Police Support Unit and Hunts

1980s, late-1990s: frequent PSU deployment as a result of fox hunt and saboteurs:

1992: Surrey worked well with Sussex and Kent, and had an informal agreement to help each other out if need be. Each hunt cost about £2,500 to police and a minimum level of staffing was twelve officers, two mounted on hired horses. However, sometimes there was a combination of circumstances that hiked the operation up.

There was one at Shelwood Farm in Leigh that took place during a "week of action" by the saboteurs, where the Surrey Union became the target hunt, and there had been a significant increase in violence in Essex, Sussex and Hampshire. Intelligence was good and reported a minimum of one hundred and fifty saboteurs were coming, and it was estimated that there would be a further fifty hunt members on horses plus fifty supporters on foot.

To the deployment had to be added the planning and logistics costs, which were not inconsiderable. There was also the need to provide significant police cover at Hunt Balls, such as at the Burford Bridge Hotel, or Dorking Halls, which were well-publicised and attracted large numbers of demonstrators. Demonstrators were confined behind barriers as they threw their insults, and nothing else, at the hunt supporters in their finery going to the Ball.

The opening hunt of the Surrey Union in October 1991 required fifty police officers as it was believed from intelligence that demonstrators were being recruited throughout the south east. Only forty to fifty demonstrators turned up and there were a number of minor incidents.365

Subsequent hunts were policed by the dedicated divisional teams. One hunt in Cranleigh in February required policing by forty officers at a cost of about £10,000.

Phil Dunford: In the early days it struck me that we seemed to concentrate on following the saboteurs, with a view that they were always in the wrong. I remember one occasion near Dorking where everyone stopped in a rural car park.

When hunting horns were heard and the saboteurs made to move off a senior officer ordered police vehicles across the exits to hold their vehicles until the hunt was well away – I suppose it prevented conflict if the two sides met but seemed biased. An excellent arrangement was established on Farnham/Waverley/West Surrey or whatever the Division was called then.

As well as having officer's mobile following the saboteurs in Landrovers and some on horseback with the hunt, some police officers followed on foot. Normal uniform was out so we wore whatever suited – usually a lightweight training uniform and either boots or trainers as there were often several miles of running to do. It was an excellent way to establish a rapport and make the whole exercise seem balanced.

Bob Bartlett: Film of these officers in their light weight running gear appeared on TV and I received a letter from a retired Essex senior officer appalled at the scruffiness of the officers!

Kevin Morris: Apart from one or two Boxing Day Hunts in Guildford in the early 70s (which were then allowed to start in the High Street) my involvement with policing hunts did not really start until I was chief inspector at Guildford. It was now about 1992 to 1993 I believe and it was the Boxing Day hunt starting at Newlands Corner.

I think it is fair to say it did not go well from a policing perspective as we were totally overwhelmed by the volume of and ferocity of the protesters. I remember the hunt was very unhappy and one of the inspectors took the full force of their disapproval via one of the masters.

Around this time the actions of the hunt saboteurs were causing a lot of problems and we were responding with ever increasing deployments of officers. Violence on both sides was getting worse. I am not sure if it was his idea or not but Carl Crathern became the lead for Surrey and set about working with both sides to try and resolve the problems - and it worked.

The saboteurs reduced their numbers and co-operated in minimising the conflict. The hunts, The Surrey Union and The Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent, agreed to work with Carl to reduce the conflict whilst still allowing peaceful protests and hunting. The Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray Hunt had all but stopped hunting in Surrey.

A police vehicle amongst the hunt at Frensham; taken by Phil Dunford

A police vehicle amongst the
hunt at Frensham; taken by
Phil Dunford

I have to give it to Carl, he did a cracking job and we were able to reduce the number of officers deployed. Intelligence improved and violence diminished. Travelling hunt saboteurs from some of the more belligerent groups such as Brighton and Sussex largely stopped coming. When Carl was promoted the role passed on to Dick McCarthy but it soon passed to me and my involvement increased dramatically.

I soon found myself talking to representatives from the Surrey Union and the saboteurs. In particular I talked to Mrs Pru Goodchild who was then one of the Masters of the Hunt. An old school lady who had been brought up to hunt by her family she was, to say the least, quite outspoken but fair. If things did not go well on the day she let you know, if it went well she did that too.

I have to confess some days at the end of a hunt I would look at Pru's face and if it was "like thunder" I would wait a while, even days, before asking! Her honesty though got her into trouble with the Hunt who did not like her frank approach.

I remember one occasion when it was alleged that the Hunt set up the saboteurs by "planting" a dead fox on private land and pretending to dig it out. The saboteurs were drawn in and the Hunt, screaming aggravated trespass at me demanding we arrested them. My trusted adviser, from the RSPCA was with me that day and he said immediately he was puzzled as there were no foxes on this particular land, as it was waterlogged.

We managed to avoid arrests and any violence. Pru was disgusted as she thought it was a set up and told me so. I believe it was this fair and even handedness that got her into hot water. Pru was voted out as a Master but continued to support the Hunt.

A new liaison representative was nominated and I dealt with him. They told me not to talk to Pru, fat chance, and I still see Pru and talk to her on the telephone from time to time. For my part I became known as "Uncle Kevin" by the saboteurs and got some nice feedback from them via SB.

I can remember walking for miles on a Saturday in some glorious countryside watching the hunt or the saboteurs, sometimes even both together. On one occasion I walked for about an hour with the saboteurs telling them my radio was playing up, not sure they believed me, and they followed me and my tactical adviser as we walked away from the hunt.

I also remember having a great day out on a Boxing Day, now up at Ranmore, with Jock Stanyard. We didn't see the hunt or the saboteurs all day and they didn't see each other - success?

I mentioned aggravated trespass earlier but can't remember the legislation that brought it in but it is worth a mention. The Conservatives, under pressure from land owners and hunts rushed it through and like most rushed legislation it was, in my opinion, a disaster. Huge problems in Kent and Essex after it was brought in resulted in numerous arrests but I seem to remember no convictions.

Problems, such as identifying exactly where you were, were a real problem, this before satellite navigation was a viable and reliable source, and arrests obviously took officers away from keeping the peace - our main role.

One huntsman demanded I arrested someone as he had the owner's authority to be on the land. I responded with "My authority to arrest or not came from the Crown and when he could trump that I might listen to him." No one got arrested that day but the particular huntsman above did a few weeks later by one of the sergeants who, having warned him about his behaviour, decided he later had overstepped the mark.

Saboteurs also got arrested when they went too far but I believe, starting with Carl, Surrey got it just right and we avoided much of the problems other Forces endured. I would also like to praise the work of all the inspectors, sergeants and constables who became very adept at dealing with both sides in such a successful and professional way. They did the hard work and did it with some great humour. Working Saturdays never seemed that bad.

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365 Annual Report 1991.

 

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