I was pleased to secure a debate in the House of Commons to discuss hare coursing and rural policing.
Hare coursing and the surrounding issues of anti-social behaviour inflict serious financial and emotional harm upon vulnerable rural communities and farmers in particular. It isn’t simply a nuisance but a serious blight on their livelihoods and well-being.
In the debate I told the story of Chris Swanton who owns a farm in South Wiltshire. He wrote to me saying: “I get upset because I am very passionate about my farm and I have a certain amount of pride in the appearance of my fields and crops. I find it gutting and very depressing to drive around my farm after hare coursers have been all across my fields.” Having worked 80 hours a week preparing seedbeds and planting crops Chris will often find them ruined by mindless vandals. His experiences are by no means unique as this happens right across the constituency.
We must ensure that our excellent police force has the necessary tools to effectively enforce the law.
I called on the Government to do three things in particular:
1) Create a more widespread infrastructure for seizing and rehousing hunting dogs.
Hare coursing dogs are high value assets worth tens of thousands of pounds. The threat of dogs being taken or rehomed, therefore losing their value, will deter hare coursers. To be able to seize them the police must have the appropriate kennels and facilities to look after them.
2) Review sentencing guidance so convicted criminals receive stronger, more appropriate penalties.
Currently, the maximum possible penalty for hare coursing is unlimited. Despite this, between 2010 and 2015, the average fine for offences under the Hunting Act was just £256.43. Magistrates must be encouraged to use the full extent of penalties available to them in order to deter hare coursers from breaking the law.
3) Send a clear message that witnesses will be properly protected and perpetrators brought to justice as too often witnesses and farmers decline to give evidence, fearing retribution.
In Lincolnshire, for instance, 176 individuals were charged between Sept 2015 and Mar 2016, yet 117 cases were discontinued. This was usually when witnesses declined to give statements for fear of retribution. This situation is blocking access to justice and can only be tackled by the Government sending a clear message that farmers will be properly protected and perpetrators brought to justice.
You can see the debate in the attached video. I also gave an interview to ITV, outlining the problem. You can watch that in this link - http://www.itv.com/news/meridian/update/2017-03-07/calls-for-tougher-penalties-to-stop-hare-coursing/
At the end of the debate, I was pleased to hear the Policing Minister’s positive response, recognising the seriousness of the issue. I will continue to work with the Minister to ensure we protect our farmers and bring hare coursers to justice.