Hunt protests hit rural pubs

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Foot-and-mouth disease, Protest, Abuse

Rural pubs, many of which are already struggling because of last year's foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, are facing a new battle in the shape of hunt...

Rural pubs, many of which are already struggling because of last year's foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, are facing a new battle in the shape of hunt saboteurs.

Country licensees are being forced to ban fox-hunts from meeting at their pubs because of a new campaign of intimidation by saboteurs.

Anti-hunt campaigners in Surrey, Sussex and Kent, under the name Surrey Anti-Hunt Campaign, have bullied publicans into banning traditional pre-hunt drinks or social events.

Licensees have been leafleted, had their telephones jammed and their walls covered in graffiti. The police have now set up a special unit to investigate.

"It's been going on a while - it really started back in August when we got a brick through our window," said David Dockree, licensee of the Wheatsheaf in Kemsing, Kent.

"Since then we've had people protesting outside, pictures being taken of the pub, anonymous phone calls and letters."

The protesters have targeted Mr Dockree's pub because the West Kent hunt has traditionally met there on Boxing Day - something that didn't happen this year because of foot-and-mouth restrictions.

"It's got nothing to do with me," said Mr Dockree. "I sit totally on the fence when it comes to hunting."

As well as the intimidating nature of the campaign, the hunt saboteurs have had a devastating effect on trade.

"It totally killed Boxing Day which is normally the biggest day of the year for us, we can take a week's money in one day," Mr Dockree said.

"But I've got a young family and it's frightening not knowing what they're going to do next."

Mr Dockree and his family only took on the Unique lease for the pub seven months ago.

"It's not been a good start and it's difficult enough as it is, but we're staying," he said.

A spokesman for Sussex police said they had been contacted by licensees and were now investigating whether charges for matters such as criminal damage can be brought.

So far, 14 of the 19 pubs used by local hunts have banned the hunt from their premises - which the saboteurs are claiming as a victory.

Hunt organiser Sophie Hill said the campaign worked on "intimidation and blackmail".

The Surrey Anti-Hunt Campaign declined to comment.

Related topics: Other operators

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