A recent article from The Canary revealed that an official government counter-terror document lists the Hunt Saboteurs Association as domestic extremists. The fact that a non-violent organistion who are opposed to wildlife cruelty are listed as domestic extremists tells you that this is nothing more than political policing. However it goes some way to explaining the police response to fox hunting across the country. Not only are investigations into fox hunting not taken seriously and frequently dropped it is the hunt saboteurs not the fox hunters who are treated like the criminals by the police.

Each police force will have it’s own policy on hunting. Operation Blackthorn is a regional hunting operation for  Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and led by Leicestershire Police. From our experiences on the ground it’s obvious that Blackthorn is heavily influenced by this counter-terror document.

Prior to 2016 Blackthorn came under Special Branch and the Territorial Support Team where the approach to policing hunts in our experience would be to actively stop saboteurs getting near to hunts and generally slowing down and restricting saboteurs as much as they could whilst letting the fox hunts carry on hunting foxes unimpeded. This blatant and overt support for the fox hunts often meant several riot vans full of police went out, police helicopters put up and plain clothes officers mingled with the hunt supporters. Police would often misuse legislation in an attempt to stop saboteurs protecting foxes as happened at the Quron Hunt in 2014. Leicestershire Police deliberately misused Section 60 legislation (used for football matches) to stop and search a group of saboteurs. One of our saboteurs refused and challenged their use of these powers. After being arrested, charged and then found not guilty she eventually sued Leicestershire Police putting a stop to them misusing this kind of legislation.

From 2016 Leicestershire Police changed their approach with Blackthorn realising that overtly supporting fox hunts did not go down well with the public they decided publicly at least to take a more balanced approach. This is how Northamptonshire Police describe Operation Blackthorn

“Operation Blackthorn is a regional approach for the policing response to hunting within Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. The purpose of the operation is to promote engagement with both hunt saboteurs and hunt members with a purpose of developing relationships between the police, the hunting community and the hunt saboteurs. It is recognised that the majority of individuals present at the Hunt, either for or against it, are law-abiding citizens with legitimate concerns. Where there is any likelihood of demonstrations, incidents, or crimes these will be identified as early as possible to ensure the correct operational, investigative and intelligence response”

However in our experience the core aims of Blackthorn remain the same, now instead of stopping saboteurs out in the fields it is done behind the scenes with cases against fox hunts being dropped with evidence not handed over to the CPS on time whilst cases against saboteurs where there is no actual evidence are taken all the way to court.

We believe that Operation Blackthorn is an ongoing campaign to actively disrupt and frustrate investigations into fox hunting whilst also aiming to discredit and ultimately dismantle saboteur groups

Operation Blackthorn Timeline

Hunt saboteur found not guilty of public order offenses  

Leicestershire Police wildlife officer retweets in support of repealing the Hunting Act