On December 16, members of the public saw the Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt of Milton Hall hunting a fox across a busy road and into the grounds of the Peterborough Crematorium.
The disturbance occurred as the road was lined with mourners and well-wishers, waiting to pay their respects to a much-loved local woman
The incident was brought to the attention of Peterborough Hunt Sabs, a voluntary group of committed people who campaign against "the unlawful bloodspot of hunting animals with hounds".
They received complaints via their social media pages about the incident and one eyewitness told the group: “I was there, it was my auntie’s funeral when they sent about 20 or 30 hounds chasing a fox through the crematorium when there was a funeral in progress.”
Another added: “Absolutely disgusting behaviour from the Fitzwilliam red coat fox hunters today… You could hear the fox howl as it escaped the woods and ran for safety into the crematorium to be followed by dogs charging across the road and into the crem too.
"As if these times aren’t hard enough without a convoy of dogs you also had some idiot in his red coat on horse back darting up and down screaming and shouting without a care in the world for those families saying goodbye to their loved ones”.
Peterborough Hunt Sabs told Peterborough Matters: “We received complaints via our social media pages about this, and we arrived to investigate. We caught the hunt just south of the crematorium in the act of chasing two foxes across open fields in direct breach of hunting laws. This is a hunt who do not care one bit about the law of the land, they have been convicted before on more than one occasion and have learned nothing.
“We wish to see this hunt closed for good, it is within the gift of the city council to remove their license to breed dogs for hunting and to process deceased animals to feed their pack in the kennels at Milton Park.
“Fox hunting clearly has no place in the 21st century, this should be consigned to the history books along with every other medieval bloodsport we have thankfully rid ourselves of.”
Earlier this month Peterborough City Council announced that it would, if necessary, enforce its decision made earlier this month to ban trail-hunting across council-owned land, following a motion put forward by Labour Councillor Ansar Ali at Full Council ((For=30, Against=26, Abstain=1).
The resolution stated: “This Council resolves to do everything within its legal powers to prevent trail hunting, exempt hunting, hound exercise and hunt meets on its land”.
The decision was welcomed by the Peterborough Hunt Sabs who said, ‘it gives a clear signal that fox hunts are not accepted in civilised society.’
The Fitzwilliam Hunt group has apologised for last week’s incident and have said they will be discussing measures to ensure this does not happen again.
A spokesperson for the hunting group told Peterborough Matters: “On 16 December 2020, the Fitzwilliam (Milton) hounds briefly entered the grounds of Peterborough Crematorium.
“The Hunt has apologised unreservedly for any distress caused and asked Crematorium management to pass on this apology to the mourners and funeral directors involved.
“The incident was unintentional and occurred when hounds were being taken through Mucklands Wood back towards Milton Park. Hounds were recovered as quickly as possible.
“Following this incident, we will be holding a meeting to discuss methods of ensuring that this does not happen again.”
The incident comes as the Hunt made the decision to cancel its two biggest meets of the year due to Cambridgeshire moving into Tier 4.
Karen Silcock, Joint Secretary Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt said: “We have decided not to hold our traditional Festive Season meets (Boxing Day and New Year’s Day) at their usual locations.
“Since this decision was made, Peterborough (where the Fitzwilliam (Milton) hounds are kennelled), has been placed under Tier 4 restrictions.
“The Hunt has, of course, suspended hunting activities whilst these Tier 4 restrictions are in place and will resume only once these are lifted.”
This means the two largest hunt meetings in the Peterborough area, usually attended by upwards of 400 people, will now not take place for the first time in 354 years.
Outraged residents had planned a protest, but now say they will attend the next hunt to make their views known about the cremation incident.
Fox hunting is an activity involving the tracking, chase and, if caught, the killing of a fox, traditionally a red fox, by trained foxhounds or other scent hounds, and a group of unarmed followers led by a "master of foxhounds", who follow the hounds on foot or on horseback.
While it was banned in 2004 amid complaints by animal welfare campaigners the ban did not end traditional hunts, with many now following a scent trail instead of a fox or using dogs to "flush" out the fox so it can be caught by a bird of prey.
A spokesperson for Peterborough City Council echoed the motion from Cllr Ali, saying: “Peterborough City Council notes that Fox hunting, Deer hunting and Hare hunting with Dogs is illegal under the terms of the Hunting Act 2004, except where an exemption applies.
“Most registered hunts claim to now be ‘trail-hunting’, an activity invented after the ban which allows hunts to claim that any chase of a wild mammal is an accident rather than intentional.
“This Council resolves to do everything within its legal powers to prevent trail hunting, exempt hunting, hound exercise and hunt meets on its land.”
The Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt, whose origins and kennel records can be traced back to 1740s, said: “We consider the Hunting Act 2004 to be an ill-thought-out piece of legislation that is harmful to the hunted species, the environments in which they live and the rural economies that surround them.
“However, we are law-abiding people and whilst it remains in force, the Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt will continue to hunt within the law, providing activities for our Hunt Followers and services to farmers and landowners.
“In parallel with this, we remain active in seeking repeal of this law.
“The infrastructure of the Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt requires a significant income each year to maintain it, and our supporters make a valued contribution to this.
“The hounds and the horses all require feed and veterinary expenses and equipment to be purchased.
“They also require housing, which must be maintained, and staff to look after them, who also have to be paid and housed.
“These bills are paid for by the followers and supporters, both in the form of subscriptions to the Hunt and by supporting fundraising events run by the Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt Supporters’ Club.
“Very importantly, there are also a significant number of local trades-people who rely upon the Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt and its followers for some or all of their winter income.”
To clarify the issue: trail hunting is still legal in the United Kingdom and involves the laying of a trail for hounds to follow using urine, body parts and carcasses from animals such as foxes (though not exclusively).
Activists, such as the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) fear that trail-hunting is being used as a ‘smokescreen’ to get around the law.
LACS say: “Prior to 2005, there were two types of hunting: The first was the ‘traditional’ hunting that involved the chasing and killing of animals. This was banned by the Hunting Act (2004) in England and Wales, and the Protection of Wild Mammals Act (2002) in Scotland.
“The second type of hunting is known as ‘drag Hunting’, a legitimate sport created in the 1800s that was not intended to mimic animal hunting, but instead is a sport using foxhounds to search for a non-animal scent laid by a drag, pulled on a string, and crucially without the pursuit or killing of any wild animals.
“Once the chasing and killing of animals was banned, the hunt members who were no longer able to do this, could’ve converted to the more traditional pastime of drag hunting, as most hunts use the same types of hounds.
“But they chose not to, and instead invented the activity we now call ‘trail-hunting’.
“While trail-hunting purports to mimic traditional hunting by following an animal-based scent trail (using fox urine, according to the hunters), that’s been laid in areas where foxes or hares are likely to be, crucially, those laying the trail are not meant to tell those controlling the hounds where the scent has been laid.
“However, with trail-hunting those controlling the hounds always know where the trail is laid, which is why in traditional drag hunting, ‘accidents’ when live animals are chased are very rare, while in trail hunting, they are more common. This means that if the hounds end up following a live animal scent the hunt can claim they didn’t know the difference between the laid scent, and a live animal scent.
“In drag hunting, the trail doesn’t contain animal-based scent, and is never laid in areas likely to have foxes.”
The Master of Fox Hounds Association has said: “The aim of trail-hunting is to simulate traditional hunting as practised before the Hunting Act came into force.
“When trail-hunting, the huntsman sets off with the intention of finding and encouraging the hounds to hunt the laid trails using their noses.
“When the hounds find the scent and start to follow it, they will use their voices to produce a sound which is called ‘speaking’.
“This indicates to the huntsman and followers that the hounds have found a trail and are following it.
“It is highly likely that foxes, deer, hares, rabbits, birds and other forms of wildlife associated with the countryside, will be seen throughout the day.
“If the hounds pick up the scent of a live quarry, the huntsman and other members of hunt staff stop the hounds as soon as they are made aware that the hounds are no longer following a trail that has been laid.”
However, in an exposé aired on ITV in November 2020, figures within the Master of Fox Hounds Association, were filmed, allegedly admitting that ‘trail-hunting could be: ‘…just a smokescreen’.
Police are now investigating the matter.
In the meantime, Peterborough City Council has confirmed that irrespective of the cancellation of the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day meets, it will do all that is necessary in future to enforce the decision made at Full Council.
Additional reporting by Rob Alexander
Local Democracy Reporting Service