Article by 3C and Herefordshire sabs
“When Quorn huntsman Ollie Finnegan put the pack into Carter’s Grove, sabs spent the next few hours trying to limit the chaos”.
When a member of Three Counties Sabs (3C) wrote a report on the evening of 7th January ’22 little did she know that eleven months later, on December 6th, Finnegan would admit guilt to a charge of illegal hunting. While members of 3C and Herefordshire Hunt Sabs had footage of hounds marking to ground, foxes fleeing Carter’s Grove, Finnegan directing the pack to foxes’ lines, hounds hunting areas they had no permission to be in, and several freshly blocked badger setts, proving that hunting is intentional has always been an obstacle in getting a case to court. And yet a conviction was secured, implicating the Ledbury Hunt alongside Finnegan.
26th December ’21: Herefordshire Sabs recorded Ledbury master David Redvers’ speech at the Boxing Day meet in Ledbury town centre. He claimed that since the Hunting Act, they “have been able to continue hunting by trail hunting”.
7th January ’22: We’d been given a heads-up that the Quorn were coming to Gloucestershire for a joint meet with the Ledbury, so we made a joint effort with Herefordshire Sabs to attend, intervening in the foxhunting we’d known would occur. When hounds marked to ground, sabs reported them to the police at the time, creating a vital chronology of activities, stating who the hunt staff were, and what was being witnessed. Members of Herefordshire Sabs stayed to ensure terriermen did not dig out the fox – we are ultimately there to help wildlife on the ground.
11th January: Back in Leicestershire, police received reports of suspicious activity at a Quorn meet, and an officer used his powers under the Hunting Act to search Finnegan, subsequently seizing his phone. Finnegan attempted to snatch it back. When later questioned about his actions in Gloucestershire, Finnegan initially told officers that he had not been present on the day in question, but a photo (taken by a Herefordshire sab) of him blowing his horn, on land owned by Redvers, disproved this; 3C also had footage which clearly showed his presence, and his actions.
Over the summer months a case was put together in a joint investigation by Leicestershire and Gloucestershire rural crime teams, evidence found on the phone adding the all-important “proof of intent” component to the evidence recorded by sabs on the day: “Only found a brace [two foxes]. First one by Redvers’ house, got headed about 20 times then it went to ground…”. Finnegan maintained his innocence.
6th December: Two sabs, one from each group, turned up as witnesses for Finnegan’s trial at Cheltenham Magistrate’s, other sabs present taking notes. Around 11am we heard Finnegan was due to change his plea to ‘guilty’, more evidence having been retrieved from his phone. Having admitted the offence, there was no need to go through the evidence, protecting other hunt staff and keeping the extent of offending out of public record, but examples of WhatsApp messages were read out in court by the CPS which showed a “pattern of offending over a period of time”.
“No wonder he tried to get [his phone] back”.
The only person to turn up in support of Finnegan was Julian Barnfield, ex-huntsman of the Heythrop Hunt, who currently works for the Hunting Office. This is apt as Julian was also made a scapegoat, almost exactly a decade ago, when the Heythrop were taken to court for hunting offences, some of the current members of 3C having worked with POWA and independent monitors to gather evidence against them.
7th December: Sabs in Cheshire (where Finnegan is now huntsman) report that he was out hunting, less than 24 hours after his conviction. “In any other industry an immediate suspension would have followed” stated the HSA in response to the news.
The Ledbury Hunt were quoted in the Hereford Times a week later, stating they had no knowledge of the investigation, and were “baffled” that illegal hunting had been taking place in their hunt country. Sabs, however, state that the meet was typical of a day out with them, the hunt often trespassing (even running through the centre of Upton on one occasion) and blocked setts being a key feature of many meets. 42 blocked setts were found around Ledbury meets in the 2021 – 2022 season alone, reported in the article ‘Hunts vs Badgers’. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, just the setts sabs know and check. 3C have plenty of experience of this hunt, several members of the core team having sabbed them for nearly a decade, one member attending meets for almost 30 years… Herefordshire have plenty of experience to draw from too, one sab having caught Ledbury terrierman Tom Stokes digging into a badger sett in 2019, sabs attending meets regularly over the past several seasons.
“Let’s not beat about the bush. Joint master David Redvers wilfully misled the people of Ledbury in the speech he made on Boxing Day by saying the Ledbury Hunt hunt trails. Less than two weeks later the huntsman of the most ‘prestigious’ hunt in the country would be blatantly hunting foxes not just in Ledbury country, but on Mr Redvers’ property”, state Herefordshire Sabs, also pointing out the numerous Ledbury Hunt staff and other members who were present at the joint meet, and who know fine well what foxhunting looks like. Finnegan, like Barnfield, is not a ‘bad apple’, it’s the barrel that’s rotten…
Our advice to others? Whatever you feel about the police, if you want to build cases against the hunt, or just a picture of a pattern of behaviour, report incidents even if you don’t think you have all of the evidence needed. Maybe what you have will back up a landowner complaining of hunt trespass, or will be added to with evidence submitted by others. The leaked webinars sowed some seeds of doubt in the fantasy of “trail hunting”. It might be worth a shot!