Borders huntsmen convicted of breaching fox-hunting laws

Selkirk Sheriff Court.
Selkirk Sheriff Court.

Two Borders huntsmen have been convicted of breaching Scottish fox-hunting legislation in a landmark ruling at Selkirk Sheriff Court today.

Father and son John Clive Richardson, 67, and Johnny Riley, 24, are the first members of a mounted hunt to be successfully prosecuted since the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act was introduced 15 years ago.

The pair, both members of the Jedforest Hunt, based at abbotrule, near Bonchester Bridge, were secretly filmed by investigators from the League Against Cruel Sports.

Following eight days of evidence, sheriff Peter Paterson ruled that in two incidents Richardson and Riley were in breach of the 2002 act and found them guilty of deliberately hunting a fox with dogs.

Riley, in charge of the hunt at the time, was fined £400, and Richardson, described as having a lesser role, was fined £250.

Lawyers for both men indicated afterwards that they would be appealing against their convictions.

Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: “Today’s guilty verdict is the first successful prosecution for mounted fox-hunting in Scotland, and while we are delighted with the outcome, and our role in this, we remain of the view that the law needs strengthened.

“The Scottish Government has committed to consult on the hunt ban following a review by Lord Bonomy, who clearly stated there was evidence of lawbreaking by Scottish hunts.

“In finding Johnny Riley and Clive Richardson guilty, Sheriff Paterson has confirmed this to be the case.

“We look forward to working with the Scottish Government to strengthen the law and hope today sends a clear message to hunts that flouting the law will not be tolerated and those who continue to hunt illegally in Scotland will be brought to justice.”

Most of the evidence during the trial focused on a video showing 34 hounds from the Jedforest Hunt chasing a fox into a hole on farmland at Townfoothill, near Jedburgh, on February 16 last year.

After a terrier man spent 40 minutes digging at the hole, the fox then bolted and was again pursued by the dogs before disappearing out of sight of the footage into a gulley.

The defence claimed a waiting gunman shot and injured the fox after it had been flushed from cover by the hounds, which is permitted in law.

Witnesses for the crown said they saw no gunman and heard no shots when the fox was being pursued.

Sheriff Paterson accepted the evidence of the defence that there were two gunmen in place.

However, he ruled that in two incidents the huntsmen were still guilty of illegal hunting.

In his findings, Sheriff Paterson said: “As is well known, there are strongly-held views on the issue of hunting and the correct interpretation of the Protection of Wild Mammals(Scotland) Act 2002 and, indeed, there has been a view of the working of the act by Lord Bonomy.

“However, to be clear, this trial is not about any form of traditional fox-hunting.

“What it is about is whether is whether the hunt carried out pest control within the meaning of the act.

“Prosecutions under the act have been rare and, indeed, there is only one reported case on the workings of the act.”

Sheriff Paterson said that all the witnesses to a greater or lesser extent came across as having a view on the legislation.

He made the guilty ruling on the basis of two incidents captured on the video.

In the first incident, when the fox was pursued by the hounds and disappeared down a hole, he said that Riley had advised in his evidence that he could recall the hounds at any time as he had them under control.

The sheriff stated: “He allowed the hounds to take up the case and deliberately chose not to recall them. That being the case, in my opinion the charge is proven beyond reasonable doubt.”

In the second incident, when the fox hole is dug out, Sheriff Paterson said there was another breach of the legislation.

He said: “The fox’s hole is visible to the huntsman. When the fox emerges, the hounds are intentionally released by the huntsman.

“The fox is visible to the huntsman after it was released and, in my opinion, was not in cover when it emerged from the hole.

“Accordingly, in my opinion, this constitutes a breach of the act.”

The sheriff was also critical of the gunman’s position, saying he did not accept that the fox was shot as soon as possible.

Sheriff Paterson concluded: “In my opinion, this second incident amounted to a deliberate act to allow hounds to pursue the fox in breach of the legislation.

“In submissions, I heard no argument which could justify the immediate and deliberate release of the hounds when the fox emerged, other than it was immediately in cover, which, in my opinion, it was manifestly not.”

Richardson and Riley, both of Abbotrule, declined to comment afterwards.