Another Murderous Day

Saturday, February 9, 1991. Congregating from across the city at Liverpool’s railway station were Mike Hill, a likeable 18-year old lad, and other hunt sabs, all of whom had been there many times before. Sometimes they went on to have a good day out, sometimes not so. A good day wasn’t just about getting a group of good people together, locating a hunt meet and avoiding being beating up; it was about making sure the hunt didn’t kill. That was the whole point, but other concerns had sometimes adjusted priorities.

There’s no predicting it for sure, but it’s a safe bet that at most hunts, violence will be the order of the day. For some of the Cheshire Beagle followers, hitting people has been as important an activity as hunting hares and has proved a good substitute where no animals are available for persecution. As a rule (Health & Safety) this hunt is only approached with enough numbers to contain or deter them. There were only twenty saboteurs from Merseyside out today looking for the Beagles, mostly veterans from at least two hunt seasons who were up for a fight if it proved absolutely necessary. The primary concern, however, is always finding a way to use known skills to divert attention from the quarry and take the hunt dogs for an unplanned walk.

Mike Hill and a close friend had made their way into town from work at the Freshfields Animal Rescue Centre, where they gave their time over to mopping up the mess from the local community caused by the endless unchecked breeding of animals and the resulting unwanted individuals: neglected and cruelty cases for whom few others had the time. You could see in Mike’s face the hurt he felt at what he witnessed daily. He didn’t trash or steal things or get pissed. He was quiet, passionate and committed to making life better for the animals. He didn’t want to talk about it. He just wanted to do what he could. He was a good kid. As you may gather he’s no longer with us.

When they arrived at the Red Lion Pub at Little Budworth just before 1pm, the hunt were still there. An ugly crowd of supporters had also gathered, weighing up their enemy as they drove by in a small convoy of cars and the well-known Liverpool sab van. Their presence wasn’t so good for the sabs, but the two usually go together and it was better to know where they were, than not; sometimes they hide and set up ambushes.

Everyone in the convoy had hoped to see other sabs - it was a focus of some conversation on the way there - but the ring round the night before suggested they would be arriving later once they’d finished with another hunt out of the county. The one o’clock meets allow for the possibility of sabbing a foxhunt in the morning and finishing off with a hare hunt in the afternoon, which would be a double good day but could equally mean double trouble!

The reality was that there were no reinforcements on the way. One group had become bogged down with a hunt putting up foxes left, right and centre, and the only other group within travelling distance hadn’t even made it to their hunt because of van trouble. They van always seemed to break down on Saturdays, as a matter of course!

To avoid any early and unnecessary confrontation before the CB hunt started, sabs waited within sight of the huntsman, Alan Summersgill. He was the one on whom to focus, as he was the hunter; the rest of them just followed on. Basically, when the huntsman moves off, it’s time to switch on and lively up.

The box trailer on the back of the hunt pick-up truck was unlocked one minute before one o‘clock. A quick toot on the hunting horn and a flood of waggy, excited beagle dogs poured out and rushed like a river to their leader. They must feel like the Pied Piper to have such control. It was an impressive sight, but it was also a call to action, because it meant some wild animal could be about to die. All but the drivers, who kept the team mobile and ferried them to the heart of the action, were in the field and ready to go in a flash. It is always crucial not to allow a huntsman any ground on you, otherwise he might be able to lose himself for the day. The supporters are happy to miss the hunting fun and for the huntsman to be alone at the kill if they can ensure sabs have other things to deal with elsewhere. That’s how it was that day.

"The righteous one regards the life of his animal but the heart of the wicked is without mercy."
Proverbs 12:10 (Hebrew Scripture attributed to Solomon, c. 950 BC)
Almost immediately, sabs and supporters were within reach of each other. A young female from Toxteth was on her face, shoved violently in the back by a fat, ageing
red-faced lout who said he wanted her to “Get a job”. Eating dirt? If it had been any of his business and he’d bothered to ask, he would have discovered she actually
had a job, and quite a well paid one at that. Today was her day off, and she was out to save some lives. No point telling him any of that though, ’cos he wouldn’t have been interested (It’s the usual ‘lazy-lay-about-with-nothing-else-to-do’ remark they make, sidestepping the real issue that hunting wild animals is cruel and unnecessary. And of course if everyone did go get a Saturday job there would be no one to sab the hunts unless of course sabs are paid in which case they are working! Cake and eat it lard arse? And what is it you are doing with your spare time? Hunting the utterly placid harmless Brown Hare with a pack of dogs and a gang of grown men in britches. Hmm!).

Not all the followers were going to engage in attacking sabs. Some just weren’t up for it: they were either too young or old, but particularly reluctant when their numbers were divided as the day went on and the fit were separated from the not so fit (Oddly, some just don’t like the violence!). There were endless scuffles, but not quite enough to keep sabs at bay for long enough to work the scent and track down the hairy little blighter.

For two hours, the hunt was effectively sabotaged on the run with horn calls, voice calls and cracking whips, before the huntsman decided that if he was to get anything out of the day, he’d have to try something else. He called his pack to close quarters, and followers took to milling around waiting for something to happen. It looked like he was hoping the police would arrive and save the day but they were undermanned and slow off the mark with football matches tying them up. Instead, the huntsman decided to temporarily abandon hunting and arranged a rendezvous with the hound trailer three miles from the meet so that they could drive off to somewhere quiet to hunt.

It had worked before, but not this time. A few sabs were occupying the road in front of the getaway vehicle; it was obviously a dangerous place to be. The only safe place was out of the way but that would have been missing the point. Not only was it highly likely he’d run them over if they didn’t move, they were now sitting targets for tool-wielding hunters - defenceless, just the way hunt followers like their victims.

There wasn’t that much going on for a while, just the usual eyeballing, name-calling and threats. But once the pack was locked back in the trailer, it was time to shift up a gear. The obvious place to be was in path of the thing, but sure enough, Summersgill, who was at the wheel, was happy to drive at anyone whom his followers hadn’t been able to remove followers who were, incidentally, also in the way. Failing to find a gap to move off, he instead jumped out and let loose with a wheel brace, seemingly intent on cracking some skulls. That only delayed things further as more scuffles broke out, which, for a hunt sab is both very good and very bad! The light was now fading, and time to hunt was running out. Done wielding, the huntsman was back at the wheel and trying again, this time forging a way through the roadblock and making progress, but not before Mike Hill, David Blenkinsop and Pirrip Spencer had jumped on the back of the truck, because, they reasoned it isn’t so easy to be kicked and punched when you’re up high. And now he’d have to wait for the police because you can’t drive around with people on the back like that - it’s dangerous and illegal. Right?

Whether or not, Summersgill was in a blind rage, and, egged on by his co pilot they navigated the roadblock and took off at speed, wheels spinning, trailer weaving, leaving clouds of dust and everyone else behind. What would be the point of speeding away to free himself of saboteurs with three on board? However fast he went, they would still be there at the end, and then the hunters would be outnumbered! Unless he had other plans? For the next five miles, Summersgill motored at speeds of up to 80 mph, his truck flat out. Recklessly or deliberately he was trying to kill them. This was serious. Soon realising the danger they were in, “at the hands of a lunatic”, according to Blenkinsop, the three clung on for dear life as they tried everything to get him to stop, but they were futile gestures. It was bitterly cold and with their fear mounting that they were in danger of crashing, of being thrown off the back or being driven into an ambush, they knew they had to do something drastic; if he went far enough, they might even freeze to death! “He had something on his mind and it wasn’t in our interest to be a part of it,” Blenkinsop said later. They agreed the best thing they could do was to try to jump from the truck when it stopped at a junction or if it slowed at a bend. Bend! There was one coming up. Mike Hill was the bravest, or most fearful, and he went first. He jumped for the grass verge as they slowed but never made it. He hit the corner of the trailer and fell under the wheels, causing it and its cargo of dogs to bounce wildly over him and back onto the tarmac. The drive somehow kept it on the road, regained control and drove on.

He was well aware of what he’d done but it was only when the rear window of the pick-up was finally smashed a little further down the road that he stopped. He was scared himself now cos there was a fist threatening him if he didn’t. Mike’s friends ran back to where he was lying and the hunters sped off. Eighteen-year-old Mike Hill died where he lay.

Alan Summersgill was later arrested and spent a few hours in a police station before being released without charge. He wasn’t even done for dangerous driving or failing to stop at the scene of an accident! You try and get away so lightly after killing someone! His solicitor helpfully was a good friend and the chairman of the Cheshire Beagles’ neighbours, the Royal Rock Beagles. Under normal circumstances, when an incident has occurred - far less serious than the death of a teenager - the police, even if they don’t lay the appropriate charges straight away, will lay holding charges in the meantime. This keeps the accused in prison or on bail and deterred from committing further offences. Lesser charges are used to encourage guilty pleas. In a situation like this, one of leaving the scene of an accident would have been a godsend to most people, especially a hunt saboteur in the same boat who could quite rightly be charged with causing death by reckless driving, manslaughter or even murder. Odds on the latter if it had been Mike or one of the others at the steering wheel that day.

Staggeringly, there was no indication that anything close to justice would result and although these were very suspicious circumstances and a dead body, the police weren’t that motivated. One witness claimed she overheard a conversation in the police station later that night between two detectives, which suggested that Summersgill had been drinking and was over the limit, but would it have made any difference to anything if he was? These people are renowned for drinking heavily at hunt meets, before during and after. It seems unlikely it was going to matter what Summersgill had drunk because there was quite simply no political will to prosecute him for anything.

When sabs are assaulted on hunts, even within sight of police officers, the normal procedure is that nothing happens, and no one is arrested. This is such a regular occurrence that it’s hard to believe this isn’t agreed policy. Perversely, there have been thousands of sabs held in custody for the day or over the weekend for far less serious things, like turning up intent on sabotage, being beaten up or blowing a hunting horn. What about standing in a field, walking on a lane or climbing a gate, or perhaps because a hunt supporter demands it! I know lots of good people who have spent more time in police cells for each of the above than Summersgill has for killing an 18-year old.

Were it Summersgill lying dead, all those present would have without doubt been arrested, charged and remanded in custody pending a show trial. The press would have had a field day with the help of the politicians and police, exposing again the violence of ‘extremists’ and calling for more laws to ban something or other and prevent such a tragedy happening again. This isn’t an opinion based on rumour, hearsay, prejudice or anger; this is an opinion based on years of experience.

That hunt saboteurs had warned with every assault that this would happen sooner or later only added to the anger once the widespread shock had passed. Not only did cries for justice fall on deaf ears but also those who should have been listening expressed no remorse. With no action from the authorities, it was left to the rest of us to take some action of our own.



From Dusk 'til Dawn
An Insider's View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement

© Keith Mann