Hunt master cleared of threatening saboteur after appeal
- Credit: Devon County Hunt Saboteurs
An Eggesford hunt master has been cleared of threatening a female hunt saboteur who had to be airlifted to hospital after a confrontation during a fox hunt.
Jason Marles was found not guilty on appeal at Exeter Crown Court of a public order offence arising from an incident which took place a year ago when he was leading the Eggesford Hunt.
Marles, aged 37, who lives at the hunt kennels at Wembworthy, near Lapford, denied using threatening and abusive behaviour to cause harassment, alarm and distress to Ms Groling.
He was cleared on appeal by Judge James Townsend, who sat at Exeter Crown Court with two lay magistrates.
The riders were crossing fields at Slade Farm, North Tawton, when hunt saboteur Jessica Groling tried to disrupt them by calling away the hounds.
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She had three hunting horns which she was blowing in a way designed to draw the hounds away from their scent and run towards her in an adjacent field.
Ms Groling was also shouting out commands to the hounds in a way that mimicked those of a whipper-in and she succeeded in distracting the pack.
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She wore a body-mounted Go-Pro camera which showed Mr Marles riding up to her before dismounting and rushing at her with a crop in his hand.
She said she was terrified as he grabbed the horn, which he passed to his father who was on the back of a quadbike which pulled up next to them.
There was a tussle which continued as the bike pulled away and Ms Groling suffered an injury which led to her being airlifted to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth by air ambulance.
Marles was found not guilty after telling a judge that he had no intention to cause her harassment alarm or distress and that his only objective was to stop her distracting the hounds with her horn.
He said Ms Groling caused the pack to move into a field which the local farmer had specifically barred the hunt from using because there were sheep grazing in it.
The judge said: "The case arises from what may be described as a long-term stand-off between a local small hunt and hunt saboteurs. It is not part of this court's function to pass any judgment on either side of that issue.
"We were satisfied, having heard all the witnesses, that this is a case in which they all came to court intending to tell the truth, although their perceptions were no doubt were coloured by their views on hunting and the controversy that applies to it.
"This was a charge of intentional harassment which means there are a number of elements that the prosecution must prove so we are sure to establish the offence.
"The first is that the behaviour caused harassment, alarm or distress and the second is whether there was an intention to do so.
"We are told by witnesses for the prosecution that they believed the hunt was chasing a fox or had seen a fox and they genuinely believed that was the situation.
"The footage shows the appellant riding at considerable speed towards and in the direction of the two witnesses and then immediately dismounting and going straight towards one of them.
"She had three hunting horns and he immediately took steps to take the horn from her. Shortly afterwards he was joined by two others on a quadbike.
"We are satisfied Mr Marles's behaviour was threatening. That was clear from the footage. He was undoubtedly angry and galloped or cantered towards the two women.
"He got off immediately and ran towards one of them. We are satisfied they were both caused alarm or distress. He was angry and his behaviour was threatening towards them.
"However, it would appear to us that his intention was to take the hunting horn and it is noteworthy that having achieved that objective, he immediately went back to his horse and began to re-gather the hounds into an orderly pack.
"We are not satisfied he had the requisite intention in this case and that is why the appeal is being allowed."
In both the magistrate's case and the appeal, Ms Groling, who has been a hunt sab for ten years, said she was terrified as she saw the huntsman galloping towards her.
She said: "I was not sure he would not hit us. He then stopped a few metres away and leapt off horse and came straight for me with a riding crop in his left hand. He had it raised and he was coming straight at me."
She said he was swearing and jabbed the crop into her abdomen as he seized the horn and believed she suffered a bruised liver during this part of the incident.
Marles said: "It is a purely lawful hunting activity using scented trails in hedgerow and undergrowth."
He said he pulled her horn from Ms Groling's grasp because he was frustrated by her actions and worried the hounds would frighten sheep or end up on a public road.
In a statement issued via the Countryside Alliance, Mr Marles said: "After 12 months of constant attack on my character, I'm relieved that my name, and that of the hunt, has been cleared, particularly as we live in a small rural Devon community.
"The Eggesford Hunt takes part in lawful hunting activities but despite this, we are continuously subjected to spurious claims about the actions of the hunt, its officials and supporters, so we are glad that we can put this behind us and focus on our Boxing Day meet and the remainder of the season."