7th February – Court Report

Almost a year after he assaulted a 3C sab, Ledbury huntsman Mark Melladay finally had his day in court. On February 13th last year, during a children’s meet in Hartpury, Mark rode his horse at one of our sabs after we temporarily stopped hounds on the scent of a fox.

Initially the police decided to take no further action against him but, with much help from Outpaced, we pushed for a review and, just hours after his son Sam had laughed and commented that we had failed to get him into court, we heard that the case had been reopened. Despite some police from Gloucestershire and West Mercia actually doing their jobs properly, we have little faith in the legal system, so this was a victory in itself.

Mark was found ‘not guilty’ in Magistrates’ Court in Cheltenham and we believe that this is the fault of the CPS. While the assault was not a serious one, it was still an unjustified use of force, but (compared to the usual ‘playing it safe’ that the CPS chooses to do) he was charged with assault by battery which requires proof of actual physical contact between defendant and victim. While contact was certainly made, there wasn’t enough clear proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. We can live with that, the fact that the CPS aimed too high when they should have stuck with a simple common assault charge… these things happen.

What is starting to become very clear, however, is the fact that hunts are relying heavily on the fact that many police and CPS prosecutors and judges / Magistrates do not understand hunting, what it looks like, tactics used and so on. For argument’s sake, let’s say that the hunt were indeed following a trail and that sabs were disrupting this activity… Mark still would not be justified in behaving the way he did. Whether the hunt were following a false trail or a scent left by a real fox is irrelevant to whether he is guilty of the offence. However, while we were not supposed to talk in court about what the hunt were up to, outside of the events surrounding the assault, he was allowed to speak about how his hunt is ‘harassed’ by masked hunt saboteurs and disrupted from following the false trails laid everytime that they go out. With the prosecution giving their arguments first, the defence following with theirs, his solicitor decided that the court should hear some of the context surrounding the incident. Very one-sided. Despite the fact that this ‘context’ should not have affected the decision of the court regarding the assault, it’s very one rule for us, another for him!

He was originally believed when he said that we were holloa’ing and causing the hounds to run off dangerously down a road, despite video evidence showing that this was not the case, purely because police do not understand ‘rating’ and the use of whips. It would seem that whatever he says, in his original statements and in court, out-trumps any footage supplied.

In court he was left unchallenged, again because of authorities not knowing how hunts work, when he said that whips frighten hounds and cause them to run away and that the use of whips is very unprofessional as the whips are only carried as a ‘ceremonial’ object. We suggest hunts across the country save money by not employing whippers-in then, whose job it is to control hounds largely through the use of whips… Despite the fact that none of this would change the fact that the court did not deem there to be enough evidence of battery, it would have undermined the court’s idea that Mark was a credible witness. Additionally, being adamant that he did not threaten to rip anyone’s head off…

We have had a good laugh about a number of things since (you have to laugh sometimes) and were shocked by other statements made, including, but not limited to:

– Mark suggesting that it was “probably the next witness” in court (Peter Cooksey) who had been the one threatening to rip our heads off (Cooksey does not recall saying such things)

– Mark telling the court that the hunt only carry whips as a ‘ceremonial’ thing and do not use them as they are unprofessional to use and scare the hounds

– Mark saying that the hounds have no road sense at all, the video then showing that hounds went on to the road with no hunt support / staff present to slow traffic or ensure their safety, apparently following a trail laid (irresponsibly so then…)

– Mark saying that “a man” (who must have been Peter Cooksey) was parked up in order to warn traffic that hounds were coming… then Cooksey stated that he did not know where hounds would be coming through or where they would go once on the road, that he had only been on the road for about a minute and probably would not have left his vehicle if he had not seen us… doing a wonderful job of warning traffic about the hounds’ pending arrival then!

– Both Cooksey and Mark saying that the hounds were heading for a particular place in the opposite hedge that is safe for them to cross and go through from the road (presumably a large gap if the entire pack are expected to get off the road quickly) and that that is where the trail was laid… then Mark saying he only had a vague idea where the trail was laid and Cooksey saying he had no idea where it was laid

– Mark stating that horses are not allowed in that field, so he would have gone in on foot (as he did so so in the video). So, if the hounds had gone in before he reached the road, he would be on foot and behind an uncontrolled pack of hounds…?

– Mark suggesting that the sab purposefully walked into the hedge in front of him as she knew (presumably psychicly) that he intended to go to that point in the hedge, but also stated that “she’s known for stumbling” and that is why she ended up in it!

– The reason given for Mark riding towards the hedge is that he had to get the horse to face towards the gap which the hounds were supposed to use as what is known as the ‘Golden Thread’ means that hounds will go in the direction the horse is facing… It’s the first we’ve heard ‘the Golden Thread’ being defined in that way…!

– Cooksey being adamant that, despite only being asked last week to recall the events of last February 13th, he can “remember exactly what [he] saw”… the next question asked of him was answered with a silence that lasted almost 20 seconds, followed by the question being rephrased and being answered with the words “I’m fairly sure…”

– The defence solicitor’s idea that Mark was only concerned about getting the hounds off the road… which he should have thought about before having a trail laid across it and he probably should have ensured that he or another member of hunt staff (like the presumably soon-to-be-sacked ‘ceremonial’ whipper-in) was on the road before the hounds got there

All in all, an EXTREMELY informative and interesting day in court. A little worrying how much Mark and Cooksey can get away with saying things like ‘hounds were running off down the road’, accusing us of spraying citronella and pushing the horse around and refusing to accept that either said anything about ripping our heads off when the video footage clearly shows a different scene, but we expect little more from the legal system. In addition, we understand courts taking into account if someone has not committed previous offences when they are found guilty of their first… Being of previous good character should be taken into account. But not when deciding how credible a witness is. Every criminal was ‘of good character’ up until a point in their lives, everyone starts somewhere!

We’ll keep you all updated on future developments. See you in the fields!

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