History website is that you can use the site to tell candidates what you think. You can tell them that you want them to support the Act and oppose repeal. As a voter you can make your views and concerns clear to the possible decision makers. That is democracy. What the quiet majority should do is take the time to make themselves heard! Hopefully politicians of all parties will then listen to what they have to say and will vote to prevent cruelty to animals for sport.

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Image of the Day – 78

In this shot from 1982, the scut is being cut from the dead hare. Hare hunting and coursing becomes legal again if we don’t commit to Keep Cruelty History.

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Hunting for the future

This article first appeared on the Progress website yesterday.

Like many people, I watched from the wings as Labour swept to power in 1997. There was a sense of real urgency, but also of enormously competing policy agendas and, to an extent, everyone wanting delivery of the manifesto – and they wanted it within the magical first one hundred days. Of course, lots of people were still waiting by the time we got to the 2001 election, not least my organisation, the League Against Cruel Sports, which had spent the best part of eighty years campaigning for a ban on hunting.

And five years ago the government did deliver on its manifesto promise, with the passage of the Hunting Act in late 2004. But the passage of that act was far from an easy ride due largely to the hysteria whipped up by the pro-bloodsports lobby who had led many people into believing that the countryside was facing economic armageddon if hunting was banned. The enormous effort that we put into achieving the ban on hunting for ‘sport’ was catalogued in great detail by the press on a day by day basis. The Parliament Square riot, and the invasion of the House of Commons by Otis Ferry and his incorrigible pals, served only to keep the issue at the top of the news agenda.

In recent months it has come back high on that news agenda. We know from repeated polling – the most recent by Ipsos MORI in September 2009 – that 75% of the public support the ban on fox hunting, 85% on hare coursing, and figures remain above 70% in rural communities. But as much as the public care enough to have a view, they think that the passage of the Hunting Act means the issue has been dealt with, and don’t realise that repeal is on the agenda.

Our experience of the last few months of running the ‘Keep Cruelty History’ campaign shows that the public are shocked to discover that some politicians are promising to repeal the Hunting Act. Prospective parliamentary candidates who oppose hunting and who are standing against pro-hunt candidates may be missing a trick if they don’t capitalise on the overwhelming public support for the ban. After all, we know that most pro-hunting candidates aren’t talking about hunting because they recognise how unpopular it is with the majority of voters, although in some key constituencies they are drawing support from the hunting community through the ambiguously named ‘Vote OK’.

We were delighted when, on Boxing Day, environment secretary Hilary Benn launched the ‘Back the Ban’ campaign in the media. We’ve been similarly encouraged by Nick Clegg’s statements that repeal of the Hunting Act “isn’t on the Liberal Democrat agenda”. We’re disappointed to see a free vote on repeal on the Conservative agenda, possibly due to the presence on their frontbench of Nick Herbert, the former head of political affairs at the pro-bloodsports Countryside Alliance.

As we approach the fifth anniversary next month of the Hunting Act coming into force, it’s worth reminding ourselves why this is such a seminal piece of legislation. There have been well in excess of 130 prosecutions under the Hunting Act and, as the RSPCA pointed out in December, it has seen more prosecutions in recent years than other key wildlife legislation, and prosecutions have a 77 per cent success rate. The countryside hasn’t collapsed economically or socially, and in December the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the hunters’ latest attempt to suggest that the ban on hunting breaches human rights.

The public can find out how their prospective parliamentary candidates say they would vote on repeal of the Hunting Act on our Keep Cruelty History website. And whilst 76 per cent of all candidates who’ve responded to us so far say they would vote to keep the Hunting Act, the minority who favour repeal or who have not yet clearly declared their position remain to be persuaded of the strength of public opinion and have yet to promise to Keep Cruelty History.

Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive, League Against Cruel Sports

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