The BBC and other media reported on 29 March that ‘A gamekeeper who kept a fox captive in a brick shed – allegedly so it could be hunted – has been found guilty of an animal welfare offence’. (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-43568572 )
After a report to the League against Cruel Sports (LACS) in December 2017 their staff found a fox inside a brick shed on the Buckminster Estate, which is on the Leicestershire/Lincolnshire border. They suspected that the fox was kept for the purpose of fox hunting and set up video surveillance on the shed. The following day they watched a man come to the shed, then leave again shortly after.
LACS were aware that the Belvoir Hunt were due to meet for fox hunting the following day, 17 December, so they informed the police of what was happening, the terrible conditions in which the fox was being held, the fact it had no water, and returned to the shed to rescue the fox.
On the day the Belvoir Hunt were due to meet, the same man – later identified as the gamekeeper on the estate – returned to the shed. This time he was carrying a net and a hessian sack. The inference from these items was that he was going to catch and bag the fox. Though common sense cannot be used in evidence, it was clear the fox was to be released so that it could be hunted by hounds.
The gamekeeper, Nigel Smith, was arrested by the police and interviewed. In the typical fashion of most hardened criminals and suspect gamekeepers he made ‘No comment’ replies to each of the questions put to him by the officers. The principal questions were:
“Are you willing to tell me why you had that fox in the building?”
“Has somebody asked you to catch that fox for them?”
“Have you got that fox as a pet?”
“Would you generally keep a fox as a pet?”
“Have you any links to the Belvoir Hunt or Belvoir Estate?”
“Were you going to give it to one of the members of the hunt?”
Smith was fined and ordered to pay costs totalling £1640. He was also disqualified from keeping foxes (which is a strange acquisitive pastime in any case) or being involved in fox hunting for five years.
This is yet another incident demonstrating the illegality involved in fox hunting and is one of several cases where a fox or foxes have been held captive by people linked to a fox hunt. The common-sense suspicion that the fox was to be released blows completely out of the water the claim that mounted fox hunting is carried out as fox control.
This was a great bit of work by LACS. There was certainly the issue of the suffering of the fox and its need to be released from that suffering. The fox was a ‘protected animal’ in terms of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 since it was under the control of man. It was being subjected to unnecessary suffering, not only because of the poor conditions under which it was kept but because of its captivity, being a wild animal, and its visits from its most deadly predator, man.
Section 18 (1) of the Act gives the delegated power to LACS to seize the fox, stating:
If an inspector or a constable reasonably believes that a protected animal is suffering, he may take, or arrange for the taking of, such steps as appear to him to be immediately necessary to alleviate the animal’s suffering.
But it again brings up the confusing position of covert surveillance on what I am sure would be private land and whether or not it can be admitted in evidence. The police, CPS and the court in this case, thankfully, accepted the evidence of the covert surveillance, but unfortunately appeared to give no explanation for future cases as to why it did so.
The other aspect of the case worthy of comment was that the judge said he had drawn an “adverse inference” from the fact that Smith did not give evidence at his trial. I’m not particularly acquaint with court procedures in England but I can’t imagine a judge saying this in a Scottish court, where an accused person has the right to remain silent and it is up to the Crown to prove evidence of guilt.
In any event it was a good conviction, albeit it was only in relation to an offence under the Animal Welfare Act rather than under the Hunting Act 2004. It also provides more ammunition for the complete banning of the ‘sport’ of mounted fox hunting.