Acquitted hunt saboteurs call for public inquiry
from HSA 29th July 1999
Two hunt saboteurs were today cleared of Conspiracy to Commit Violent Disorder at Portsmouth Crown Court. Both men, Martin Palmer (40) and Nicholas Checketts (39) were arrested after clashes at the Hursley Hambledon Fox Hunt in December 1997.
The two had maintained from the start that they were being scapegoated by the Hampshire police, who have found it difficult to explain how or why they stood by and watched events unfolding but failed to act until it was too late. Following the verdict the saboteurs called for a public enquiry into the police actions on the day.
The court learned that the police had advance notice of the planned demonstration and had several van loads of fully briefed and specially trained public order units stationed in a nearby farm. A spotter plane relayed live video pictures of the protester's vans to a police incident room and plain clothes officers in unmarked cars monitored surrounding road junctions.
Despite these resources and advance planning a potentially highly volatile meeting of hunt saboteurs and hunt supporters took place unpoliced. Martin Palmer, one of the defendants commented, "I cannot recall one single occasion during my 12 years experience as a Hunt Saboteur when I have arrived at a Hunt meet and at least one police officer was not in attendance."
So embarrassed were the police at this major blunder of their operation that the Chief Constable of Hampshire, Sir John Hoddinott, felt it necessary to attend the Boxing Day meet of the hunt two weeks later and publicly shake hands with the Hunt Master.
Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock wrote to the Chief Constable, as did Portsmouth Labour Councillor and police authority member Jason Fazackarley. In reply the Chief Constable went as far as to admit that the police operation "fell below the standards that I would expect" and "operational decisions were less than satisfactory".
Dawn Preston, spokesperson for the HSA, stated 'This case has not been about the actions of the accused on that day, but rather it has been about the polices complete failure to police an incident that they had prior knowledge of, and their subsequent attempt to get someone to take the fall for their mistakes.
These saboteurs attended the hunt meet to take part in non-violent direct action, but where instead faced with a set of circumstance that we can only view as a set-up, which led to them being used as scapegoats'.
She continued, "We had several questions as to how the whole incident occured, and it seems that after examining them the jury have come to our conclusion - that the whole thing was rigged in an attempt to discredit hunt saboteurs and provide sympathetic press for the hunters.
We believe Hampshire police tried to scapegoat these individuals in an attempt to divert attention from their own failures on the day. Public Interest Immunity Certificates successfully applied for by the prosecution prevented any of these issues from being explored during the trial.The HSA believe only a genuinely independent inquiry of the police operation on that day will prove whether our suspicions are correct."