fox hunt video was hoax aimed at the media, say film-makers. Chris Atkins
and Johnny Howorth, the team behind Starsuckers, say film was satirical
swipe at press coverage of fox attacks.
the internet video that sparked a media outcry: grainy footage that seemed
to show four masked men drugging a fox and later beating it to death with
cricket bats in a London park that was posted on YouTube and Facebook earlier
this week. But the Guardian can reveal that the new sport of "urban
fox hunting" was an elaborate hoax. The film-makers, Chris Atkins and
Johnny Howorth, said no real foxes were harmed in the film, which was intended
as a satirical swipe at what they believe is media hysteria over the danger
of urban foxes.
rights campaigners had expressed fury over the "bloodthirsty"
huntsmen, eliciting the support of MPs on Twitter and prompting an inquiry
by the Metropolitan police's wildlife crime unit. Youtube and Facebook swiftly
removed the footage from their sites, and the controversy was covered in
a number of news outlets including the Guardian, the Daily Mirror, the Times,
Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, and London Evening Standard. The BBC was also
duped, sending a television reporter to Victoria Park, in Hackney, to produce
a package from the supposed scene of the crime. Amid a growing furore, the
animal welfare group League Against Cruel Sports launched a campaign against
urban foxhunting, while the RSPCA said it was investigating the footage.
London Evening Standard, columnist Sebastian Shakespeare went so far as
to celebrate urban fox hunting as the first and best example of David Cameron's
"big society" in action. In fact, the dead animal shown in the
footage was played by a stuffed fox, the film-makers told the Guardian,
while shots of what looked like a live fox were images of a pet dog, Monty,
with a bushy tail taped to its hind. The pair said they made their film
"deliberately Pythonesque" in a bid to lampoon the media hysteria
over urban foxes, and were surprised when the video was so widely assumed
to be authentic. But tonight, Atkins and Howorth conceded their stunt had
got out of hand. Reports of urban fox hunting in London had spread to India
and the Netherlands, while in Hackney, leaflets were being handed around
east London seeking to identify the supposed huntsman. John Bryant, who
offers a "human deterrence" service for wild animals, announced
he would offer a £1,000 reward for anyone who identified the "monsters".
bounty was matched within hours by the Fox Project, a sanctuary in Kent.
Online, more extremist elements were posting death threats against the makers
of the video. Atkins, 34, and Howorth, 27, both from east London, said they
meant no harm by the stunt. Both said they were staunchly against fox-hunting.
Atkins said he attended hunt saboteur events in his teens, and hoped public
revulsion over the notion of urban fox-baiting would discourage the coalition
government from repealing the hunting ban. "The film shows what actually
happens when foxes are hunted, in contrast to the romanticised image of
sprightly gents on horseback carrying out a noble tradition," he said.
the footage included shots of real foxes eating dog food and, separately,
men lacing dog food with the sedative Xanax, the poisoined bait was not
fed to any live animals, they said. "We are very sorry for troubling
the RSPCA, the police and well-meaning animal lovers, but hope they understand
that this was done to illustrate the idiotic nature of reporting on foxes,
and remind the public how sick and cruel fox hunting really is," they
said. Concern over fox attacks soared in June, when two baby twins were
attacked by a suspected fox near to Victoria Park. Nine-month-old Isabella
and Lola Koupparis suffered serious injuries during the attack, and the
case was covered extensively in the media. But some criticised sensationalist
reporting, which culminated in a one-hour special BBC documentary entitled
"The Fox Attack Twins". Experts say fox attacks on humans are
exceptionally rare, but the tragic attack on the twins sparked an avalanche
of scare stories about urban foxes.
newspaper reported last week that an urban fox had launched an "audacious
raid" on the home of Dudley Thomas, a retired judge from Bristol, mauling
his shoe. "We wanted to create something that would be so ridiculous
that in any other area it would be immediately dismissed as a spoof, but
that news outlets desperate to continue the media narrative against foxes
would leap on without any thought as to its authenticity," said Atkins.
director, Atkins last year released Starsuckers, a feature-length documentary
critiquing the media in which he planted a number of fake stories about
celebrities in the tabloid newspapers. His latest ruse was hatched amid
the furore over urban foxes in July. After filming the video over two nights
last month, Atkins and Howorth set-up a fake online blog, Urban Foxhunters,
and describing themselves as "a collective from Victoria Park who hate
foxes". Using the online moniker Lone Horseman, Atkins railed against
urban foxes and, once the footage had received notoriety, gloated about
their extensive media coverage. The comments, he said, were deliberately
inane. "I haven't laughed so much since my brother fell off that roof,"
said one post. "We will not be intimidated by the crazies," he
wrote in another. "We are performing a public service which is a bit
unpleasant but it has to be done to keep our streets safe. I have kids and
I don't want them being bitten by a diseased vermin scum, what's wrong with