A senior huntsman convicted of allowing his hounds to kill four fox cubs has been handed a 16-week suspended jail sentence for causing their “painful, terrifying” deaths.
Paul Oliver, who was master of hounds with the now disbanded South Herefordshire Hunt, was not banned from keeping animals because he would lose his job at a stud yard.
Passing sentence at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Joanna Dickens also imposed a 12-week suspended sentence on Oliver’s partner, Hannah Rose, the hunt’s kennel maid.
Oliver and Rose, both of Sutton Crosses, near Spalding, Lincolnshire, were also ordered to pay £300 in costs and a £115 victim surcharge after being convicted of causing unnecessary suffering.
District Judge Dickens convicted Oliver, 40, and Rose, 30, after a seven-day trial was told live fox cubs were used to “blood” hunting hounds at the hunt’s kennels in Wormelow.
The pair were charged with animal cruelty offences after covert footage of them was captured by cameras placed at the hunt’s premises by anti-bloodsport activists in May 2016.
Suspending the sentences for a year, District Judge Dickens said: “Four fox cubs were killed by hounds whilst in the kennels.
“They did not have the chance of escape. It is not clear if this was a single lead hound in a pack or just one hound on its own.
“Thankfully, the veterinary evidence shows that they died quickly. I consider that Mr Oliver took the lead role in this and it is clear that Ms Rose was acting on his direction.
“This was a very serious offence of its type. The fox cubs suffered a painful, terrifying death.”
Explaining her reasons for not banning the couple from keeping animals, the judge added: “I think the chance of any reoccurrence is minimal.
“I also take into account that to disqualify them from being in control of animals would cause them to lose their current employment and any hope of future work, as this is their livelihood.”
Julie Elmore, 55, of Brynarw estate near Abergavenny, and Paul Reece, 48, formerly of Itton, near Chepstow in South Wales, admitted two counts of causing unnecessary suffering to cubs which were distressed by being transported to the kennels.
Accepting that neither Elmore nor Reece had any idea that foxes would be killed, the judge said the pair had been “motivated by consideration” for the cubs while trying to stop them being shot.
A fifth defendant, Nathan Parry, 40, also of Brynarw estate, was cleared of four animal cruelty charges after the judge accepted that he believed foxes taken to the hunt’s kennels would be relocated in the wild.
During sentencing, the judge said Elmore and Reece had been subjected to an “unjustified and outrageous” hate campaign on social media.
The judge said the pair were present on two dates in May 2016 when foxes were “removed from their earth” and accepted that the transportation of two cubs would have caused them distress.
Imposing six-month conditional discharges and costs of £50 on Elmore and Reece, the judge added: “They took the cubs to the kennels believing that they were rescuing them from being shot.
“They believed they were being relocated. What Mr Reece and Ms Elmore did was right at the bottom of the scale for offences of this kind.”
Opening the case at the start of the trial, prosecutor Simon Davis said: “The unnecessary suffering involved the killing of fox cubs, effectively… throwing the fox cubs into the kennels of the fox hounds, thereby killing them.”
The court was told hidden cameras were placed at the kennels by the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT) after they received information that animal welfare legislation had been breached.
As part of the HIT inquiry, two sites were identified where foxes were thought to have been “dug out” and police inquiries established gamekeepers had given permission for the animals to be destroyed on the land.
The court was told a camera recorded Oliver handling foxes and dumping the bodies of two cubs in a wheelie bin.
The footage also showed a stick with a noose attached, known as a grasper, being used by Oliver, who had previously been a senior member of Cornwall’s Western Hunt.
Defence lawyer Clive Rees, mitigating for Oliver and Rose, said the pair now looked after a private stud yard, caring for 14 horses and a number of dogs.
Oliver suffered from serious kidney disease, Mr Rees said, and was “finished” in the field of hunting.
Mr Rees said of Oliver: “There has been abuse from both sides of the fence from day one.
“As a result of this the South Herefordshire Hunt no longer exists. Obviously that doesn’t make him the most popular person.”
Mark Thompson, addressing the court on behalf of Elmore and Reece, said: “Their criminality is negligible. They had no intention to cause any suffering to any animal. That is just not the people they are.”