Trial of Borders huntsmen put on hold for two months

Jedburgh Sheriff Court.
Jedburgh Sheriff Court.

The latest trial of huntsmen accused of flouting Scotland’s fox-hunting laws has been adjourned for two months.

Buccleuch Hunt members Timothy Allen, 41, and Shaun Anderson, 28, are accused of deliberately hunting a fox with a pack of dogs at Whitton Farm, near Morebattle, on December 20 last year in breach of the 2002 Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act.

Allen and Anderson, both of Eildon, near Melrose, have pleaded not guilty to that charge.

Three days of evidence have already been heard at Jedburgh Sheriff Court, and on day three of the trial, police inspector Keith Warhurst, a firearms expert, offered his assessment of video evidence supplied by the League Against Cruel Sports.

He said he felt there was sufficient time after the fox shown in it was flushed from cover for the hunt to stop its hounds from pursuing it.

The law bans dogs from pursuing foxes in such situations, stipulating that they should be shot dead after being flushed from cover.

The trial has now been adjourned until Tuesday, December 4.

Another four days have been set aside to hear further evidence in the case.

The film footage screened in court features a fox being pursued by a pack of hounds before disappearing out of shot into a farmyard.

Terence Hill, an investigator for the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said he witnessed the hounds pursue the fox across a field at Whitton Farm in breach of the law.

Mr Hill, 52, told the court that his primary purpose for covert filming at hunts was to gather evidence for the league’s campaign to convince the Scottish Government to strengthen the legislation, but he added that if he witnessed any illegal activity he would also film it so it could be of assistance to any potential police inquiry.

During cross-examination of Mr Hill, defence lawyers pointed out that a horn could be heard on the video recalling the hounds and also a gunshot.

Giving evidence earlier in the trial, Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said he feels the current legislation needs tightening up, so he has hired a team of field workers to covertly film the country’s 10 regular hunts “to check their patterns of behaviour”.

Mr Marsland, 61, said he suspects that loopholes in the legislation are being exploited to allow traditional fox-hunting to take place, so he hopes to gather as much evidence as possible to convince the Scottish Government to strengthen the existing legislation.

He added that his investigators had attended around 20 hunts between last October and February, reporting incidents to the police on eight occasions.

Farmer Thomas Edgar, 49, confirmed he had been contacted by Allen about the Eildon-based hunt coming onto his land at Whitton Farm to carry out fox control.

Asked how many lambs he loses a year to foxes, he replied: “It won’t be less than 100 a year. Sometimes it is more than that. They are pretty persisent.

“There are financial implications, and it is pretty devastating for the sheep.”

The trial is the latest test of the act, recently subjected to a review by Lord Iain Bonomy.

Father and son John Clive Richardson, 68, and Johnny Riley, 25, became the first members of a mounted hunt to be successfully prosecuted under the act in June last year.

The Jed Forest Hunt members were filmed by investigators from the League Against Cruel Sports too.

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

Riley, in charge of the Abbotrule-based hunt at the time, was fined £400 at Selkirk Sheriff Court and Richardson, described as having a lesser role, was fined £250.

The current trial, again being heard by Mr Paterson, continues.