A West Country huntmaster was knocked unconscious in a vicious attack by masked hunt saboteurs armed with iron bars, the Western Daily Press can reveal.
Police in Wiltshire are investigating the incident, which happened near the village of Everleigh, near Amesbury, at the end of a fractious day of confrontations between sabs and the Tedworth Hunt on Saturday.
Officers called to the incident ended up giving first aid to the huntsman, Mike Lane, before paramedics arrived. He was rushed to the Great Western Hospital in Swindon and kept in overnight with head injuries, which included concussion and several broken teeth.
Police in Wiltshire have launched a major investigation into the disturbance, which happened as the meet closed at Weather Hill Firs, between Everleigh and Haxton, at around 4pm.
Their investigations will centre around trying to identify the hunt saboteurs responsible. Video footage captured by several mobile phones among hunt supporters at the scene appear to show Mr Lane being punched to the ground and then kicked in the head a couple of times before the hunt saboteurs run off.
A spokeswoman for Wiltshire police said: “We were called at around 4pm on Saturday to the scene of an incident between Everleigh and Haxton. The Tedworth Hunt had been out on a drag hunt and according to the hunt, a group of up to a dozen people – both men and women – wearing balaclavas had been harassing the hunt throughout the day.
“The protestors had left the scene by the time police arrived. We can confirm that a 39-year-old man from the Marlborough area who is involved with the hunt was assaulted and needed treatment at Great Western Hospital.
“The man was knocked to the ground and received injuries to the head and back and was briefly unconscious. Police officers gave him first aid until an ambulance arrived.
“We are gathering evidence from witnesses, including video and still images recorded by Tedworth Hunt supporters,” she added.
Mr Lane has been told to rest for at least a week following the concussion he sustained. Police said they are treating the case as a serious incident of ABH and potential public disorder.
Inspector Paul Longden, of Wiltshire police, said the attack was ‘unacceptable’. “Whilst we have no issue with people lawfully protesting, this was a totally unacceptable assault involving a group of men and women wearing balaclavas.
“We are making every effort to find and bring to justice the people who inflicted these injuries,” he added.
Mr Lane said he could remember little in the aftermath of the attack, but that hunt saboteurs had plagued the hunt all day.
“They followed is from the kennels that morning and during the days they were quite upset and there were a number of confrontations,” he said. “We were quite upset that they were spraying the hounds with citronella spray and we remonstrated with them.
“We were packing up just after 4pm and it got quite violent. Five or six of them came across to where we were all parked and started to make a nuisance of themselves. I went over to try to calm it all down and one of them spat in my face. I was then punched by another and a scuffle broke out.
“I slipped over and on the ground one of them kicked me in the head twice and knocked me out. To be honest, I have no other recollection of what happened after that. They were swinging iron bars on lengths of rope at one stage. Luckily there were still enough people around who came to my aid and they ran back to their vehicles and drove off at speed,” he added.
“Lots of people videoed what happened, and it is quite disconcerting to see yourself being knocked out on film,” he added.
The incident is the latest in a long line of violent confrontations between hunt saboteurs and hunts in the West Country, with both sides claiming the other to be more the more violent.
Last week, the Western Daily Press reported how saboteurs had been mobbed by students from the Cirencester-based Royal Agricultural University after trying to disrupt a meet of the college’s beagle foot pack at Knockdown, near Tetbury.
The campaign director for the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, said the incident in Wiltshire showed that saboteurs needed to ‘unmask’. “This was a particularly nasty and cowardly attack by people who hoped by wearing face coverings they would avoid prosecution,” he said.
“The number of people involved in saboteur activities is far fewer than in the past, however we are concerned that the extremists who remain are increasingly resorting to violence. There have been a number of incidents over the past few years involving assaults on hunt staff and supporters by people who have masked their identities. We are particularly worried about the increasing tendency to violence by those wearing balaclavas and face coverings in a bid to escape the law.
“We call upon the police to use their powers, wherever possible, to unmask people who wear face coverings to hunt meets before there is violence,” he added.