Animal rights campaigners celebrated on Monday after hunt master John Sampson lost his appeal in Truro Crown Court over the killing of Mini the cat. 

Mini, a 14-year-old rescue cat, was mauled to death by Western Hunt’s fox-hunting hounds next to her home in Cornwall in March 2021. Sampson’s son, a huntsman, was caught on film checking to see if anyone was watching, before he threw Mini’s dead body over a fence in an attempt to hide what happened. He treated Mini’s body like a piece of rubbish. 

Mini’s guardian, Carly Jose, said her family were heartbroken by Mini’s death. She said“Why should anyone be put through this because they want to have fun?”

She continued:  “My children had to see that and had to go through that. I had to put my children through that pain because of them.” Sampson was convicted of being in charge of dogs that were dangerously out of control in a private or public place. 

The hunts are not untouchable

It’s extremely rare for hunts to be prosecuted for murdering cats like Mini, or for terrorising and killing foxes, even though hunt saboteurs catch them on video breaking the law time and time again. It is this arrogant untouchability that is likely to have given Sampson the confidence to appeal his conviction, despite ample evidence against him and the Western Hunt.

Keep The Ban founder Rob Pownall said: “As far as we are aware, this is the first time that a huntsman has been convicted under the Dangerous Dogs Act in relation to another animals, so we are delighted. Today we saw justice served, and a reminder to hunt and wildlife abusers across the country that they are not above the law.”

Mini’s guardian, Carly, stated:  “Today’s conviction for us won’t bring our precious Mini back, but her legacy will go on to protect other animals. The hunts think they are exempt, and this proves that they will be held accountable for their vile actions.

Keep The Ban spoke to Edie Bowles, a solicitor for Advocates for Animals. She told us that although the appeal’s rejection won’t be binding for future judgements, it is nonetheless persuasive. She said: "This case sends a very clear signal to any hunter engaging in reckless and unlawful activities. The judge has sent an unequivocal message to hunters that hounds should be under control and that failing to adhere to this will likely result in a conviction."

We need tighter laws

When Sampson was found guilty, he was fined a measly £480 and ordered to pay £350 compensation to Carly, £775 court costs and a £48 victim surcharge. This punishment is laughable if we take into account the life that was lost, the cruelty of the death, and of the devastation that was caused to Carly and her children. 

A Keep The Ban report shows that between 1 October 2020 and 4 January 2021 domestic animals or livestock were terrorised by hunts “on average every two weeks”. 

After Mini died, Carly set up a new campaign to bring in new legislation called Mini’s Law. The petition gained more than 100,000 signatures, meaning that parliament would be forced to debate the proposals. The legislation would, in theory, give some protection to the public and to animals, ensuring that they are safe from all hunting activity, as well as prevent the hunting and the training of hounds from taking place in residential areas. 

Parliament finally debated the petition on Monday 25 April — the same day that Sampson’s guilty conviction was upheld — but, ultimately, it wasn’t interested in making any tighter legislation against fox hunters. 

Time and time again, hunts get away with killing animals and assaulting the activists trying to stop their illegal hunting. Sampson’s appeal rejection does, at least, give us a glimmer of hope that the hunts aren’t as untouchable as they like to think. Time will tell whether we see more hunt masters facing court for the same charge. 

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