Although rarely reported in the British media, whenever hunting has been challenged hunts have resorted to violence. In 1843 when farmers opposed the damage caused by the hunt crossing their land, Masters of Foxhounds “dealt with the uppishness of lower orders on the spot with their fists.”
In the 1890s the Rev J. Stratton, a pioneering member of the Humanitarian League, who followed hunts on foot to record their cruelty “received abusive letters and once his house was fired at.”
The first organised attack on members of the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) occurred when a carload of saboteurs were surrounded and one saboteurs’ jaw broken on 2 May 1964.
In an often quoted phrase some hunters do continue to feel that “Horsewhipping a hunt saboteur is rather like beating a wife. They are both private matters.” In 1978-9 violence on the property and persons of hunt sabs reached such a pitch that the HSA asked the British Field Sports Society (Countryside Alliance) for a meeting to discuss ways to diffuse the issue.
The HSA reported that “in the first three months of 1993 alone some 75 saboteurs were victims of violent attacks by hunts, 13 of them requiring hospital attention as a result. 5 incidents of hunters using vehicles as weapons, 10 of damage to sabs vehicles and at least 2 others of damage to saboteurs’ property”.
In 1997 fox-hunters threatened to burn down forests, blockade streets and even turn to terrorism if their so-called ‘sport’ was abolished. An editorial in the terrier and lurcher fanzine Earth Dog, Running Dog (January 1997) threatened Labour ministers, ‘Do you want to turn Britain’s forests into charred waste land? … Don’t force the most law abiding citizens to become terrorists or you, and your party will live to regret it.’
As MPs voted on the future of hunting, Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Öpik, co-chairman of the so-called “Middle Way Group”, warned that young men would resort to violence if “the only way of life they know” was criminalised. Mr Öpik’s crude attempt at blackmail failed, however even he acknowledges the violent nature of hunts and their supporters.
Nicholas Le Quesne Herbert CBE, Conservative Member of Parliament and former British Field Sports Society political officer has stated, “From now on, we are going to start hunting the saboteurs.”