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New approach to policing hunts saves Suffolk thousands

Savings from a change in approach to policing of fox hunts could be invested in new drone technology, one force has revealed.

Suffolk Constabulary changed its approach to overseeing organised fox hunts during the last season and has saved more than £11,000 as a result.

The force has mirrored the public order tactics used for some football matches and responding only when there is a direct threat of confrontation. Instead of providing officers and focusing plans around a serious incident, the rural crime team has been responding to incidents if they happen.

Although hunting was banned in 2004, trail hunting with horses and hounds is allowed along a prescribed route. But a hunt must stop before a fox is chased and it is illegal for the pack to kill the animal.

Any hunt must also have the consent and support of the farmers and landowners over whose land they cross.

Despite claims that the legislation was unenforceable, since its introduction around 500 people have been charged by police across the country for contravening the Act.

Suffolk has been among the forces to take action. Last year two people were found guilty of offences after a fox was killed and a protestor was assaulted.

Suffolk has two established hunts both with long histories. The Suffolk Hunt, based in Great Whelnetham, dates back to 1745 and the Essex and Suffolk was founded by Sir William Rowley in 1791. Crowds of around 2,000 people attend the main events in their season.

Anti-hunt protestors are among them but they do not always turn up for every event.

Suffolk’s lead for rural crime, Sergeant Brian Calver, said: “There are some weekends that the sabs or monitors would target certain areas and may not come to Suffolk.

“So you end up with a lot of officers being deployed, quite expensively, when there is no issue for them to police. We don’t get any heads-up as to whether or not the saboteurs or monitors were going to arrive.”

The force has been able to reduce its costs of policing the events from £11,659 to just £292.68.

Sgt Calver explained how they did it: “In order to reduce costs, it was decided we’ll ensure that all frontline officers receive training in relation to what should be done in order for it to be treated like any other matter – looking at the threat, harm and risk – and it’s prioritised on that basis.”

The approach is similar to the changes made by police officers planning operations to cover football matches. Instead of large numbers of officers being deployed – which takes them away from neighbourhood policing and other priorities – officers engage with those involved early. Scaling up only occurs after an assessment that offending is likely.

Sgt Calver said: “It’s saved a vast amount of money and we did see a large reduction in calls last year. Any savings can be redeployed elsewhere. There’s many aspects of policing and we’ll look at where the funding needs to be put.”

The savings could be put towards buying a new drone or sharing additional time with another force.

The rural crime team was bolstered this summer with an extra officer and a new vehicle to transport a drone to rural areas.

But not everyone wants to see policing at hunting meets scaled down.

The League Against Cruel Sports claimed breaches of the legislation are commonplace and officers were needed to secure evidence for prosecution. It wants the current laws tightened.

Martin Sims, director of investigations at the League and a former head of the Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “Not only does there need to be greater investment in police training on all aspects of legislation that covers hunting-related issues, but also the police need to be assisted in their investigations by the Hunting Act being strengthened to remove the current exemptions and a recklessness clause being introduced.

“This will make it a more straight-forward piece of legislation and therefore easier for the police to investigate and the Crown Prosecution Service to take forward.”

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