The recent brutal attack on two League Against Cruel Sports investigators shocked many people. Six men were involved in setting upon Darryl and Roger, punching and kicking, pushing them down a 14 foot ledge then continuing the attack. Both were badly hurt, Darryl has fractured vertebrae in his neck and will be wearing a neck brace for some time.
Condemnation has been widespread. Conservative MP Kevin Foster: "This was an unprovoked and extremely violent attack, on a public bridleway, which is utterly shocking and should be condemned by all. No-one is above the law in this country, so stories of people being attacked, threatened or intimidated whilst they are lawfully observing hunts are very disturbing."
We've heard nothing from the hunt themselves, or the Countryside Alliance, by the way.
We were also taken aback a little by the police describing Darryl's broken neck as a 'minor injury', and upset by flippant comments made by police while he was waiting to be airlifted to hospital.
There have also been comments on the story to the effect that 'this was probably a set up to make the hunt look bad'. Yes, we arranged for our own staff to be violently attacked just so we could get a bit of publicity about it.
Ridiculous as that sounds to any sane person, it gives us a clue to a mentality that lies behind this. The people who make those claims are either saying it as an attempt to put doubts in people's minds about the reality of what happened; or they actually believe it. Both could be true.
On the evening before the attack, the BBC showed Part Two of Land of Hope and Glory, a programme looking at rural people, filmed by Country Life magazine. A big part of the programme featured a hunt in Surrey, and you couldn't help but feel empathy with the huntsman, a decent guy who clearly yearns for the days when hunting was legal. Many would have come away from that programme thinking that hunting perhaps isn't such a bad thing - and that of course was the purpose of the programme.
It was admitted during the programme that a senior Country Life editor rides with a hunt, and barely more than a second was given to mentioning that some people are opposed to hunting, or find it cruel. Actually, more than 8 out of ten people in this country are opposed to hunting and find it cruel, so this lack of balance in the programme was actually quite shocking. Come on BBC - what was going on here?
But this celebration of hunts and 'tradition' is fairly common, particularly in some media. So maybe it's not surprising that some people are confused. How does the gentile, civilised activity portrayed here have any connection with the thuggery shown during the attack? Surely it doesn't add up?
We then come to the people who monitor hunts. The League has a team of monitors made up of ex-police officers and trained investigators who follow hunts to make sure they are not killing foxes or other animals illegally. Our policy is not to engage with the hunts at all.
There are also hunt 'sabs' who in some cases will deliberately try to save the animals or send the hounds in the wrong direction. Monitors and 'sabs' alike are often portrayed together in the media as 'masked thugs' who attack hunt supporters, so again the portrayal is of the hunts innocently going about their business while crazy 'animal rights' activists violently disrupt them.
The truth is very different. If the hunts weren't actually hunting and killing foxes (also deer, and hares) - ie, they were behaving legally - then the monitors and sabs would have no reason to be there. These are not people 'looking for trouble'; they are animal lovers who abhor the violence inflicted on animals and just want the law to be followed.
All too often though we hear that if the police are present, they spend their time watching the sabs - but ignoring the illegal hunting activity on display. This very thing was reported widely in Scotland recently - because the police happened to pick on journalists for the Sunday Herald who were investigating illegal hunting.
Over the same weekend that our investigators were attacked, we heard other reports. Someone reported that her dog was run over and killed by hunt vehicles who continued without stopping - the vehicles were from the same hunt that our investigators were investigating - the Belvoir. In Essex, hunt hounds chased a fox into a stable yard, killed a fox and the stable cat. Another hunt was reported to have killed a fox, and footage also appeared of a tractor ramming a vehicle containing hunt sabs off the road.
We were also contacted by a member of the public who told us that the week before the attack, he was confronted by hunt supporters on horses after he saw them chasing a fox. "They were really aggressive and started asking who I was," he told us. "When I got up to leave he used his horse to push me over. Luckily I know martial arts so I knew I could defend myself, but if I'd been an ordinary member of the public I'd have been terrified."
This all happened within one week, and sadly, is not unusual. We get calls like this to our Animal Crimewatch line all the time - and often the callers, including the man above, add 'but I can't identify myself because the hunt are really influential around here and my business will suffer'. What does this tell us? It tells us that, in some cases at least, hunts are breaking the law, they use intimidation and influence to keep their misdemeanours quiet, and they are not averse to using violence.
This is not just us saying this. Bill Oddie: "This kind of appalling behaviour is happening all too often, and I've seen it with both legal and illegal hunting. People are sometimes fed a negative image of those who are against hunting. The reality as has been shown again here is it is that it is the hunting fraternity that is solely responsible for this kind of downright thuggery. My heart goes out to the League's brave wildlife crime investigators who were just doing their jobs peacefully to uphold the law."
Violence on any side of this fence must be condemned. But don't be fooled into thinking this is an equal battle. If a passer by saw a crime being committed in the street, stepped in to help and got beaten up by the criminals, no-one would be rushing to the defence of the criminals. In the countryside though, that's what's happening.
This situation needs to stop now. The police need to come down hard on illegal hunting, so that members of the public don't need to get involved. Because otherwise someone is going to get killed.
The story doesn't stop here. We have also just been alerted to a gruesome find: a pregnant vixen had been killed, cut in half, and her unborn cubs left beside her. Sickening doesn't even begin to describe this. And where was she found? Just a few hundred yards from Darryl's home. This was a message - to us, to our Investigators, and to anyone who dares interfere with the activity of the hunt.
We also have recently discovered 'tracker' devices on the vehicles of two of our Investigators down in the West Country. These devices will tell whoever put them there exactly where the cars are at any point. You don't have to be Einstein to work out who put them there, although there are something like 40 hunts in the area so finding the exact culprit might be hard. We have alerted the police and they are investigating.
If it's not clear from all this, I'll spell it out. Hunts around the country are still chasing and killing foxes, and they don't care that it's illegal. If anyone, such as the League Against Cruel Sports or hunt sabs, get too close, we will be attacked - through media slurs and scare stories, and through physical violence. If we dare to interfere, we will be harangued, tracked and abused.
But we represent the vast majority of the British public who abhor the killing of animals for 'sport'. People should realise that if they support fox hunting, then they support the violence and gut-wrenching horror described above, and that they are going against the will of the public. And we need police authorities, in some cases, to start taking all this more seriously.
Read more about the attacks on League Against Cruel Sports Investigators in my previous Huffington Post blog, Brutal Attack on Fox Hunt Investigators