A police force has warned the public not to always believe what they see and read on social media about fox hunting because “frequently video footage does not reflect the full scenario”.
In a carefully worded statement, Cheshire Police revealed how the propaganda war waged by anti hunt activists and huntsmen and women on websites like Facebook is often “based on inaccurate information”.
The move comes after Cheshire Hunt Saboteurs (CHS) posted edited video footage online of a huntsmen apparently whipping a protester during a hunt. But after detectives saw the entire clip and wider context they decided to not pursue any prosecutions.
The edited clip shows a man dressed in fox hunting attire riding a horse and apparently striking a protester.
Alongside the clip, CHS issued a statement on Facebook saying it had “saved” a fox from hounds, claiming the huntsman “couldn’t contain his anger and violently attacked our sab [saboteur] with his horse and whip.”
They added: “This is the reality of what we have to deal with when we spoil the bloodlust”.
The footage, taken at Ollerton near Knutsford on December 29, sparked outrage after it was shared widely online.
Police received allegations of assaults from both hunt saboteurs and the Cheshire Forest Hunt.
All witnesses were interviewed before the case was reviewed by a senior officer. Detectives decided to take no further action in relation to all the allegations made.
In its statement about the use of social, the Cheshire force pointed out that its officers remain impartial, and have to “tread a fine line between protecting the contrasting rights” of those who perform certain legal hunts and those who want to protest.
It explains how enforcing the “complex piece of legislation” can be “extremely challenging”, adding that police are reliant on witnesses who film footage providing “a signed statement exhibiting that evidence [is] in an unedited form”.
It notes how people have been “reluctant to engage” with investigations, but “without the co-operation of those reporting an allegation of criminality it is almost impossible to secure a successful prosecution.”
It concludes: “We recognise that much discussion, comment and posting of digital material around hunting takes place on social media. Many comments are based on inaccurate information that do not reflect a balanced view of the matters discussed. Frequently, video footage does not reflect the full scenario.”
A Cheshire Forest Hunt spokesman said the Ollerton incident involving its huntsman with a whip followed “extreme provocation” by animal rights activists.
The Countryside Alliance said legal hunts are “regularly plagued with balaclava clad animal rights activists who intimidate and harass” hunt supporters “to provoke a response they can broadcast on social media.”
He said: “Their tactic of spreading highly edited footage works well online but can result in hundreds of hours of wasted police time.”
CHS insisted it is always co-operative with police, providing signed statements and interviews.
“There is definitely a reluctance by police to prosecute any hunt related incidents,” a spokesperson said.
The issue surrounding social media was raised by a Scottish terrier-man, Adam Galpin, who claims edited footage has been used by hunt saboteurs to claim his hunt’s hounds killed a fox illegally.
He said: “The importance of this is to show that week in, week out folk are duped by hunt saboteurs pushing their agenda and basically making out that myself and my colleagues are break a law that the antis think needs to be tightened up, and quite frankly this is not what is happening out in the field.”