A STAG hunt follower convicted of attacking an animal welfare officer at a meet on Exmoor was sentenced to nine months imprisonment suspended for two years earlier this week.
Countryside Alliance member Christopher Marles, 45, was also ordered to pay £2,500 compensation to victim Kevin Hill, a hunt monitor with the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
During a trial last month, Exeter Crown Court heard livestock farmer Marles from Farringdon near Exeter, Devon, repeatedly punched Mr Hill who suffered a bleeding face and black eye.
Sixteen stone Marles had pleaded not guilty to causing actual bodily harm to Mr Hill at the Devon & Somerset Staghounds Hunt on October 27 last year.
Judge Jeremy Griggs told Marles: ‘Those who are involved in hunting, and those involved in opposing it are expected to behave in a civil fashion. You did not. You used violence.’
The judge said Marles, who had been drinking, allowed himself to behave in a way outside his character and what he did was a ‘moment of stupidity.’
The judge said Mr Hill, who was filming at the hunt, was entitled to have a camera with him that day and to use it.
Defence counsel Richard Crabb said Marles had received a number of threatening and abusive phone calls which he reported to police. He said Marles was not an activist or a fanatic and got ‘carried away’. He said it was a one-off incident that was unlikely to be repeated.
Mr Hill's job was to film hunts to make sure they were complying with the law, and he was filming the meet with colleagues from the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare).
He told the court last month that Marles, an amateur whipper-in with the East Devon Hunt, tried to take Mr Hill's camera, so he crouched to protect it.
‘He started punching me,’ said Mr Hill. ‘On one occasion I saw his foot lift up. I am not sure whether he kneed me or kicked me, but it was a tremendous blow. I was very frightened.’
During the trial the jury saw a 17-minute video which showed Marles confronting Mr Hill.
After the case Mr Hill said the sentence was ‘sufficiently harsh’ to send a message to the hunting fraternity. They must allow IFAW to carry out their lawful activities, he added.
‘The assault was the worst I have suffered during my 20 years of monitoring,’ said Mr Hill.
‘Hunts claim to be obeying the law - if this is true then their supporters should have no objection to their activities being observed by hunt monitors.’
IFAW campaigns manager Josey Sharrad said she hoped the sentence would act as a deterrent to hunt supporters who were increasingly hostile towards their monitors.
‘Harassment and intimidating behaviour towards our monitors has increased a great deal in recent months, and hunts need to take more responsibility for the way their supporters treat hunt monitors.’
Tom Yandle, chairman of the Devon & Somerset Staghounds, said after the trial that the hunt did not condone any violence against hunt monitors. He added that Marles was not a member of the hunt.