Last Saturday afternoon, two members of League Against Cruel Sports' staff were brutally assaulted and robbed in an unprovoked attack while monitoring the Belvoir Hunt in Leicestershire.
Both of them were investigators looking into alleged illegal hunting activity, and had been assisting a TV journalist. They were attacked by six men, many of them in masks. They suffered serious injuries, one of them requiring a specialist ambulance and paramedic crew. He has since been diagnosed with having fractures to the vertebrae in his neck.
The cameras they were using to monitor the hunt were stolen. Two men have been arrested.
These investigators were the very same who had exposed the case of a fox being held captive on land hunted by the Belvoir Hunt in December. This incident was mentioned by the men on Saturday. Could this attack have been retaliation?
The League employs a number of former police officers and trained investigators to monitor Hunts and ensure they are complying with the provisions of the Hunting Act. Where there is evidence of illegal hunting, this is passed onto the police to assess if there is a case for a prosecution.
These investigations have played a critical role in helping ensure the Hunting Act is the most successful British wildlife protection legislation. It has both the highest number of convictions since it was introduced, and the highest conviction rate. Many of these are directly related to registered hunts and coursing clubs.
The Hunting Act is also arguably one of the most strongly supported of Britain's laws. A nation-wide opinion poll in December 2015 found a record 83% want it retained, with support for the Act continuing to increase across all groups, most notably among rural constituencies (where opposition to hunting is even greater than in urban areas) and Conservative voters (with 70% supporting the Hunting Act).
Much is made by the tiny but vocal hunting lobby of it being a British 'tradition'. Yet traditions change with the times, and an even greater and perennial British value is our love of wildlife and all animals. (By the way, regardless of what some may say, fox hunting has never been about 'pest control'. It's a bloodsport, pure and simple. If some foxes need to be controlled, there are far more effective and humane ways to do it.)
Going back to chasing and killing wild animals with packs of hounds for 'sport' is surely a step back into a dark and primitive past. Killing animals for entertainment has no place in Britain's present or future. Britain has moved on, but it appears the hunting lobby sadly hasn't done the same.
Another great British tradition is that of fairness. No-one is above the law in our country - not those who deliberately flout the Hunting Act, nor those who perpetrated this terrible and cowardly assault on our Investigators.
There has been a growing number of instances of harassment and violence directed towards wildlife crime investigators, ordinary members of the public, and the media. I very much hope that justice is done in this most recent case, and the Hunting lobby sees fit to act decisively against those behind these serious violent crimes.
Bullying and intimidation is not the British way - observance of the law is.
I wish our investigators a speedy recovery from their injuries (one of whom has seen fit to enquire of me if this might be a good time to ask for a raise). I know they will continue to do an excellent and much-needed job investigating wildlife crime and animal cruelty, helping to bring those who break the law to justice, and upholding perhaps the greatest British tradition of all - that of being a nation of animal-lovers.
Read full details of what happened when we monitored the Belvoir Hunt.Suggest a correction