Man fined after messages showed him bragging and admitting to the illegal hunting of foxes
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A man has been fined more than £1000 after a joint investigation by Rural Crime teams uncovered messages which showed him bragging and admitting to the illegal hunting of foxes.
The investigation saw John Oliver Finnegan, aged 37 and of Northwich in Cheshire, plead guilty at Cheltenham Magistrates' Court on Tuesday (6 December) to hunting a wild mammal with dogs.
Finnegan, who was the Huntsman for a group based in Leicestershire, gave the guilty plea on the first day of a trial and was ordered to pay £1331 within 28 days after being convicted under the Hunting Act of 2004.
On the afternoon of Friday 7 January, police were contacted as local hunt monitors had seen a group illegally hunting on land in the village of Hartpury.
The group were filmed on a digital camcorder and this showed Finnegan taking a number of hounds into woodland whilst the rest of the hunt stayed around the perimeter. The hounds were then seen running out of the woodland while loudly and aggressively barking.
Moments later the hounds were digging at the ground which indicated that a mammal had gone to ground via a fox den or badger sett. The group were approximately 20 metres away and used their horn to control the hounds before calling them away.
Finnegan and other members of the group were later seen racing their horses along the road however the hounds were not with them but could be heard in a nearby derelict building.
This evidence was provided to police and officers linked Finnegan to the incident after his mobile phone was seized by Leicestershire Police in relation to offences believed to have been committed in their area.
As part of the investigation his phone was downloaded and WhatsApp messages showed him admitting to hunting mammals. The conversations made reference to the January hunt in Gloucestershire and discussed his involvement.
Examples of the WhatsApp messages included:
From: Other huntsman
How’d you get on at ledbury today?
S**t only found a brace (two foxes), first one by Redvers House got headed (when a fox takes shelter) about 20 times and went to ground. The second was on a brook at the back of the mares yard he went 5 fields to a real thick cover by griffin’s (a nearby location) which we weren’t aloud in and had to stop them
Finnegan was subsequently postal charged with the offence following consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service.
PC Phil Mawdsley from Gloucestershire Constabulary's Rural Crime Team said: "This has been a lengthy investigation into an incident of fox hunting concerning Finnegan, who at the time, was the huntsman for the Quorn Hunt based in Leicestershire.
"On 7 January this year he joined up with the Ledbury Hunt and led an illegal fox hunt through the area of Hartpury in Gloucestershire.
"His actions were witnessed and reported to police. An investigation was launched by the team and with assistance from Leicestershire Police's Rural Crime Team evidence of the offence was uncovered through phone messages which showed Finnegan bragging and admitting to the illegal hunting of foxes.
"This case sends a clear reminder for hunts, both nationally and locally, that breaches of the Hunting Act 2004 will not be tolerated by Gloucestershire Constabulary and those caught breaking the law will be sent to court."
Sergeant Paul Archer from Leicestershire Police's rural policing team added: "When we examined Finnegan’s phone, we found a number of messages which implicated him in hunting foxes in Gloucestershire.
“We are always proactive in working with other forces and these messages were passed on, resulting in colleagues from Gloucestershire being able to charge him with offences related to fox-hunting.
“We will continue to investigate any reports of illegal hunting and work with our rural communities going forward.”
Last year Gloucestershire Constabulary became the first police force nationally to launch three new online reporting tools for rural, wildlife and heritage crimes.
The forms comprise of "Report a rural crime", "Report a wildlife crime", and "Tell us about a possible wildlife or rural crime".