Footage captures moment armed police officers stop fox hunt saboteurs

Footage captures armed police officers stopping hunt saboteurs, after hearing reports of men wearing balaclavas and carrying a weapon

Staring down the barrel of a machine-gun, videoing it and reacting to the armed response officer whose trigger finger is primed to end your life.

For a hunt saboteur in Lincolnshire this terrifying moment played out recently. 

He’s now complaining about his treatment by the police, who held him and a colleague for ten hours only to be released with no further action.

This frightening event was prompted by a call to police claiming to have seen men wearing balaclavas and in possession of a weapon. The car was searched and no weapon was found.

Riders prepared for a hunt. Credit: ITV News.

It’s an extreme example of policing fox hunting, which in the last few years has been elevated as a priority for rural crime teams.

For fox hunters, the Boxing Day meet is traditionally the largest of the year.

The day pro-fox hunting activists point towards the numbers who attend meets and claim they have popular support.

It can be a fractious, violent occasion and ITV News has learned that just under half of all police forces have put plans in place for this year’s Boxing Day meets to try and keep the peace between pro-hunters and their "anti" fox hunting opponents.

Chief Superintendent Matt Longman. Credit: ITV News.

Chief Superintendent Matt Longman is the National Police Lead for Fox Hunting,

He said: "Some [hunts] have made steps to change the way they hunt but where they are [breaking the law] we need to go and ask questions.

"Ultimately, where people are breaking the law the police need to step in and investigate it."

Last year, pro-hunt activists at a Boxing Day meet in Lacock turned to violence in the face of a protest from anti-hunt activists.

Two people were subsequently convicted and Wiltshire Police were criticised for not being prepared.

The force admit that managing the safety of the public this year is a "challenge" and say "we wrote to every hunt operating within our Force area early in November, asking for their co-operation and to work with us to overcome any tensions around hunting. We respect the rights of all groups to peaceful protest and the expectation is for all groups that attend hunts to be non-confrontational".

Hunting costs the taxpayer millions each year in policing and court costs alone.

Despite the ban, foxes are routinely killed by many hunts with saboteurs often trying to prevent the kill and gather evidence of illegal activity.

Both pro and anti-hunting activists sent ITV News examples of behaviour they found concerning. Credit: ITV News.

The British Hound Sports Association (BHSA) told ITV News: "Animal rights activists regularly waste police and court time by making spurious allegations which then need investigating.

"The BHSA and accredited hunts will assist the police with investigations but do not believe that it is the behaviour of BHSA members which requires a police presence."

A recent court case revealed hunt staff openly discussing fox hunting with two hunts even though it is illegal.

Lynne Graham is an academic with an anti-hunting background.

'At best we have some very good wildlife crime officers'

She says her research suggests there are those who believe some rural areas are lawless.

"At best we have some very good wildlife crime officers," she said.

But she added: "They are limited by what they can do within the constraints of the criminal justice system."

Hunting polarises opinion and the Hunt Saboteurs Association claims the Police aren’t impartial: "In much of the country the police still see sabs as the problem and assume hunts are operating within the law despite all the evidence to the contrary."

"If sabs do call the police, either to report illegal hunting or having been assaulted, we're usually treated with suspicion and aggression with the police happy to do the hunts bidding."

Boxing Day will draw large crowds and in some areas protests.

The police will be there too in the middle of two sworn enemies trying to keep them at arms length and keep the public safe.

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