Hunting ban is 'wasting police time'

TENS of thousands of pounds and hundreds of police man hours have been spent policing the hunting ban in Suffolk - but just two people have been arrested and charged for offences, it can be revealed today.

Anthony Bond

TENS of thousands of pounds and hundreds of police man hours have been spent policing the hunting ban in Suffolk - but just two people have been arrested and charged for offences, it can be revealed today.

Today, as hundreds of people gather across the county to watch and take part in traditional Boxing Day hunts, an investigation by this newspaper reveals the full effect of the ban on the county's cash-strapped police force.

Policing just the Essex & Suffolk Hunt, which is held about 20 Saturdays every year, involves seven police officers deployed for eight hours. This means that Suffolk's police officers spend about 1120 hours each year policing just this one hunt.


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And the cost to the force - which is facing drastic frontline cuts and �20m in savings - of policing all hunts throughout the county has been �105,194.

Despite this, just two people have been arrested and charged since the ban was introduced in February 2005 for hunting a wild animal with a dog.

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Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said he believed the figures highlighted that the ban was a waste of police time - although animal campaigners have staunchly defended it.

He said: “I think the Hunting Act was a terrible mistake by people who are activated largely by a dislike for the countryside and I am very much a supporter of the Conservative commitment that we should repeal it. We have huge problems which the police need to deal with and this investigation has revealed a total waste of police time.

“We really do need to live in a society where we live and let live and it is time that people learnt that this is a long-standing historic countryside sport which is a necessary part of keeping animals in reasonable numbers.

“A bit of tolerance would be a good thing in our society. People have become too intolerant of other peoples' views.”

Jill Grieve, of the Countryside Alliance, added: “Rural communities have been victimised, it was almost like minority-bashing with this Hunting Act which was a total farce from the start.

“I think the law is unclear and always has been. Rural police are under-resourced anyway and I imagine they feel that they have other priorities and this is a piece of legislation that they have been saddled with which is not working.

“If you are a farmer, with a fox problem, and somebody is nicking your tractor and you see the police running around after a hunt you will not be too happy with your local force.”

However, Lawrie Payne, of the League Against Cruel Sports, said the law was working and pressure would be eased on police if people stuck to it.

“It is not a bad law,” he said. “The law is good and it is the principle which says that taking pleasure out of chasing and terrorising animals is wrong. What is wrong is that people want to break this law to get their cruel pleasure.

“It is unfortunate that there is this cost involved but if people were willing to stick to the law, there would not be a need for the police to police hunts.”

A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: “Suffolk police monitors and polices hunting activity by providing a visible presence at hunts. We also aim to collate information on such activity, hunt spectators and any protest action. Any reports of offences are taken extremely seriously and the police will investigate such allegations. Whenever investigations establish sufficient evidence to support prosecution, it will be brought against those responsible.”

THE HUNTING BAN

- Suffolk Constabulary attends the Essex & Suffolk Hunt held on roughly 20 Saturdays per year, in which it is usual for 7 officers to be deployed. The duration of the hunt is eight hours and so police officers spend roughly 1120 hours per year policing it.

- However, there are many more hunts attended by police officers over the course of a year for which Suffolk police could not provide the information.

- The cost of policing all hunts in Suffolk since 2003/4, up to November this year, has been �105,194.

- Since the introduction of the Hunting Act in 2005, just two people have been arrested and charged in Suffolk for hunting a wild animal with a dog.

- There have been around 30-50 other people arrested or reported for offences, including public order offences and hare coursing. But these are not directly related to the hunts themselves and Suffolk police said it should not be presumed that these arrests where made under the Hunting Act.

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