East Essex Hunt terrierman Paul O’Shea has been given an 18-week sentence, suspended for twelve months, after he murdered a fox with a pitchfork, stabbing it multiple times. He has also been ordered to do 200 hours of community service, has been banned from keeping dogs for 5 years, and must pay £105 in costs.
O’Shea pleaded guilty to two charges of animal cruelty in June after he was charged with hunting a wild mammal with dogs, an offence under the Hunting Act, as well as causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal, which is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act.
North London Hunt Saboteurs covertly filmed the gruesome act on 6 December 2021, using covert cameras in Great Monks Wood, close to the East Essex Hunt’s kennels.
The East Essex Hunt has stated that:
"We fiercely condemn the actions of this individual who is no longer welcome to follow our hounds.”
But although he is no longer terrierman for the hunt, O’Shea has expressed that he will continue hunting "with the mounted field”.
It begs the question, will any hunt now actually take him? Hunts, who illegally murder foxes on a regular basis, will be keen not to draw attention to themselves. O’Shea will surely be a liability to anyone who allows him to ride. His conviction will, hopefully, ensure that his hunting days with a pack are over.
With his suspended sentence, O’Shea walks free from prison. ITV News’ Rupert Evelyn reported from court, and tweeted that the magistrate said:
“The reason we are suspending the sentence is we believe there is a good prospect of rehabilitation.”
People expressed their outrage on social media at the judges’ words.
One person wrote:
“Rehabilitation, so he says he'll be good and not use a fork but he'll continue to hunt with "the mounted field"? Therefore no punishment worthy of the name and he's free to continue abusing animals with his cronies. The courts are an utter joke.”
While another person said:
“‘Rehabilitation’ whereby he no longer tortures foxes with terriers and forks, he’ll torture foxes from his high horse instead.”
Indeed, Evelyn asked O’Shea whether he was “apologetic or remorseful”, to which the terrierman didn’t bother to reply.
Evelyn tweeted the words of O’Shea’s defence barrister:
“Paul O’Shea earns 100k a year gross. £5200 a month net. He has bought a house with a 500k mortgage and the impact on others [from a custodial sentence] would result in significant harm to his family.”
“If he were to receive a custodial sentence then his position at his work would not be kept open and his employment would be terminated says his lawyer who handed a letter to the court to confirm this.”
But, of course, this is a disgraceful example of one rule for the rich and another for the poor. A custodial sentence would have a similar effect on any person’s family, and they might not have such a large house to sell off if they found themselves in trouble.
North London Hunt Sabs, who filmed the covert footage, were more positive about the outcome. The sabs’ Philip Walters said:
"This is yet another blow to fox hunting in the UK. Another conviction thanks to hunt saboteurs working together with the law to ensure these wildlife criminals are kept out of the countryside."
Indeed, when trying to stop illegal hunting, it’s important not to pin hopes on hunt members getting prison sentences. Keep The Ban previously reported that the maximum penalty for hunting a wild animal with a dog – an offence under Section 1 of the Hunting Act 2004 – is an unlimited fine.
The maximum penalty for causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal – an offence under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2004 – is six months in custody. If O’Shea had been referred by the magistrate, and sentenced in a crown court — which he wasn’t — he could have faced five years in custody.
Rather than relying on sentencing to provide some kind of justice, it is the convictions themselves that are likely to be more important. This is because they show to the public what every hunt saboteur already knows, but that others might not: that hunts murder foxes and other mammals on a regular basis. Convictions also show landowners that hunts can’t be trusted to use the land legally or responsibly, and could lead to more owners preventing their land from being used.
Under Section 3 of the Hunting Act, a landowner can be prosecuted, too, if:
“he knowingly permits land which belongs to him to be entered or used in the course of the commission of an offence under Section 1.”
Indeed, on 2 August, land owner Duncan and Verity Drewett will appear in court. They are the first hunt people ever to have been charged under Section 3 of the Act.
Keep The Ban knows of another 14 people from various hunts around the country who are charged under Section 1 of the Act.
It is covert investigators, hunt saboteurs on the ground, and hunt monitors, who get the footage needed to secure prosecutions. In this case, the tireless work of North London Hunt Sabs ensured that O’Shea was forced to plead guilty. You can support them by donating here.
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