Pressure put on police as more questions are raised over Warwickshire Hunt
Warwickshire's Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) said he received “professional answers” to questions over the way clashes between hunters and anti-hunt protestors have been handled – despite perceived “bias”.
The ongoing battle between Warwickshire Hunt and West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs is rumbling on with videos posted online making allegations of illegal hunting and out-of-control dogs causing dangers on highways. The trail hunting group denies any wrongdoing and said .
Warwickshire Police issued Warwickshire Hunt with a community protection notice (CPN) earlier this year, ordering that officers should be provided with a calendar of all events and locations and timings of any road crossings a week before meets. The force made clear this was related to road safety concerns and not the right to trail hunt.
The CPN was due to be appealed by Warwickshire Hunt but it was then dropped after a protocol was agreed with Warwickshire Police, details of which was controversially withheld from the public.
Campaigners have queried that ever since and issues have escalated with the police called to clashes during meets where allegations have emanated from both sides.
Wildlife conservationist Dr Denise Taylor this week expressed “grave concerns about the lack of effective policing” in an address to Warwickshire’s Police & Crime Panel, a group of councillors and non-elected independent members that scrutinises the work of PCC Philip Seccombe.
She believes that hunt monitors, wildlife groups and members of the public have submitted "overwhelming evidence and statements showing that the Warwickshire Hunt continues to act unlawfully", something the Warwickshire Hunt strongly denies.
“This includes evidence of the hunt continuing to cause road havoc on multiple occasions and quad bikes frequently being driven illegally on public roads," she added.
"There has been at least one reported illegal fox kill on October 9 which is being a being investigated and there have been several reports of trespass on the gardens of residents and on private land by the hunt.
“Trackers have been placed on hunt monitor vehicles with one female monitor being actively and illegally stalked.”
She requested that the panel ask Mr Seccombe what he was doing to follow up on complaints.
Martina Irwin then claimed police had “targeted” hunt monitors.
“The monitors were threatened with breaching the peace,” she said.
“I would be grateful if the panel would seek the commissioner’s view of what actions should be taken to ensure that police officers demonstrate no prejudice or bias towards hunt monitors and members of the public who are acting within the law."
Mr Seccombe said he could not get directly involved in operational matters beyond questioning why such decisions are or were taken, and said his office had no input into the decision to withdraw the CPN in favour of the private protocol.
He said he expects that “any type of crime or antisocial behaviour should always be investigated without fear or favour”, encouraging residents to continue to report any problems.
Dr Taylor went on to say the private arrangement “is having no effect whatsoever, and this is despite the hunt having a dedicated and named place officer with them”.
“They are crossing numerous roads, the hounds are out of control and this refers to activity since the CPN was withdrawn, so it is quite a separate matter,” she added.
Mr Seccombe said that holding to account involved asking questions “principally in retrospect (as to) why something was done or wasn't done”, adding: “I have asked those questions and I am satisfied myself that I have received professional answers from the chief constable.”
Dr Taylor asked: “Would you care to share those answers?”
Mr Seccombe replied: “No. That is a conversation between myself and the chief constable.
“There are minutes of the meetings that we have which are publicly available but on any particular topic, I do not divulge to anyone the conversations that I have had.”
Warwick District Council’s representative Councillor Jim Sinnott (Lab, Warwick Saltisford) asked: “If residents have a real issue and they are not getting answers, where does that leave us?
“I am elected to represent residents, so is the commissioner, I am just asking about the openness.
“I can see this coming back again, it is not going away. I would like a resolution, this protocol seems to be at the centre of it and if we get a bit more openness, maybe it would help resolve some of the concerns. That would be good.”
Polly Reed, chief executive of the office of the PCC, said: “What I understand to be the question here is whether the PCC has influence, could influence or receive information about operational policing matters. Unfortunately, he cannot get involved in any of those things.
“I appreciate that sometimes feels like an unsatisfactory answer in that he would like to have the full amount of detail. That is not something that can be produced from our office in respect of live police cases.”
In response to the claims made at the meeting, a spokesperson for Warwickshire Hunt denied any illegal activity and claimed protesters are the ones causing the problems.
They added: “The Warwickshire Hunt operates within the law to comply with the Hunting Act despite the claims of anti-hunting activists who constantly waste police resources by making spurious claims against the hunt and its supporters.
"We will continue to work with the police to ensure that the agreed protocol, which provides a sensible working arrangement, is adhered to.”