More than a year after issuing a claim in the High Court, the Crawley & Horsham Hunt have dropped injunction proceedings brought against individuals who monitor the Hunt’s fox-hunting activities with a video camera to ensure that the Hunt conducts its hunting activities lawfully.
The injunction the Hunt sought would have excluded the Defendants, anyone who participates or supports hunt monitoring and anyone with notice of the injunction, from large sections of West Sussex , including from public rights of way. The Hunt, in dropping these proceedings, have also agreed to pay almost the entirety of the Defendants’ legal costs.
The Crawley & Horsham Hunt are backed by the Countryside Alliance and the Masters of Foxhounds Association who treated this as a test case to try and stop monitoring of hunting activities and, it seems, as part of their opposition to the hunting ban imposed by statute.
Fisher Meredith Solicitors represented Mrs Jaine Wild, who is one of the Defendants. She believes the injunction was aimed at stopping hunt monitors from carrying out lawful monitoring activities to ensure that the Hunt does not hunt illegally since the hunting ban came into force in 2005. Mrs Wild, a respected animal rescue worker, has video footage of the Crawley & Horsham Hunt which appears to show illegal hunting and wishes to continue her monitoring activities by videoing the hunt in order to obtain more footage to support criminal prosecutions.
The Hunt have taken this step following an unsuccessful application for an interim injunction on 15 July 2008 and two aborted trials in July and October 2008. The trial was adjourned in October 2008 at the Claimants’ request. This followed a High Court ruling which dismissed the Claimants’ claims in trespass and nuisance, finding that there were “fundamental defects” and limiting the claim to a claim in harassment.
The Defendants deny any harassment to the Claimants. On the contrary, Mrs Wild and other hunt monitors believe they have been the victims of harassment and intimidating behaviour by hunt stewards and other members of the Crawley & Horsham Hunt. The Defendants had threatened to apply to have the claim struck out for abuse of process and as showing no cause of action and this appears to have prompted the Hunt to drop the case over a year since it was instigated.
Mrs Wild believes that this may have been because they fear having video footage showing alleged illegal hunting by the Hunt exposed in open court. Mrs Wild remains committed to her lawful hunt monitoring activities and does not use or condone any tactics which may be termed ‘hunt sabotage’. She simply wishes to see Parliament’s intention in passing the Hunting Act enforced.
Victoria Pogge von Strandmann, her solicitor, said:
“These proceedings should never have been brought. We are pleased that they are now being withdrawn. The proceedings were an oppressive attempt by a powerful group, which includes the Crawley & Horsham Hunt backed by the Countryside Alliance, to seek to use the courts to stop individuals concerned about the welfare of animals holding them to account so that they may flout a law that they have unstintingly opposed. In the process, they were seeking to stifle legitimate opposition and rights to free speech and prevent individuals from going about their everyday lives in their locality.”
Simon Wild stated: “The Crawley and Horsham hunt has been forced to withdraw from an action that the Countryside Alliance had originally engineered as a master plan designed to defeat the Hunting Act by preventing monitoring. If they had achieved this, it would have spread nationwide and been game, set and match for hunting. Now we have turned the tables, and the hunt will have to write out cheques for hundreds of thousands of pounds for legal fees, having achieved nothing.”