Attempts to make sure hunts are planned and conducted lawfully have been labelled a ‘ridiculous waste of money’ by pro-hunting campaigners.
The Countryside Alliance has accused David Keane, Cheshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), of having an ‘obsession with hunting’ and called on him to spend his force’s resources on tackling ‘real crime’ instead.
It comes after Mr Keane commissioned an independent review into fox hunting last year, which put forward 11 recommendations to improve the way hunts are policed in Cheshire.
Mr Keane put those recommendations to Cheshire’s new Chief Constable Darren Martland at a special meeting last Monday – and proposed that the force works with huntsmen, landowners and residents in future to draw up event plans which would help ensure hunts are conducted legally.
In a statement issued following the meeting, the Countryside Alliance said: “The Cheshire hunts operate entirely legally and have always cooperated with the police.
“They are not, however, going to be dragged into the ignorant and wasteful campaign which the PCC is pursuing.
“The PCC commissioned an expensive independent review of the policing of hunting, it made sensible recommendations, but those did not suit his political agenda so now he has made up some others.
“The real question Mr Keane should be asking is how he is going to justify the ridiculous waste of money and diversion of resources from real crime which is resulting from his obsession with hunting.”
The review’s 11 recommendations have been put together in an action plan, which Cheshire Police will carry out under the watchful eye of the PCC.
Mr Keane’s additional suggestion of an event plan – which could include details on the route, the scent laid out and landowners’ permissions – was welcomed by Chief Constable Martland and applauded by anti-hunt campaigners sat in the public gallery.
The PCC, who is also a Labour councillor in Warrington, told the meeting that the plan would help ‘ensure everybody is working within the law’ and maintain public safety.
In response to the Countryside Alliance’s statement, Mr Keane said he was ‘disappointed’ the group has not welcomed the work being done to push for cooperation on hunting.
“The policing of hunting in Cheshire is clearly an issue of significant public interest that needed to be investigated by an independent team,” he said.
“The review was commissioned following a tendering process to ensure the review provided value-for-money.
“It is a shame that the Countryside Alliance did not find the public scrutiny meeting into the policing of hunting as productive as other groups and residents that attended the meeting from both the pro and anti-hunt communities.
“The review set out 11 clear recommendations for the constabulary to implement to improve the way it polices hunts. These recommendations and questions submitted by members of the public formed the scrutiny at the meeting and informed the action plan for Cheshire Constabulary.
"I will monitor this plan to ensure the Constabulary is enforcing the law in relation illegal hunting.
“The action plan is intended to help all parties act within the law whilst participating in their activity, which will result in a more efficient and effective police service to deal with all crimes.
"I am disappointed that this hasn’t been welcomed by the Countryside Alliance.”
Cheshire Police received 200 reports of incidents in the 2018-19 hunt season – including 51 alleged criminal offences, compared to 19 in 2017-18.
Chief Constable Martland told last week’s meeting that police are investigating five alleged incidents of foxes being killed, with a file to be passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service in a single case.
The League Against Cruel Sports has welcomed Mr Keane’s efforts to push fox hunting up the police force’s agenda – and renewed its calls for the law to be tightened on hunting.
“We welcome the police paying more attention to fox hunting,” said Nick Weston, head of campaigns.
“The hunting ban needs to be strengthened. Prison sentences are needed to provide a proper deterrent.”
Mr Weston added that lawmakers must ‘remove the loopholes’ which prevent prosecutions being made under the Hunting Act 2004.
Both Mr Keane and Chief Constable Martland last week echoed concerns about the difficulty to prove intent to kill a fox when prosecuting, as is currently required under the legislation.