A senior huntsman accused of animal cruelty offences has told a court he decided to kill two fox cubs with the blunt end of an axe due to an impending Defra inspection.
Paul Oliver, the former master of hounds with the South Herefordshire Hunt, denies claims that he “fed” live foxes to his hounds in May 2016 after keeping them in a cage.
Giving evidence in the second week of his trial, the 40-year-old said he had rehomed two cubs in a wooded area, and seen the bodies of two others picked up by a dog after he had destroyed them in a “flesh house” at the hunt’s premises.
Prosecutors allege that Oliver used the cubs to “blood” hounds after they were taken to the site by others.
The former senior huntsman with Cornwall’s Western Hunt told Birmingham Magistrates’ Court that he intended to care for and then relocate all four foxes after they were taken to the South Herefordshire’s site in Wormelow.
Answering questions about two foxes which he claims to have destroyed, the former gamekeeper said: “We had a Defra inspection that morning and I didn’t think it was right to have them on the property.
“I decided to get rid of them and kill them. I didn’t think they would survive if they were just left alone.”
Asked by defence lawyer Clive Rees if there would have been any “training benefit” from keeping the cubs at the hunt’s premises, Oliver added: “No, none at all. We were training (the hounds) off a fox scent.
“I had gone completely away from that – I didn’t want them to associate the fox smell with any sort of hunting.”
Telling the court that the hunt was using an aniseed-based scent, Oliver said the two foxes he struck on the head with an axe both appeared to be dead when they were picked up by a single hound.
Oliver is standing trial alongside his partner, Hannah Rose, and terrierman Nathan Parry, who also deny causing unnecessary suffering to the cubs.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Simon Davis, Oliver was asked what purpose would be served by relocating the foxes.
Oliver answered: “Why not? They don’t need to die unnecessarily if there is an opportunity to rehome them.”
The court has been told that Oliver was recorded by a covert camera – placed at his hunt’s kennels by an anti-bloodsports group – as he dumped fox carcasses in a waste bin.
Pointing out that one of the dead foxes was found to have 14 broken ribs and no head injury, Mr Davis asked Oliver: “Either you missed with your axe or something more sinister occurred?”
Oliver replied: “I can’t comment on that because I don’t know.”
Pressed as to what his hound had done to another fox which suffered 23 broken ribs, Oliver responded: “I would say she probably gave it a bite.
“The hounds there had no idea what a fox was.”
During his evidence, Oliver said he had access to a pistol but shooting the foxes would have been extremely dangerous due to the risk of a round passing through a cub.
Taking to the witness box after Oliver, Rose said she had given no-comment interviews to police on the advice of her solicitor.
Mr Davis asked Rose, who was filmed by a hidden camera near Oliver as he handled a fox: “Your defence is that you know nothing?”
Rose then told the district judge trying the case: “I am obviously seen on the footage.
“I was present when foxes were taken out of the cage and I did know certain things about relocation (of foxes) but I cannot recall conversations that we had.”
Parry, 40, of Brynarw Estate, near Abergavenny, denies four charges of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal.
Oliver and Rose, 30, both of Sutton Crosses, near Spalding, Lincolnshire, also deny four counts of animal cruelty.
The trial continues.