Adding the hare coursing amendment to the police bill is a racist attack

4 February 2022

On January 4th, 2022, the UK Government slipped a number of amendments into the Police, Crime Courts and Sentencing Bill (Police Bill), thankfully many of these extreme attempts to control and punish the people have been rejected by the Lord and will go back to the House of Commons for further debate.

However, one amendment related to the increase in punishments for hare coursing has remained unnoticed.  The amendment has been added because the Government has decided to stall the upcoming Animal Welfare Bill, over concerns that parts of this bill related to increasing the penalties for fox hunting and the welfare of farm animals will upset members of the Tory Party and cause further dissent within the party which at present would further damage the Government’s position, yet the section on Hare Coursing is deemed so important that it has hurriedly been added to the Police Bill with little or no checks upon it.

Yet another sneaky attack by the Government on the Travelling community

Now I am not here to defend Hare Coursing, for me all animals need to be treated with dignity, respect and to be free from harm and stress. However, this amendment which proposes extreme new changes to the way individuals who are caught coursing are treated has sent alarm bells ringing as it feels like this is yet another sneaky attack by the Government on the Travelling community. For if this was about a reduction in animal cruelty and further enforcement of the crime of hunting with dogs, which was bought in with the Hunting Act 2004, then an amendment would also be included to penalise the Hunt which also continue to hunt foxes and stags with dogs.

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Illegal Fox hunting is not further criminalised in the Police Bill – yet Hare coursing is. Picture: Fox hunting: By Léonorpoiret - Own work from Wikemedia Commons

I would like to explain why I feel this new hare coursing amendment is steeped in racism and is an additional sideways swipe at Gypsy and Traveller people, just like the rest of section 4 of the Police Bill.

The Travelling culture is an ancient culture and many of the traditions and habits of Travelling people have been part of the way of life forever; in fact they were how the Traveller survived and stayed alive. Over time many of these traditions have morphed or evolved with newer more modern ways of life one such element of the culture is 'coursing'.

Coursing was traditionally a form of hunting where men would go out at night with a few dogs, to a piece of land and catch rabbits and hares for dinner using dogs. This was not seen as a blood sport purely for the pleasure of killing an animal like the grouse shoot or the fox hunt. This was purely about putting food on the table. Men would take their sons out and teach them how to hunt in this way, so that they too could feed themselves and their families. They would learn how to skin and prepare the animal. If caught and found guilty of poaching, they would entail a penalty which although in the past could result in by hanging blinding or even castration. Now it entails a fine and potentially a prison sentence.

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Coursing. Started as a traditional form of hunting. Picture: Lurcher, illustration from The Sportsman's Cabinet by William Taplin, 1803; engraved from a painting by Philip Reinagle

In time, coursing also became a sport, and there was a National Coursing Club (NCC) which held the register for all British born greyhounds. The NCC held coursing events, the most prestigious being the Waterloo cup which ran from 1836- 2005 and finally ended when the Hunting Act 2004 came into force which recognized that this was another cruel sport like fox hunting. The Waterloo Cup was invented by William Lynn who, coincidently, also invented the Grand National horse race, another event which many perceive as cruel, where countless horses are injured have heart attacks and lose their lives every year.

These days things are different, and although this way of hunting is still part of the Traveller culture for many families, it is mostly the young boys and adolescents who now continue this tradition. It is part of the 'rights of passage' of a young man to take part in, as he learns how to look after his working dog, hunt, kill and prepare an animal that his family will later eat.  As the boy grows into the man they also often grow out of this past time. So this is predominantly why and how coursing still happens within the Travelling culture today.

However according to an article in the Daily Mail, hare coursing is now monopolised by 'Mafia like Traveller Gangs', who terrorise farmers and run rampant over the countryside destroying crops and engaging in other illicit crimes.  The Daly Mail states that these gangs are now live-streaming these events to pubs where people are gambling on the outcome of the hunt. If this is true then I fully support the criminalisation of these gangs. However when we look at this shameful report which stokes up further prejudice and hatred of the Gypsy and Traveller people by creating moral panic and fear, (a tactic that the mainstream media are trained to use). Its also suspicious that this report has been conveniently published at a time when the Police Bill is coming to pass and the GRT have received lots of support and recognition from many parts of society who see Section 4 of the Police Bill (the criminalisation of trespass), for what it is, which is a racist attack upon this ethnic nomadic culture.

To find out more about this amendment in the Police Crime Courts and sentencing bill to increase penalties for hare coursing follow:

Whilst if you look at the recent announcement on twitter you will see a cute picture of a hare with the words 'We are cracking down on this cruel hare coursing, with new penalties and police powers':

Hare coursing

So as an animal rights activist I am heartened by the news that stricter penalties will be imposed on those that hunt with dogs. However, as I delve deeper into what this amendment actually entails, I realise this is not actually about protecting animals for if it were the government would be cracking down further on the barbaric and illegal fox hunt. When in fact they are stalling the Animal Welfare bill which would protect animals from further cruelty.

There are amendments in the Animal Welfare bill that intend to bring in harsher penalties for those who continue to Fox hunt illegally, that could also be added to the Police Bill. For hunting with dogs is illegal whether it is for hares or foxes and thus both of these amendments are of equal importance in the fight to end animal cruelty and barbaric blood sports. However, the fact that the challenge to the Hunt is not being adding to the Police Bill would indicate that this is not an attempt to protect animals but it is another targeted and underhand racist attack upon the GRT community, who will be most likely affected by this legislation.    

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Fox hunting is not in the Police Bill, but Hare Coursing is. Picture: Wikimedia

This amendment to the Police Bill intends to make the penalty for hare coursing up to six months in jail and if you are caught coursing then you will be placed upon a register and you will be barred from keeping a dog for the rest of your life. As I have already stated these penalties will predominantly criminalise Gypsy men and boys. Thus further penalising an already vulnerable ethnic minority for in a culture where the men are traditionally the bread winner, if the men are criminalised and imprisoned this will impact negatively on the woman and children creating greater poverty and vulnerability for these families.

The idea of formulating a register of convicted hare coursers is also very sinister enabling the authorities to develop a data base of the GRT youth. Yet there is no mention of creating a similar register for those members of the hunt who continue to hunt illegally, this measure would then appear to be a way to control and manage an ethnic minority and this is completely unacceptable and is blatant discrimination and is a completely racist action.

When we look back in history we see that at one time Hitler’s Nazi regime also created registers of people. These registers started out as a way to control specific groups of people. They were also used as evidence to justify the Nazi belief that the Roma and Sinti people were inherently criminals.

Here we have another example of the striking similarities between Tory policy and what Hitler and the Nazis did to the Roma and Sinti peoples as they began their genocidal policies.  In fact, this new amendment in the Police Bill actually states that coursing goes hand in hand with other criminal activities including theft, criminal damage, violence intimidation and trespass, thus further insinuating that the Traveller boy is a criminal, further reinforcing untrue and negative stereotyping.

So yes in this day and age, I believe that it is time for the end of coursing as a way of hunting, and there will be resistance to this for it is part of an ancient tradition that has existed for centuries.

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Also steeped in history. The grouse hunt is not illegal and a move to ban it is not included in the Police Bill. Picture: Grouse hunting: By W. G. Phillips/Wikemedia Commons

Fox hunting is also another tradition that is steeped in history. This really is a blood sport for there are many ways to kill an unwanted predator on your land.  Hunting with an entire pack of hounds (up to 80 hounds) has been proven time and time again to be a wholly barbaric and a cruel blood sport, which is why it was made illegal in the Hunting Act 2004.  Despite this, hunters from the rich ruling classes, still continue to take their dogs with them, claiming to be trail hunting. This seems to be a little strange and a lot like an accident waiting to happen.  For any landowner who has had to chase the hunt of of their land knows that their own animals (dogs cats small furry creatures chickens and other fowl often end up the innocent victims of these pack animals behaving naturally as dogs tend to do. Which is why the Animal Welfare Act contains a clause which plans to end trail hunting with the scent of dead animals specifically to prevent the unnecessary terror and death of many foxes each year. So once again why is this not being adding as an amendment to the PCCS Bill. After all there needs to be a fairness of punishment for all those who break the law and those individuals from the hunt which is often composed of the rich the Aristocracy should not consider themselves to be above the law.

Yet despite huge amounts of evidence of illegal hunting that is collected by the selfless hunt monitors each weekend during the hunting season, members of the hunt are rarely prosecuted and if they are, they generally get an affordable fine between £150- £1000 or are often let off with a caution. There does not appear to be any register of members of the hunt who have broken the Hunting Act and they also do not have their animals confiscated nor are they banned from keeping an animal in the future.

For if this amendment was truly about cracking down on cruel sports then they would also be cracking down on the grouse shoot, another barbaric cruel and unnecessary sport. One steeped in the tradition of the aristocracy. 

This ancient blood sport is one that the Royal Family love to engage in. From a recent news report:

"On his last ever shoot in 1952, the Queen's father, George VI, and his party shot 90 pheasants, 17 rabbits, two pigeons and three mallards at Sandringham."

Whilst "In 1993, Prince Philip apparently hit his target of 10,000 pheasants during a seven-week stay at Sandringham."

Yet this is unlikely to happen for it is a sport for the wealthy, that the government actually subsidize out of tax payers money.

Once again we see the difference in how the treatment of animals is perceived. How it is alright to penalise the poor man for his hunting, but if as an animal you are killed by a toff then it is not cruel at all. So this is once again about class and the oppression of the poor but especially about the oppression of the Gypsy and Traveller.

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No lifelong register or jail time for the rare fox hunter caught by the po-lice and then successfully prosecuted – yet prosecuted hare coursers will go onto a register for life and could get six months in prison

One must also consider another reason why this amendment has been added to the bill. Which is that the government are concerned about the friendships and alliances that are being forged between the GRT and other groups in society. They hope to sever these bonds between activists from all cultures and ethnicities, many of whom are like myself vegetarian or vegan and abhor animal cruelty. They hope that this amendment will splinter the groups and that the GRT will not challenge these racist punishments for the crime of coursing, for fear of damaging these alliances. Well, this is not the case. If this new amendment to the law is pushed through then it needs to address all cruel sport and not just those that the GRT engage in, but also those pursuits of the rich and upper classes. There needs to be a fairness and equality in the treatment of all who engage in blood sports, for if the government intends to pass new laws that then must be proven to steadfastly be made on a need for the law and these laws must not target minority ethnic groups in this covertly racist way.

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Making alliances. Drive2Durvive rally against the Police Bill in Parliament Square, July 7th

Lu Traveller is a member of Drive 2 Survive, which is a grass-roots Gypsy, Roma and Traveller campaign group set up specifically to resist the Police Bill. Since its first ever rally in Parliament Square on July 7th, last year, Drive 2 Survive has campaigned with other Kill the Bill activists and also set up a big top at the famous Appleby Horse Fair to raise awareness about the Police Bill among Gypsy and Traveller people.

A statement from Drive2 Survive:

 “We are a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller led organization that also represents New travellers, Van dwellers and others the policing bill effects. These coursing laws have been sneakily pulled from the failed hunting bill and added as amendments to the policing crime sentencing bill after section 4 was voted in the house of lords. 

It will effectively create a database of young boys living a traditional cultural life. Seizing their dogs, fining them. We don’t condone any cruelty to animals but we cant accept the unfair and unjust framing of our communities in singling out this section of the hunting bill. The language used is discriminatory in itself suggesting criminality and theft is part of traditional Lamping/ coursing. The picture the conservatives press release are using is nothing short of propaganda. Similar to images and text used in 1930s Germany.

 Everyone at Drive2survive wish to wholeheartedly thank our member Lu, for having the courage as a vegetarian, as a New Traveller, as an animal rights campaigner to write this article.

Drive2survive consists of many different activists with many different views and this is our strength. We will not allow the Government’s underhand and hypocritical tricks to undermine the solidarity, we have built with other campaigners and GRT rights supporters. What we are seeing is a sustained, systematic attempt by the Government to delete every cultural norm that is associated with Romani and Travellers, including horse passports, restricting home education, no-cash-for-scrap, fly grazing, and tightening up of planning laws to prevent Gypsies and Travellers from even putting their trailers on land that they own. The addition of hare coursing to the Police Bill which will already criminalise trespass can be seen as an extension of successive Government’s campaign to eradicate us, our culture and our heritage. In 1600s they used to hang us for being Gypsies and Travellers, but now they are trying to force us to assimilate using discriminatory laws. We remain united against ALL of the Police Bill, including the hare coursing amendment. We will continue to challenge the policing bill.

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 Drive2Survive will be holding a horse drive for charity and a rally with Stand up to Racism in Central London on 19th March. If you would like to join us or show support. Please check out our website or follow us on social media for more updates. @Drive2survive3.

Sherrie Smith   Jake Bowers