Hunt master’s conviction overturned after court hears he ‘didn’t have enough puff’ to restrain dogs

Mark Pearson, 63, leader of the South Dorset Hunt, had his conviction overturned – BNPS

A hunt master has had his conviction for illegal hunting overturned after a court heard that he did not have enough “puff” to restrain his dogs.

Mark Pearson, 63, leader of the South Dorset Hunt, was originally found to have “actively encouraged” a pack of dogs to hunt and kill a fox, and was fined £6,000, a victim surcharge of £190 and costs of £620 but has now successfully appealed the fine.

The Countryside Alliance said that bringing prosecutions based on evidence provided by anti-hunting saboteurs was a waste of police time and resources.

In October last year, a court heard that when the dogs cornered the fox in gorse in Bere Regis, Dorset, a witness said Mr Pearson had shouted “carry on” and “hunt on” at them, which the Crown Prosecution Service rules was evidence of his encouraging the illegal act during a trail hunt.

He was then seen carrying the dead fox from where it had been cornered.

Successful appeal

But this week, Mr Pearson alleged he had not said those words and successfully appealed his conviction for illegally hunting a wild mammal with dogs, banned under the 2004 Hunting Act.

Judge Stephen Climie at Bournemouth Crown Court said that while Mr Pearson could have done more to stop the pack, the CPS had not proved that he intended for the dogs to kill the fox.

Patrick Gibbs KC, representing Mr Pearson, said the court needed to be sure that the huntsman made an “intentional decision” to hunt the animal and was not simply slow to respond to the dog’s aggression.

He said: “You can imagine a 20-something year old would get over the barbed wire quite a lot quicker than a 60-something year old. If he had a bit more puff he could have blown the horn a little harder perhaps.”

The incident happened in December 2021 and was caught on video by hunt saboteurs.

Mark Pearson was pictured carrying a dead fox - BNPS

Mark Pearson was pictured carrying a dead fox – BNPS

In the appeal hearing, witness Charlotte Stockdale said that Mr Pearson had been attempting to call the hounds off once he realized the pack was “showing interest”.

She said: “I understood that Mark needed to get the hounds back to him as he was unhappy with what was occurring. I could hear that the hounds were interested in something. He was blowing on his horn – long repetitive notes.”

Olivia McGonigle, from the CPS, said as the master of the hunt Mr Pearson was supposed to be in control of the hounds.

She said he “should have recognized the behavior and stopped the hounds”.

Judge Climie said it was ‘of significant concern’ that the CPS did not call an expert witness in the case and there was insufficient evidence to find that Mr Pearson was seeking to encourage the pack to hunt a mammal.

The court also heard that while the phrase “carry on” could be heard in the video, it was not possible to ascertain who had said it.

Judge Climie said even if the bench could be certain, that alone would not be enough to uphold the conviction.

He said: “The most crucial part is that passage (of video) where (Pearson) reaches the gorseland and draws his whip in an effort to move the hounds away. That is clear and obvious in our judgment.

“We are sure (Pearson) realized there was a problem and he was required to take appropriate action to minimize the risk. He took some action.

“That action included horn calls which, in our judgment, may well have been intended to have the hounds be recalled. Having dismounted he was then on foot for some time before he reached the location of the marking.”

The judge added that he was critical of Mr Pearson regarding how he could have done more, as he seemed “relatively fit for a 61-year-old, as he was at the time”.

“We’re also concerned there was no further attempt to use the horn to recall the hounds,” he added.

The Countryside Alliance said that the successful appeal served as a “strong reminder” that police should be careful in pursuing prosecutions based on evidence provided by hunt saboteurs.

“This case serves as a strong reminder to the police and the CPS that they should be extremely careful pursuing prosecutions on the back of evidence that has been provided by anti-hunting extremists, which all too often result in a total waste of police time and resources.”

Oliver Hughes, managing director of the British Hound Sports Association, hunting’s governing body, said: “We are delighted that an innocent man has been cleared of these charges and that justice has been served. These circumstances can be very stressful for all involved and can put unnecessary pressure on individuals.”

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