Disruption of shoots
Code of Practice
Shooting, properly carried out, is a lawful activity
On private land it is a criminal offence (aggravated trespass) to obstruct or disrupt anyone pursuing a lawful activity. It is also an offence to intimidate someone so as to deter them from taking part in that activity. Blocking an access road, walking in front of the Guns, threatening or attacking the Guns can all be criminal offences.
The police have the power, in most circumstances, to arrest anyone committing a criminal offence.
Currently, trespass (being on land without permission) is a civil offence.
However, the police have no power to act. A landowner or his agent may ask the trespasser to leave and subsequently may use “reasonable force” to remove them.
“Reasonable force” can be interpreted in many ways by the courts, and the use of force could leave you open to prosecution. We do not recommend using any force to remove trespassers.
A court injunction can be obtained against possible repeat offenders. Someone who contravenes an injunction can be held in contempt of court.
In Scotland, legislation relating to trespass is more complicated and it is sometimes argued that the offence does not exist. However, anyone causing actual damage or disruption may be requested to leave. There is also recourse to an interdict, similar to an injunction, to guard against repeat offences.
Public rights of way
A public right of way (such as a footpath) exists only to allow the passage from A to B. It does not give the right to demonstrate or indulge in any other activity. This has been upheld in court.
This falls into two types. It is a criminal offence to destroy or damage property belonging to another without authority or permission. (simple criminal damage) It becomes aggravated criminal damage if there is an intention or a possibility that the damage could endanger life. These offences could apply to damage to snares, traps, release pens or any other shoot equipment.
A common assault can be defined as a threat or offer to commit violence against an individual. More serious offences, such as actual bodily harm up to attempted murder, are committed when injuries are sustained.
Shoot day disruption
Sadly, there is increasing incidence of shoots being disrupted by hunt saboteurs or animal rights activists/protesters.
Many of these are opportune for the protesters as they come across the shoot while looking for a hunt. Shoots can be targeted specifically such as seen on grouse moors recently or where there are high profile members of the shoot.
They seldom work alone and usually turn up in a mob to maximise the effect of intimidation, shouting, wearing balaclavas, whistles, etc.
If you are unlucky enough to meet with one of these groups, here is some advice of how to deal with the incident.
- All shoots should give a briefing to the Guns and beaters/pickers up on what to do at the start of any shoot day. Try to start the day in a location away from public gaze.
- Make sure all vehicles are locked and secure. Do not leave items like letters with your address on display. Do not leave dogs in vehicles.
- If possible have somebody stay with the vehicles.
- At the first sign of a problem all members should be told to unload and slip their guns.
- The police should be called on 999. Tell the operator, “there are people on the land disrupting a legal activity. They are committing aggravated trespass and you are being intimidated.” Give your location precisely, there are apps that help with this. (What3Words)
- All the Guns, beaters and pickers up should stay together in a group and move to a safe location if possible.
- DO NOT engage with the protesters. They are trying to make you react and will film everything.
- DO NOT react to taunts and abuse, it is what they want.
- The keeper or shoot captain should be the only one to speak with them but they should never do this alone and must not be carrying a firearm. Tell them they are committing aggravated trespass and to leave the land immediately and that the police have been notified. Inform them that they are being visually recorded. Do not engage with them further.
- Other than asking them to leave there is no point in engaging with them as this could lead to an argument with you being seen as the aggressor.
- Use your mobile phone to record what is happening as the protesters usually only show edited footage. (Do not, however, push your phone into the faces of protesters as this could be seen as being aggressive).
- On the issue of recording protesters, there are now apps that can be downloaded which, when activated, record vision and sound before instantly uploading footage. As has been stated, if an incident does occur, full footage is available for police to investigate instead of the edited footage from the protesters. When filming the protesters, make sure you get the best possible images from head to foot, (we cannot stress this enough). Although they will try to dress identically there will be differences in styles of dress and footwear that will identify them to the police if arrests are made.
- Follow the direction of the keeper/shoot captain on were to go. DO NOT wander off alone.
- Keep all dogs on leads. They have been known to intimidate dogs to obtain a reaction from the owner.
- If arrests are made, you may be required to give police a statement of evidence.
- Remember, you are carrying out a legal activity and are in the right. DO NOT give the protesters any reason to get the upper hand.
- All shoots should include an action plan in their risk assessment for dealing with this type of incident. BASC can help with this.
- Aggravated trespass is a criminal offence. It can take place on a public footpath or bridleway but NOT on a public road. The act of trespass is a civil matter. There needs to be a further act such as intimidation for the offence to be complete. The further act can be blowing whistles, waving flags and shouting abuse etc, which is designed to deter, disrupt or obstruct the legal activity.
- Be aware of any suspicious activity in days before your shoot, people watching with binoculars or even drones flying over. Get to know your local rural crime team and keep them updated on all suspicious activity.
- Finally, STAY SAFE. Do not get into arguments and DO NOT try to remove demonstrators yourself.
Remember, it’s your word against theirs
The shooter has a lot to lose if taken to court. The saboteur often has nothing to lose. Many make a career out of protest and actively seek to be arrested. Through experience they know how to exploit the legal system and will try to make the shoot members commit an offence.
Be aware that they may be filming you, and may spit, swear and use any form of provocation in order to provoke a violent response. If this happens, they have won.
When making notes, difficult as it may be in the heat of the moment, look for details which will identify a demonstrator when the balaclava is replaced by a smart suit in court. Record details of the actions of individuals rather than groups, and make notes of the effects of those actions on those around you. Record a date and times where possible. This information will be invaluable in court.
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