Beverley and Holderness MP, Graham Stuart, has welcomed the news that the Government is introducing new powers to tackle the scourge of hare coursing following a three-year campaign.
Hare coursing is an illegal activity in which criminals set their dogs loose to chase, catch and kill brown hares across open grassland and arable land. Online bets are placed on the outcome of the hunt and how many times the dogs can force the hare to change direction. Those involved often have links to wider criminal activity, including theft, criminal damage, drugs and firearms offences.
Given the need for large areas of open land, hare coursers will trespass on farmland, causing damage to gates and walls, crops and farm equipment. Many rural landowners have also reported threats, intimidation and violence when confronting hare coursers on their land.
Although already illegal under the Hunting Act 2004, the difficulty of prosecuting with this legislation means that most charges are brought forward under the Game Act, a law which is 190 years old. This currently carries with it a fine of between £1,000-£2,500.
The Government has confirmed it is increasing the maximum penalty under the Game Act to an unlimited fine and, for the first time, the possibility of up to six months behind bars. It will also introduce two new offences in order to make it easier for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring offenders to justice.
Graham said, “I’ve been working with the Hare Coursing Coalition since launching the CLA’s national campaign against hare coursing back in 2018.
“As well as contributing to declining numbers of brown hares, people often forget about the human impact of these crimes. It affects people in rural, isolated communities, where it naturally takes the police longer to respond and people often feel less safe.
“I’d like to congratulate the Hare Coursing Coalition for their hard work to persuade the Government to give Humberside Police the extra powers they need to protect my constituents across Holderness. Humberside Police themselves have been fantastic in keeping rural crime as a priority and communicating with affected residents.
“I reported some hare coursers myself this Sunday just gone, and I’d strongly encourage anyone who sees any suspicious behaviour to let the police know using 101 or by calling 999 if a crime’s currently in progress.”
Humberside Police has already established a Rural Task Force operating from Driffield Police Station and led by Inspector Jon Powell. The dedicated unit works to disrupt rural crimes including hare coursing proactively, as well as improving information sharing to drive up reporting and arrest rates. The Rural Task Force is the first unit in the region to achieve prosecution with aerial footage from a drone and has also been equipped with specialist vehicles to help them pursue suspects across off-road terrain.
Humberside Police is also a member of Operation Galileo, which promotes intelligence sharing and joint working between the 21 police forces most affected by hare coursing.
On top of these measures, one of the best ways to prevent reoffending is to seize and kennel coursers’ dogs, however the cost of doing so has previously been prohibitively expensive for police forces.
New measures brought in today will allow police forces to be reimbursed for the costs incurred from kennelling dogs upon any successful conviction. Courts will also have new powers to ban convicted offenders from owning or keeping dogs in the future.
Libby Bateman, rural adviser at the CLA, added: “Today’s announcement is great news after years of hard work and is recognition of the need for urgency in stamping out this crime which blights rural communities.
“I’d like to thank Graham for his support since our launch in 2018 as he’s helped appeal to Ministers across Government on our behalf and on behalf of his affected constituents across Holderness.”
The measures will come into force across England if voted for in the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, which should receive Royal Assent later this year. The next debate on these amendments will be in the House of Lords later this month.