'It's pure sick pleasure, you can hear them laughing': The battle to catch illegal Hare Coursers

This report was filmed by ITV News Anglia in early 2020 before covid restrictions.

  • Read more from ITV News Anglia's Hannah Pettifer on her time filming with Suffolk Constabulary's rural crime team:

In February last year I was invited to film with Suffolk Constabulary's rural crime team. They are a small team of just three officers covering the whole of Suffolk for crimes such as agricultural theft, livestock theft and hare coursing. The shift we join them on, they are looking for hare coursers.

Hare Coursing has been illegal since 2004 Credit: ITV News Anglia

Hare coursing is the use of dogs to chase, catch and kill hares, made illegal under the Hunting Act 2004.

It tends to start after harvest or when the crops are low in the field, but as we come to learn, police are now finding it takes place all year round.

The large, flat, wide open fields of Suffolk attracting coursers from way outside of the county.

  • In the last 18 months Suffolk Constabulary has had more than 200 reports of hare coursing, but only secured six convictions.

The officers show us historical drone footage of two men with dogs who have been seen in the fields, chasing hares.

Suffolk police historical drone footage of hare coursing Credit: Suffolk police

The police caught up with them and they were arrested but despite compelling evidence, the case never made it to court.

The witnesses would not speak out against them for fear of reprisals. This is the daily battle faced by the rural crime team with what they describe as a large organised crime group.

In more recent years hare coursing has gone from a rural tradition to an illegal lucrative sport. 

With the rise in technology, Suffolk police has seen evidence of chases being filmed and live streamed to as far afield as China. 

Bets are placed on which dog gets the hare to turn first or the most, or in some cases which dog kills the most. 

Police say tens of thousands of pounds are made in the illegal betting ring. 

  • Dogs are bred specifically for the task, normally greyhounds crossed with lurchers with some known to have been sold for £20,000.

With limited resources the team relies a lot on prevention and awareness tactics. 

They track cars that have been known to be used by hare coursers and alert farmers when those cars enter the county. 

Suffolk Police's rural wildlife team, filmed in 2020 before covid. Credit: ITV News Anglia

They also encourage the use of ditching along the side of fields, preventing easy entry.

But nothing is more important than the eyes and ears of the public. Just outside of Honington, the patrol car is flagged down.

A woman says she has seen a car she believes is carrying five hare coursers. She says she has had enough of them and tells the police the direction they were heading.

We head off at speed, but PC Kevin Stollery warns us the chances of catching up with them are low. 

Coursers do not tend to stay in one area for too long as the chances of them getting seen and being reported are quite high. The vehicle is not seen again, but a message is sent out to farmers in the area that coursers could be active.

Our next stop is at a farm where we meet James, a farmer who frequently sees coursers on his land. He describes it as a ram raid on the countryside.

In recent years Suffolk police say the hare coursers have become increasingly defiant, prepared to take more extreme measures to continue the practice. 

So too the police have had to up their game, a combination of prevention tactics and greater awareness the only way to get ahead of them.