Hunstman Ollie Finnegan is silent as ITV News correspondent Rupert Evelyn questions him outside court
On the face of it, a hunting case in Cheltenham today might have escaped much attention.
But the evidence revealed in court once again raises profound questions about what really goes on behind the scenes in the sport.
Huntsman Ollie Finnegan pleaded guilty to illegally hunting with dogs.
Key evidence was found on his phone after it was seized by officers from Leicestershire Police.
Magistrates said Finnegan had a “pattern of offending over a period of time”.
What sets this case apart from other hunting crimes is the unique insight it gives behind the scenes of the ‘sport’. The open discussion of fox hunting when people think they are safe to talk about it.
The huntsman with Leicestershire’s “prestigious” Quorn Hunt was seen fox hunting on 7 January.
At the time, the Quorn had been sharing a “joint meet” with the Ledbury Hunt in Gloucestershire.
Finnegan’s WhatsApp messages on the day show communication about illegal fox-hunting with an unnamed huntsman.
He asked Finnegan: “How’d you get on at Ledbury today?”
Finnegan replies “Only found a brace [of foxes]. First one went to ground, The second went 5 fields to a real thick cover which we weren’t aloud in and had to stop [the hounds].”
The huntsman replies: “used to be full of them round there! Had my best days around there.”
Other messages found on Finnegan’s phone were equally revealing. This time he was messaging a Master of the Quorn Hunt. The Master asks “How was your evening?”
Finnegan replies: “ Morning, only found one had a nice little on him.”
On another day the Master complains using fox and sad face emojis, asking: "what do we do."
On another occasion the Master says “How did this evening go?” to which Finnegan replied “Found 2 brace [foxes] seen another 2 brace, very busy all night. Hounds hunted well considering the heat.”
Dozens of messages and videos were found on Finnegan’s phone, but only a tiny minority were shared with the court.
The huntsman was fined £656.
Following the conviction, a spokesperson for the British Hound Sports Association (BHSA) said: "We can confirm that a current member of the BHSA has today pleaded guilty to illegal hunting on 7th January 2022, near Hartbury, Glos.
"This organisation does not condone illegal activity and the matter has been referred to the Hound Sports Regulatory Authority (HSRA) which is the regulatory body responsible for disciplinary matters."
Following the hearing, Lynn Sawyer, at Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs, told ITV News: "Three counties sabs are pleased that the Hunting Act has been enforced in this case.
"Along with Herefordshire hunt sabs we attended the joint Quorn/Ledbury meet to protect foxes and we will continue to sab fox hunts until they stop harming wildlife.”
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know