Two men have been acquitted of being involved in a fight during an annual Boxing Day hunt after the event escalated into violence between pro and anti-hunting protesters.
Andrew Purbrick, 59, and Adrian Earl, 62, had been charged with using threatening or abusive words or behavior with intent to fear violence, but a judge today dismissed the charges, saying that the evidence against him was “thin”.
Around 100 people gathered outside the Red Lion pub in Lacock, Wiltshire, where the Avon Vale Hunt departed for the day on December 27 last year.
Swindon Magistrates’ Court heard that Mr Purbrick and Mr Earl were charged with being involved in a scuffle between the different factions of protesters in an incident in which punches were thrown and one person was hit with a sign.
The court heard the pair were allegedly part of the hunting ‘saboteur’ group.
The public complained about the way the incident was handled by the police, but the officers involved were cleared of any wrongdoing.
The violent scenes were seen after around 100 saboteurs surrounded the peloton, chanting and shouting
A fight broke out which quickly turned into fistfights as a man was hit by a homemade sign
Police tried to restore order in the village, but faced complaints from protesters who claimed one of the officers had links to the hunting community.
Hunt saboteurs – who are people trying to thwart legal forms of hunting in place since the Hunting Act in 2004 – surrounded the Avon Vale Hunt as they headed into the day.
They chanted “shame on you” to hunters, their horses and hounds and waved banners and placards to riders.
The master huntsman blew his horn and the pack began to move towards a nearby field, but violence broke out among the crowd still near the pub.
Some hunt supporters tried to guide protesters out of the way of oncoming horses, but met fierce resistance.
A man wrapped his arm around the neck of one of the pro-hunters and tried to grab his head before another punched him hard in the face.
The victim tried to fight back and he and another fought off the saboteurs before Wiltshire Police were called.
The prosecution’s case centered on a short video clip that had been posted on social media and showed pushing, shoving and punching thrown at the meeting.
Mr Purbrick, of Westbury, and Mr Earl, of Calne, Wiltshire, had denied taking part in the disturbances and said they had acted in self-defence when things got violent.
Protesters had surrounded the hunting party as they marched into the day on December 27
Some hunt supporters tried to guide protesters out of the way of oncoming horses, but met fierce resistance
District Judge Joanna Dickens dismissed charges against the two defendants following requests from their attorneys at the closing of the prosecution case.
They argued that the prosecution had failed to prove the facts against the two men and that they should be found not guilty.
After hearing the claims, the judge ruled in their favor and said Mr. Purbrick and Mr. Earl could leave the court with their good character intact.
In her judgment, Judge Dickens said it was up to the prosecution to prove that the two defendants were not acting in self-defence and, based on the evidence, she did not believe they could.
“At the end of the day, the evidence is pretty thin, very thin, and that’s about enough to top a halftime submission and not much more,” she said.
“With respect to Mr. Purbrick, the prosecution must prove he intended to cause unlawful violence and he says he was acting in self-defence.
“The prosecution should disprove self-defence and the prosecution case is not going to improve and there is no other evidence for the prosecution to argue that it was not in self-defence.
“As for Mr. Earl, he says he acted in self-defence in circumstances that arose very quickly.”
“Although there is pretty much a case to answer, the evidence is thin and it will not improve, and for these reasons I cannot be sure that they are not acting in self-defense. .
“For these reasons, I have found both defendants not guilty.”
Earlier this year, three hunting supporters pleaded guilty to the same public order offence.
William Renny, 30, Callum Lewis, 26, and Evan Lorne, 18, were fined after admitting punching rival protesters.
Wiltshire Police have also been criticized for their handling of the chase encounter.
Officers were accused of failing to intervene to prevent the violence, while some of the hunt saboteurs claimed that one of the officers present was an integral member of the hunt.
The court heard on Friday that no disciplinary action had been taken against any officer.
An officer, named in court as PC Hughes, was on duty at Lacock and was alerted ‘by someone she knew in the equine community’ to an alleged assault at the meeting and she went to investigate .
Tom Power, prosecuting, said: ‘Following the Lacock incident there were complaints from members of the public about the events of that day.
“The officer in the case spoke about professional standards and there was a review of the events of that day, but there was no formal investigation into PC Hughes or any other officers involved.
“The defense has copies of the letters in response to these complaints and makes reference to PC Hughes and his association or former association with the hunt.
“She was never a Crown witness and her testimony was never part of the Crown brief. Professional Standards did not investigate or reprimand her in any way.
In a statement on social media, Wiltshire Hunt Saboteurs called the case against the two men “malicious”.