BY SARAH GREENWOOD
In the recent ‘Trail of Lies’ cartoon, produced by LACS and narrated by Chris Packham, there was an assertion that:
Hmm! Hunt Monitors! An interesting use of words. This appellation makes them sound like a peer reviewed group of people lawfully and legally recruited and appointed by a governing regulatory body, using approved rules of engagement over an agreed timescale, and communicated to the hunts to be under observation during the course of their activities, and that these impartial and professional observers drew the conclusion that only 1% of the hunts involved in their study laid a trail.
I think anyone who knows anything about ‘hunt monitors’ will be somewhat cynical about this, and only a minimal amount of research online will uncover how ‘hunt monitors’ actually work and in a way that degrades the term ‘monitor’.
In the real world of monitoring and observing, there is a requirement that monitoring can only be done legally if there is a lawful provision made for it and guides the manner in which it is done. Do the monitors have clear rights under law to collect information? Who provides recognized accreditation? Do the participating personnel have the necessary expertise and training in monitoring? (osce.org, lawgazette.co.uk, icsc.un.org,)
I have worked, and currently work, in post conflict countries where various internationally recognized bodies appoint monitors and observers to uphold these countries’ newly acquired democratic principles and oversee security, policing, law, banking and elections.
They are recruited by particular means depending on the role they will undertake, but all are required to be qualified within their field of expertise, be competent, have integrity, impartiality, independence and discretion, and be honest, truthful and incorruptible, with a respect for fundamental rights and economic and social progress. (osce.org, lawgazette.co.uk, icsc.un.org,) Please remember this last sentence as I will be alluding to it later.
Having said all that, they are not required to give up their own personal views or perspectives but must be aware of them to not allow them to interfere with their role. They neither should abuse their role in a way that is offensive, humiliating, embarrassing or intimidating to another person. (icsc.un.org,) Again, please remember this list.
An official monitoring role uses key points to guide their actions. For example, ensuring that legitimate interests, data protection and impact assessments are done prior to monitoring. Providing clear and transparent notice detailing why monitoring is taking place. Providing a written policy setting out how monitoring is to be conducted, and by choosing the least excessive method of monitoring and taking into account privacy expectations. (osce.org, lawgazette.co.uk, icsc.un.org,)
I think we are now fully conversant with the qualities needed to be a monitor, so let’s look at the actual reality of being a hunt monitor.
The tone was set in Chris Packham’s opening attempt at gravitas quoting the claim by ‘monitors’ that ‘only 1% of so called trail hunts lay a potentially genuine trail’. ‘So-called trail hunts’? This is clearly a partial statement. What follows during the course of this cartoon is a litany of disinformation designed to negatively sway the viewer about what 21st century hunting is, and in doing so abuses the human right to freedom of information upon which to make an informed opinion.
According to the ‘Hunt Monitors’ Facebook page, with its email contact address of huntersarecruel, their advice to anyone wanting to self-refer to help ‘monitor’ hunts is, among other things, to ‘join hunt sab groups’, and ‘be a keyboard warrior’! On their website campaigntostrengthenthehuntingact.com any wannabe ‘monitors’ are shown what constitutes essential hunt sabbing equipment, given advice on how to disrupt meets and hound activity and how to practice disinformation to get hunts bad publicity. All hunt sab groups share regular reports of their activities on social media, quite often detailing the criminal damage and acts they have done, along with allowing abusive and unjustified comments from their followers. Many of these reports bear little resemblance to what actually happened, and some do not mention their actions leading to arrest or other police intervention as happens regularly. I think we can agree that none of this sounds like a credible set of guidelines for impartial behaviour encompassing the qualities found in recognized monitors as detailed previously.
There is a huge litany of hunt sab convictions gracing the court reports dating back years. These range from physical assault to bomb making. A disturbing number of them have convictions for being in possession of hard core pornography involving children, as well as animals. A further disturbingly high number of them have convictions for harassment and intimidation. Many of them are repeat offenders, with their names cropping up at regular intervals over the years in connection with their activities whilst out with hunt saboteur or ‘monitor’ groups. Again, I think you would agree that these do not fulfill any of the qualities that would be required in the real world of monitoring. (These are representative examples: Neil Hansen ‘Depraved Animal Rights Extremist caught with hoard of child pornography’ and Mel Broughton ‘Firebombing activist jailed’)*
Hunt monitors regularly provide footage of alleged hunting of live quarry, including pictures of dead foxes or foxes being attacked by hounds. Some of this footage or photographs have been found to be edited. Interestingly, in a report by the BBC of a case of live quarry hunting brought by LACS, the case folded early because LACS witnesses had to admit that, despite their best efforts at trying to pull the wool over the court’s eyes, their video showed no hunting of foxes took place, so there was no prospect of a conviction. Police forces have put out statements regarding unedited footage of alleged illegal hunting, as the footage they have been presented with, along with the allegations, have been found to have been tampered with and cannot be used to uphold a case. Similarly, the alleged witnesses of these alleged events are somewhat reluctant to report what they have allegedly seen, and many alleged incidents of hunting foxes reported on social media have not been reported to the police. The police are then vitriolically castigated for not doing a job, and there is a continual ‘dissing’ of the police, which serves to undermine confidence in them. This tactic is used on all sab pages, and you have to wonder why the police are being set up by hunt monitors to fail. (foxhuntingevidence.co.uk, Facebook Derbyshire Rural Crime Team post 14 March 2019, leics.police.uk ‘Our position on hunting with hounds’, , countrysquire.co.uk ’Antis crowdfunding court fines’, leicestermercury.co.uk ‘Hunt saboteur sentenced for giving police ‘tampered’ footage of assault’, bbc.co.uk ‘Quorn hunt members cleared of breaching fox-hunting ban’)
Being aware of the necessity for probity in the real role of monitors in situations that actually need it, I’m, personally, at a loss to understand how hunt monitors reconcile their actual antics to the required behaviour of real monitors. On no sab social media pages do they ‘have integrity, impartiality, independence and discretion, and be honest, truthful and incorruptible, with a respect for fundamental rights and economic and social progress’. The latter sentence particularly applies to the newly founded ‘Hunt Businesses’ on Twitter, whose aim is to belittle and intimidate any business they suspect of dealing with hunts or shoots. This is in tandem with the requests to give bad reviews about similar businesses named on hunt sab pages on Facebook.
I’m inclined to think that if there was some parliamentary legislation to guide how hunt monitors should conduct their work to a required high standard, and an overseeing body to recruit monitors with the necessary qualities, it would quieten hunting life down and we would not be harassed by thugs and easily swayed media.
Though in fact, it still would. It is apparent that some sab and ‘monitor’ groups have been highly, and professionally, trained in disinformation techniques, where the internet plays an important part alongside physical disruption and filming techniques. It would be interesting to find out who pays these people, and why. One thing is certain, animal welfare plays little part in their motivations, regulations governing monitors in the real world do not apply to animal rights manipulators or their benefactors.
Sarah Greenwood has farmed in Yorkshire all her life, has a general interest in fieldsports, but particularly in hunting. She runs a small charity working in Bosnia and Kosovo.