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Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Hunt sabbing: 'Saving foxes'
Violence can occur during confrontations
For the past three decades, animal rights activists have been involved in sabotage of the hunt. BBC News Online's Liz Doig talks "tactics" with hunt sabs.

Recounting his first "sab" at the age of 18, Neil McIvor says he was run over by a Land Rover, saw a friend injured by a member of the hunt, and witnessed the killing of a fox.

That first encounter was to shape the rest of his life, and 16 years of sabotage down the line, he remains determined to fight for foxes.

Neil mcivor
Saboteurs try to confuse the hounds
During the week, Mr McIvor - now in his mid-thirties - holds a responsible post in local government. In his spare time he says he is prepared to risk injury and arrest to defend "sentient creatures who cannot speak out for themselves".

Sabotage of the hunt has been going on for about 30 years. Talking in his south London flat, Mr McIvor says that in the early days of hunt sabbing, tactics were confined to running around fields with banners and placards.

But methods of putting space between the fox and the hounds have been more finely honed over the years.

Sabs often carry scent-masking sprays to throw the hounds from the fox's trail.

Creating a false trail

There are also sabs adept at imitating the huntsman's calls and whip cracks to his hounds in order to confuse the dogs and send them off in the wrong direction.

Use of amplifying devices to pump out tape recordings of barking packs are also used, so that the lead hound is duped into following the sound, which will lead it away from the fox.

Hand-held speakers pump pre-recorded hound noises over the route of the hunt
"Hunt supporters say that we use chemicals which burn the dogs' noses, which is just rubbish," says Mr McIvor, a member of the South London Hunt Saboteurs Association.

"We generally use citronella, which has a pungent lemony smell and can be bought over the counter at the chemist."

Hunt sabs tend to operate in small, mobile units, keeping in touch on mobile phones and moving around in vans.

At one time, CB radios were more commonly used. "The hunt has been known to employ people to use scanners and block the frequencies we have been using though," said Mr McIvor.

Majority are women

He explained that no-one who wants to go on a sab is thrown in at the deep end.

"There is no one type of person who becomes a hunt sab. About 65% of all hunt sabs are women - and we come from all kinds of backgrounds.

"The hunt followers like to paint us as 'dole scroungers'. It just happens that none of the South London Sabs are unemployed. That's not to denigrate unemployed people - but there it is.

The fox: "A sentient being that cannot speak out for itself"
"They also say that we are paid to go along, and given a packed lunch. That's just silly. Each person who goes to a sab is expected to pay some money towards petrol costs and all time is given up for free.

"People feel very passionately about this, they don't need to be paid to go out and protect foxes from people who seek to kill them for fun."

He explained that the Hunt Sabbing Association runs training weekends, where anyone who has a strength in a particular skill will pass their knowledge onto other sabs.

"You might find that someone is very good at using a video camera, so they will explain to other people how to take shots that can be used by TV networks."

Video footage has become increasingly important to the sabs, he said, in getting their message across.

"People like the League Against Cruel Sports do film the hunt, but they stick to footpaths, and basically are not prepared to break the law. They therefore do not always get up close to what is happening. We have done."

The hounds can be fooled into chasing in the wrong directionq
Sabs are also briefed in what to do and what to say if they get their collars felt - although Mr McIvor alleges that things can get much rougher than that.

He claims personal injuries through hunt sabbing including a broken jaw and whip cuts to his head and being trodden on by a horse, as well as many cuts and bruises.

He said that sabs are more prepared to defend themselves now than they were, and disputes assertions from the hunt that they have been known to strike the first blow.

He said: "Most hunt sabs are vegans, peaceful people. Violence does not help us, and we do not look for it. We will not stand by and be subjected to it without defending ourselves though."

Over the past few years a number of laws have been introduced which can affect the ways in which sabs operate. In effect, much of what sabbing entails has been criminalised.

Citronella can be bought over the counter at the chemist's
A knock-on effect of that is that universities are no longer keen to allow sabbing societies to operate in their premises.

"Things have changed at universities. In the mid 80s, animal rights was the number one issue for students. Now universities aren't so political, students are more worried about how they're going to pay for their courses."

But he says there is no shortage of people deciding to become involved with hunt sabbing - usually after picking up literature from street stalls.

"I think we have succeeded," he said. "We have been the people who have turned out sometimes five mornings a week to protest against this savagery.

"It looks fairly certain that the ban will go though, and it really is about time. There is no place for fox hunting in our society as we approach the 21st Century."

Neil McIvor: "I thought, this is wrong"
Protesters at the 1997 Bicester Boxing Day Hunt
Neil McIvor explains how changes in the law have affected hunt saboteurs
Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

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