How the Countryside Alliance’s “ground-breaking legal bid” collapsed

It started oh so well. On the 19th June 2008 it was announced in Horse & Hound that the Crawley and Horsham Hunt had employed a leading harassment lawyer to take the ground-breaking civil action which it hoped would put a stop the Sussex Wildlife Protection group filming their activities.

Countryside Alliance spokesman Tim Bonner urged other hunts across the UK to donate. “If we can get this, it will be a massive victory for hunting and will set a precedent for other hunts to follow”, he said. “We’ve been working hard on this case for six months, and we will help anyone else who has problems to collate evidence in a way that will help them. If we win an injunction, it is bound to have a huge impact and we want to make sure hunts are prepared.”

Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) chairman Stephen Lambert said concern about the impact on other hunts in the area “should never prevent us taking proper action to stop saboteurs”.

On the 15th July 2008 the BBC reported that “Landowners in Sussex have been given a priority listing in the High Court for their legal bid to ban protesters before the hunting season begins. The Crawley and Horsham Hunt wants to prevent hunt monitors entering acres of private estate and farm land… The hunt, backed by landowners and supported by the Countryside Alliance and the Masters of Foxhounds Association, is suing the West Sussex Wildlife Protection Group and its principal activists, Simon and Jaine Wilde.”

On 25 July 2008 Horse & Hound reported on “ground-breaking legal bid to ban hunt saboteurs from thousands of acres of private land in West Sussex.” Countryside Alliance spokesman Tim Bonner, who has helped to co-ordinate the civil action, gushed to H&H, “We can’t overstate how huge this is for the hunt. This will be an expensive case but a test case and will put a line in the sand for those claiming to monitor hunts.” Bonner continue, “… the fact that they have followed the Crawley and Horsham around relentlessly for the past three years and not brought a prosecution proves pretty conclusively that the hunt is operating within the law.”

The Daily Telegraph meanwhile reported that “the Duke of Norfolk was among the landowners. His 16,000 acres around Arundel Castle form the largest estate in Sussex.”

The 5-day hearing before Mr Justice King in London’s High Court started on the 20th October 2008. Horse & Hound reported that Lawyer Tim Lawson-Cruttenden, for the hunt, claimed its members and supporters have been subjected to trespass and harassment over many months. The hunt insisted it has been operating within the law since the ban on hunting. The wildlife group, however, says it has substantial evidence that the hunt has broken the law.

On the second day Horse & Hound reported that Mr Justice King had thrown out the allegations of nuisance and trespass stating that, “This court deplores the use of pleadings of this nature in generalised forms. It is too easy for claimants and leaves a defendant in an impossible position to know precisely the case he or she has to meet.”

Tim Bonner was in full spin mode telling Horse & Hound, “Today’s events have been frustrating, but we believe things will change once we get evidence in front of the court. Yes, the issues with the nuisance and trespass allegations have been frustrating, but the centre of our claim has always been that the hunt has been harassed. And we just want to put our evidence in front of the court”.

In truth, the Countryside Alliance and Masters of Foxhounds Association were in full disarray. The following day Mr Lawson-Cruttenden successfully applied to the judge for an adjournment, saying he needed time to “take stock”.

Barrister Stephen Simblet, representing some of those who could be affected by any injunction granted, told the judge: “You have given the claimants a huge indulgence in granting them an adjournment in a case they have not brought properly.”

On the 24th July 2009, Horse & Hound reported that, Legal action against hunt saboteurs by the Crawley & Horsham hunt and 80 landowners has been shelved a year after it was launched, with probable costs of £100,000 to hunting and little gained.

Funds for the test case were procured from the Countryside Alliance (CA) and Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA), with around £20,000 from the Crawley & Horsham and other hunts.

But now the Countryside Alliance and the hunt have reached an agreement with the saboteurs to pay their costs — which amount to more than £60,000 — and drop the case.

Mr Wild says the Countryside Alliance and Crawley & Horsham have backed off due to evidence of unlawful hunting and harassment they claim to have against the hunt. “They are seeking to save face now by saying we are complying with their wishes, but I behaved exactly in the same way last season as I have done before.”

Update

Subsequently the Crawley and Horsham Hunt have been found guilty of illegally hunting twice. No wonder the Countryside Alliance and Masters of Foxhounds Association were so keen that the hunt’s activities weren’t filmed.