The fact I am snowed in today is an ideal opportunity to write another blog. I wondered initially about writing about the mass of birds visiting the feeders in the garden, which would have been a great count for the RSPB Garden Birdwatch: 50+ chaffinches, 2 bramblings, 4 tree sparrows, a house sparrow, a robin, a tree creeper, a goldfinch, 2 dunnocks, 3 blue tits, 4 blackbirds, 4 woodpigeons and a magpie, which I can hear but not see. Anyway I decided to write about an unusual hare coursing case which took place in similar snowy conditions. It is recounted in my book A Lone Furrow:
In a Perthshire hare coursing escapade, with a participant I’ll call Mr Snowman, adverse weather conditions were no deterrent. On 4 January in 2008, after a heavy snowfall, a man local to the area was driving slowly and carefully along a narrow country road. He looked over the fence into a roadside field and saw a man walking a greyhound-type dog through the field. Just at this time three hares rose from the snow and ran off across the field. Mr Snowman now released his dog, which duly took off in pursuit of one of them.
The dog chased the hare across the field and the hare gained some ground by being able to get through the fence at the top of the field much more quickly than Mr Snowman’s dog. The witness continued along the road but as he rounded a bend the road was blocked by Mr Snowman’s 4WD car. He got out and shouted to Mr Snowman, who politely enquired, ‘What the fuck do you want?’ before returning to his car. By this time the witness was using his mobile phone to contact the police, and received a tirade of curses from Mr Snowman.
Snowman moved his car, all the while anxiously looking up the field to see what had happened to his dog. The witness passed Mr Snowman’s car and continued on his way, but at that point, unusual for such a quiet single-track road, a man came walking down the road. This witness saw Mr Snowman in the field and heard him shouting, at first thinking he was calling to him but then realising when he saw the greyhound that he was calling on the dog. He also saw the farmer approaching through the fields on his tractor and realised then that Mr Snowman had been coursing hares.
As this witness approached Mr Snowman’s car, it coincided with the return of Snowman and dog. Mr Snowman tried to cover the rear number plate of the car with snow, all the time calling to his dog to get into the car. Snowman either didn’t seem capable of counting beyond one, or didn’t realise his car had number plates front and back. As the witness passed the car, he noted the number from the front number plate and saw the farmer arrive in his tractor.
The farmer told Mr Snowman he had no business chasing hares, and was subjected to a variety of threats for his trouble. This is just about standard with hare coursers, with the threats usually about returning and burning down a barn or opening gates to let stock on to the road. Occasionally blows are struck, with the hare courser often coming off second-best. In this case it didn’t come to that and Mr Snowman made his departure pretty quickly, knowing that the first witness had phoned the police.
Police officers attended and could read in the snow what had taken place. To a significant degree this corroborated what the first witness in the car saw. The second witness, on foot, could add other pieces to the jigsaw but did not see coursing taking place. The farmer did not want involved and refused to give a statement to the officers. Identification of Snowman, of prime importance in any investigation, came from the first man, who was able to pick him out from a set of twelve photographs.
Because the farmer had refused to speak up, the case was short of the level of evidence to convict if Mr Snowman denied being involved, which was more than likely. Mr Snowman was a career criminal and I was determined that he wouldn’t get away with this, so called on the farmer the next day. I could quite see why he didn’t want involved. Apart from any threats made, the farmer was a busy man and didn’t want to spend time hanging about a court. I explained that the others, who were virtual bystanders, had spoken up, and that it seemed only reasonable that the person on whose land this had taken place should stand up and be counted. I managed to convince the farmer that if he gave a statement to me of what he saw, then the case would be really solid and it was much more likely that a guilty plea would be entered. He took a wee bit of persuading but in the end I left with a statement completely backing up that of the witness in the car.
Mr Snowman was charged with hare coursing and, as I suspected he would, pleaded guilty. His record determined that a jail sentence would be appropriate, though that was replaced with the alternative option to a court, that of a community service order. Mr Snowman was sentenced to carry out 80 hours of community service. He’d missed an opportunity to work as Santa Claus but I’m sure there would still have been some snow to be cleared off pavements.
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