Paul Oliver (40) and Hannah Rose (30), of Sutton Crosses, near Long Sutton, convicted of animal cruelty
A South Holland couple found guilty of animal cruelty, following a seven-day trial at court, have been spared an immediate jail sentence.
Paul Oliver (40) and his partner Hannah Rose (30), both of Sutton Crosses, near Long Sutton, were convicted by a jury after evidence emerged of them allowing hounds to kill fox cubs.
Oliver was sentenced to 16 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, while Rose was given a 12-week suspended sentence, also for 12 months, by District Judge Joanna Dickens at Birmingham Magistrates Court on Monday.
However, neither Oliver or Rose were banned from keeping animals after fears they would lose their jobs within the industry.
Meanwhile, two other defendants, Julie Elmore (55), of Abergavenny, Mid-Wales, and Paul Reece (48) of Itton, South Wales, pleaded guilty to two counts of causing unnecessary suffering to fox cubs.
Elmore and Paul Reece received conditional discharge, after their guilty pleas were taken into account.
Another defendant, Nathan Parry (40), also of Abergavenny, was cleared of four counts of animal cruelty after live fox cubs were fed to hounds in May 2016.
Oliver, former master of hounds with the South Herefordshire Hunt, and Rose had been investigated by West Mercia Police whose officers were involved in an operation led by its Hunt Investigation Team.
The investigation, codenamed Operation Childer, began when CCTV footage was handed over to police which showed fox cubs being fed to dogs at the hunt premises in Wormelow, Herefordshire.
As well as CCTV footage, police also used forensic analysis carried out on the fox cubs to prosecute Oliver and Rose as the cubs were alive at the time they were given to the hounds.
The judge said: “Four fox cubs were killed by hounds whilst in the kennels.
“They did not have the chance of escape but it is not clear if this was a single lead hound in a pack or just one hound on its own.
“Thankfully, the veterinary evidence shows that they died quickly. I consider that Mr Oliver took the lead role in this and it is clear that Ms Rose was acting on his direction.
“This was a very serious offence of its type and the fox cubs suffered a painful, terrifying death.”
Going on to explain her reasons for not banning Oliver and Rose from keeping animals, Judge Dickens said: "I think the chance of any reoccurrence is minimal.
"I also take into account that to disqualify them from being in control of animals would cause them to lose their current employment and any hope of future work, this being their livelihood."
As well as a suspended sentence, Oliver, who was found guilty of four charges relating to animal cruelty, was ordered to pay total costs of £415.
Rose, who was convicted of three animal cruelty charges and found not guilty on the fourth, was order to pay the same amount.
Superintendent Sue Thomas, Policing Commander for Herefordshire at West Mercia Police, said: “This has been a long and complex investigation, taking many hours of police work to achieve these verdicts.
“Throughout this investigation we have listened to various organisations and those who stand up for animal rights, taking the information passed on to us very seriously.
“We hope that the result in this case demonstrates how seriously we take investigations relating to animal cruelty and how determined we are to bring perpetrators to justice.
“This should also send a strong message to those who choose to abuse our wildlife that animal cruelty will not be tolerated.”
“I hope the work of my team goes some way to reassuring members of the public that abuse against any animal, either pets or wild animals, will not be tolerated by West Mercia Police.”
An RSPCA Midlands spokesman said: “This was a very distressing case and we were pleased to be able to support West Mercia Police and the Hunt Investigation Team in evidence-gathering at the scene.
“The RSPCA also made arrangements for a vet to carry out the post-mortems on the fox cubs, as well as giving evidence in court.
“We applaud the hard work and efforts which went into securing this conviction.”
Anyone with concerns about cruelty to animals or in their area can report it on 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.