(Updated 30/01/01)

Hunt ban policing fears

FEARS HAVE been expressed that over-stretched rural police forces will be swamped with an impossible new burden if foxhunting is banned by Parliament this week.

The battle to curb crime - including burglaries, mugging and other serious offences - could be further eroded if scarce resources are diverted into policing a ban on any form of hunting with dogs, according to pro-hunting countryside campaigners early this week.

Senior Government Ministers - including Home Secretary Jack Straw - have already expressed their growing concern at the time and effort being devoted to the hunting issue, whilst education and health services are in serious need of attention. Many perceive the Government’s anti-hunting Bill as a stunt by Prime Minister Tony Blair to appease the anti-hunting lobby.

MPs were due to vote on the issue on Wednesday of this week, choosing out of three options on whether to ban the sport outright, allow for self-regulation or allow a ‘middle way’ licensing scheme for registered hunts. At time of writing, it was expected that they would vote overwhelmingly on an outright ban on hunting in England and Wales, after which the Bill will move to Committee stage and then to the House of Lords. However, it is widely expected that the legislation will be delayed in the Lords and then lost when a General Election is called in May.

Anti-hunting campaigners are confident that even if the legislation is lost, it is only a matter of time before hunting is banned. Meanwhile, countryside campaigners warned that rural crime rates could soar as hard pressed police forces were landed with the task of policing a ban, with no promise of extra resources to be able to stop hunts.

Real concern has been expressed that the Bill is so vaguely drafted that people out walking their dogs could have their dogs seized if they run off after a fox or hare. Thus far, assurances by Ministers that such a scenario would not arise have done little to allay such fears.

Campaign for Hunting organiser Simon Hart said that rural police force could be inundated with calls from members of the public claiming to witnessed a crime.

Conservative Home Affairs spokesman David Liddington said a ban on hunting would impose a “huge burden” on police forces covering rural areas.

The response from Ministers is that the cost to the police would be ‘neutralised’ because the ban would end the need to control hunt saboteurs.

* There is still no trace of the 47 Beagles stolen by members of the Animal Liberation Front from the Wye College Beagles Hunt pack last week. The ALF raised the hunt’s kennels in Wye, Kent during the early hours and later admitted the theft and tried to claim that the Beagles would be placed in “safe, loving homes.”
In reality, however, the hounds are far from likely to settle down in domestic homes, being used to a diet of raw meat, lots of exercise and being homed in a pack in kennels.

“We’re getting increasingly worried for the dogs’ welfare,” said Frank Middleton, Joint Master of the Wye College Hunt. “These dogs need exercise, the right food and the right environment to be happy and healthy. I can’t see that they are being given that wherever they have been taken.”
All of the stolen dogs have a tattoo in each ear, one side has the initials “WCB” and the other ear bears the hounds’ stud book number.

Anyone with any information pertaining to the theft of the hounds should contact Frank Middleton, joint master of the Wye College Beagles on: 01622 890275


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