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New police powers and jail sentences proposed for hare coursers after pressure from Cambridgeshire MPs

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New police powers and tougher sentencing guidelines are proposed to tackle hare coursing, following pressure from Cambridgeshire’s MPs and police and crime commissioner.

There were an astonishing 794 recorded incidents of hare coursing in the county last year, in which dogs were illegally used to chase, catch and kill hares.

Hare coursing is illegal
Hare coursing is illegal

In addition to the cruelty to the declining population of brown hares, the crime is also associated with theft, criminal damage, violence and intimidation of farmers and landowners.

Now the government is proposing jail sentences for the first time, as well as new criminal offences and new powers for the courts to disqualify convicted offenders from owning or keeping dogs.

It follows pressure from Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, who worked with fellow county MPs and Darryl Preston, the county’s police and crime commissioner, to call for change.

Mr Brown said he after meeting with Cambridgeshire Countryside Watch, he arranged meetings with the home secretary and environment secretary, established a farmers’ forum to put concerns directly to the farming minister, formed a Parliamentary group to lobby for change and wrote to the Prime Minister.

He said: “I am delighted to see the government is listening to local farmers, who have been so badly impacted by harassment, property damage, threats and intimidation from perpetrators of these barbaric crimes. As I know from my discussions with them, Cambridgeshire police have been keen to act – our rural crime action team have been leading the way in taking the fight to coursers, but didn’t have sufficient powers to do so.

“South Cambridgeshire’s farmers were among the first to put their case directly to this government last year, and their testimony at my farming forum last year has been crucial to seeing this action delivered.

“I will now be watching this legislation closely and doing all I can to ensure swift passage into law. It is long past time that our farmers, communities, and businesses had the kind of protection that can only be brought by tougher legislation.”

In amendments tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the government proposes to

  • increase the maximum penalty for trespassing in pursuit of game to an unlimited fine and introducing – for the first time – the possibility of up to six months’ imprisonment.
  • create two new criminal offences: firstly, trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare; and secondly, being equipped to trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare both punishable on conviction by an unlimited fine and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.
  • give the courts new powers to order, on conviction, the reimbursement of costs incurred by the police in kennelling dogs seized in connection with a hare coursing-related offence and disqualifying an offender from owning or keeping a dog.
  • disqualify an offender from owning or keeping a dog.

Cath Crowther, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) East regional director, said: “Hare coursing is a despicable crime that so often blights rural communities across our region. I hear frequently of the harrowing experiences our members face when they are confronted with people hare coursing illegally on their land.

“The crime often goes hand-in-hand with other acts of wanton violence and vandalism, along with damage to crops and property, and many of our members live in fear of being targeted.

“We have long argued for tougher sentences and more police powers to tackle these criminal gangs and are pleased that government has listened. This clamp down is long overdue – and we need to hold the government’s feet to the fire to ensure these reforms are implemented urgently.”

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