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.
Trespass itself (being on land without permission) is a civil offence. The police have no power to act. A landowner or his agent may ask trepassers 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. The police are only likely to intervene in removing trespassers to prevent a breach of the peace.
Trespassers are not required to give their name and address to anyone. The police may only demand these details when a criminal offence has been committed.
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.
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.
The police have power to intervene if they believe a criminal offence is about to be committed.
Plan ahead and be prepared
It is essential that all shoots have a prepared plan for dealing with saboteurs or demonstrators. Everyone taking part in the day must understand what to do in the event of disruption. One person, the shoot captain or keeper, must take charge, make adequate preparations and take the key decisions if an incident occurs. In vulnerable areas, where saboteurs are known to be active, plans should be discussed with the police in advance.
Before the Shoot
In vulnerable areas, make contact with the local police. If appropriate, provide them with a list of shoot dates, a contact name and telephone number and indicate where shooting may take place.
Keep a record of key locations such as access and meeting points. Have the grid reference and/or directions to these recorded and readily available.
Avoid placing pegs and markers in advance in areas which may draw undue attention. Consider placing guns personally or setting out pegs for each drive. Decoy pegs might be placed in areas where shooting will NOT take place.
On the shoot day
Ensure there will be:
At least two individuals should have mobile phones together with the contact details for the local rural crime officer. 999 should be used if necessary.
The shoot captain or gamekeeper should have a camera or mobile phone capable of taking photo’s and a notebook & pen for recording evidence. Descriptions of individuals are particularly important. It may be necessary to identify an offender in court, when they are more smartly dressed, and link them to particular actions. Record details of any vehicles used.
Establish a set procedure for halting a drive. Make sure all the guns, beaters, pickers-up and others are briefed. All firearms must be immediately unloaded, placed in slips and kept secure on the person. They must never become involved in a dispute, nor fall into the hands of an unauthorised person.
Guns should congregate at a convenient spot, avoid confrontation and carefully record any provocative or illegal acts, no matter how minor. The demonstrators will be seeking to provoke reaction and retaliation. A calm, measured response is essential.
Ensure that all vehicles are left secure, with no firearms or ammunition at risk. Consider security for properties and equipment which may be isolated during the shoot, such as the ‘keepers house, rearing and release pens etc.
Take care of dogs. Put them on leads as soon as an incident seems likely occurs. Be aware that noxious sprays and chemicals have been used against foxhounds. Provocation may even extend to trying to aggravate the dog.
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.