Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Hunt monitoring - stalking or civic duty?

By Sitala Peek
BBC News, West Midlands

Trevor Morse
Trevor Morse died on 9 March 2009 when he was hit by a propeller

Hunt monitor Bryan Griffiths has been acquitted of the manslaughter of a Warwickshire Hunt member.

But the debate over the methods used by those opposed to hunting rages on.

Trevor Morse, 48, was killed by the blades of a gyrocopter at Long Marston Airfield, in Stratford-upon-Avon in March 2009.

He was approaching a gyrocopter carrying the pilot, 55-year-old Mr Griffiths and a man thought to have been monitoring the Warwickshire Hunt by filming its activities.

A spokesman for the pro-hunting group Countryside Alliance (CA) said: "How did we get to this situation where a man is killed because of a stupid law about how you kill a fox?

"It has reminded people of the potential danger of any situation where you have one group of people policing the actions of another."

'Nothing to hide'

The 2004 Hunting Act banned the hunting of mammals with dogs and came into affect on 18 February 2005.

It prompted many objectors to start monitoring the activities of hunt groups to ensure they were complying with the ban.

Daniel Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), said: "It's not a personal thing, good God, we don't wish them dead.

"When we heard of Trevor Morse's death we sent a message to his family with our condolences."

Bryan Griffiths
Bryan Griffiths was accused of manslaughter by gross negligence

The LACS had no involvement in incidents which led to Trevor Morse's death.

Mr Morse is thought to be only the third person in England and Wales to have died in a hunting dispute, the CA said. Two teenagers died in separate incidents involving hunting vehicles in 1991 and 1993.

The CA said its members always informed police of hunt meetings and had "nothing to hide" but objected to monitors such as Protect Our Wild Animals (POWA) using gyrocopters.

It said: "It might be legal but that doesn't make it legitimate.

"The Association of Chief Police Officers advised police not to use helicopters to monitor hunts because of the risk to people on horses and the effect on livestock.

"If this weren't hunting, it would be completely unacceptable to most people.

'Extremist group'

"If someone was flying a gyrocopter above your house every Saturday and followed you to the football stadium and back just in case you turned out to be a football hooligan, even though you had no prior convictions or charges for hooliganism, you would find it intimidating and frustrating.

"That is what these people are doing in effect and that is stalking."

There are about 325 registered hunt groups in England and Wales and about 45,000 people who regularly participate in hunts
There have been three convictions since the 2004 Hunting Act came into force
An Ipsos Mori poll in September suggested that two out of 1,003 people asked named hunting as a vote-swaying issue at the next general election

LACS said it did not support the use of gyrocopters or any other form of airborne monitoring.

Mr Batchelor said: "We took the decision to go for covert monitoring from tree tops or behind walls and bushes because it was safer for all concerned, no-one would be attacked and there would be no incitement.

"Saying that monitoring is harassment is like suggesting Neighbourhood Watch is an intrusion.

"If we relied on the police to investigate every complaint or alleged crime we would be nearing anarchy.

"Our monitors are carrying out a civic duty to help police. The police need the community's help to solve crimes," he added.

Warwickshire Police and POWA declined to comment.

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