Shot Across The Bows


Shoots may soon be in the sights of hunt saboteurs exploiting health and safety rules to disrupt the activity

That is the fear of pro-field sports campaigners after seven saboteurs were cleared by a court of disrupting a shoot.

The activists put themselves between the guns and the birds at an organised shoot in November 2006, and were arrested and prosecuted for disrupting a legal activity under the laws governing aggravated trespass. But they were cleared on a technicality because the shoot, near Brindle in Lancashire, did not have a health and safety policy and had not undertaken suitable risk assessments.

All shoots that employ more than five beaters, paid or volunteer, have to ensure they have a robust health and safety policy, and the judge in the Brindle case ruled that because they did not, the saboteurs could not be prosecuted for disrupting a lawful activity. An increasing number of animal rights activists are turning their attention to shooting as the ban on fox hunting enters its third year.

The League Against Cruel Sports has already launched a fierce campaign, A Bloody Business, against the big business side of game shooting, and saboteurs who previously had targeted hunting are now increasingly looking at disrupting shoots.

Shoot captain Peter Worden said: "The saboteurs trespassed across fields where there were no footpaths and lined up in front of the guns, shouting at us, waving their arms and taking photographs. "Before the season, we had called a meeting to discuss what we would do in the event of protestors coming, as a neighbouring estate had been experiencing numerous problems with such attacks. On the day, the whistle was blown and the police called. All seven saboteurs were arrested." But the sight of the saboteurs walking free from court prompted the Countryside Alliance to issue a warning to all shoots.

Apart from Scotland, shooting is most popular in the West, with millions of pounds generated from large country estate shoots.

Alliance chief executive Simon Hart said: "We cannot agree with this judgment. It is a bitter pill for everyone who enjoys country sports and who wants nothing more than to continue their lawful business free from harassment.

"The judgment did seem to contradict a legal precedent, established in the case where trespassers at the Newbury bypass development tried, and failed, to argue that the developers contravened Health and Safety legislation by not wearing gloves to fell trees.

"The Brindle case itself does not set a precedent, but the Newbury case should have been taken into account by the court. The Brindle judgment leaves a sour taste that these shoot saboteurs were not fully brought to book for their actions. Whatever the outcome of this case, all shoots should have their health and
safety policies in order. The Countryside Alliance has developed a guideline to risk assessment on shoots to help avoid legal pitfalls.

"A risk assessment of the shoot is in line with the code of good shooting practice and the game shoot standard assurance scheme and we would encourage every shoot to read the advice and ensure they are covered."


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

© Keith Mann