Hunting enthusiasts accuse CPS of 'caving in to pressure from animal rights campaigners'

Members of the Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent Hunt (stock picture)
Members of the Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent Hunt (stock picture) Credit: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The Crown Prosecution Service has been accused of caving in to pressure from animal rights campaigners after a second huntsman was cleared of assaulting a female protester in a matter of months.

Hunting enthusiasts insist the case against Mark Melladay, who was filmed riding his horse towards the woman, should never have come to court - and said the decision to charge riders were being made "on the basis of who can shout the loudest”.

Cheltenham Magistrates Court heard protester Elaine Barnett was trying to disrupt the hunt in February last year, by whipping the road to distract a pack of hounds with the Ledbury Hunt in Gloucestershire.

Members of the Ledbury Hunt gather Credit: DAVID BURGES

Mr Melladay, wearing a red hunting jacket, followed the hounds through a break in the hedgerow and then tracked Ms Barnett across the road and into a thicket. However the court said that there was no evidence of contact.

The verdict came weeks after Taunton Crown Court cleared Peter Doggrell of maliciously inflicting bodily harm by galloping through a gate and knocking a female protester to the ground, at a hunt in Somerset.

Nicola Rawson, 43, suffered seven broken ribs in the incident which was filmed on a hunt saboteur's camera.

According to The Times, the police who investigated the videos in both instances decided to take no further action, but the CPS brought prosecutions after they were re-examined under the victims' right to review.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of Countryside Alliance, which campaigns in favour of bloodsports, accused the CPS of bending to mob rule.

He told The Times: "It is very worrying that there appears to be an increasing number of cases where charging decisions are made on the basis of who can shout the loudest, not the quality of the evidence provided by the complainant.”

Even the protesters who filmed the alleged assault by Mr Melladay were surprised to see him charged with such a serious offence, insisting a lesser charge would have been more appropriate.

Emma Phipps, a member of the Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs who filmed the video, said: “We didn't think it was going to go anywhere.

"If we had had any say in it all, there's no way we'd have pushed for [assault by battery] when there would be much more of a chance of getting a prosecution for common assault.

“He definitely should have gone to court. What he did was wrong."

Louise Daly, the master of the Ledbury hunt, said: "We are over the moon by the verdict. It has caused a lot of stress for poor Mark and everyone involved."

The CPS disputes claims it made the decision to charge Mr Melladay - insisting the case was charged by police.

A spokesman said: “"This case was charged by the police. The evidence was then reviewed by the CPS in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and we agreed there was a realistic prospect of conviction and the case proceeded to trial.

"Any suggestion the CPS is influenced in its charging decisions by outside bodies is entirely incorrect."

Fox hunting was banned in 2004 but hunts are allowed to follow dogs on horseback if they are following a false scent, in a practice known as trail hunting.

Animal rights campaigners, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), claim this is just a ruse to let them break the law. If the hounds pick up a fox's scent and catch it, it is almost impossible for the police to gather enough evidence to show it was done deliberately.

Hunt saboteurs routinely try to disrupt hunts with tactics that include blowing bugles to distract the hounds and using sprays to mask the scent of a fox.

Recently their tactics have evolved to target local businesses associated with fox-hunting. A hotel near Blackburn had to be evacuated because of a bomb threat when it was hosting a hunt ball, while other activists have made softer attempts to disrupt with tactics such as making fake reservations at restaurants.

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