Animal rights activist Bryan Griffiths has today been found not guilty at Birmingham Crown Court of the manslaughter by gross negligence of Warwickshire Hunt supporter, Trevor Morse. The presiding Judge was Mrs Justice Slade. Trevor Morse died at Long Marston airfield near Stratford upon Avon on 9th March 2009 after being hit by the gyrocopter Griffiths was piloting. Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Simon Hart commented: “This is a difficult time for Trevor Morse’s family, partner and friends. As a result of animal activists one man is dead and another has faced very serious criminal charges. “It is not for animal rights activists to police the Hunting Act or any other law” “If there is one outcome from the horrific events of this case it must be that the activity which led to Trevor Morse’s death is not repeated. It is not for animal rights activists to police the Hunting Act or any other law, especially not using clearly unsafe methods such as using a gyrocopter or any other aircraft. It is for police forces to enforce the Hunting Act and the laws of the land. “On the day Trevor Morse was killed Mr Griffiths and his co-pilot John Curtin were not even filming the hunt from the gyrocopter. This was not about enforcing any law.”
The above is the entirety of the statement issued by the Countryside Alliance in response to the not guilty verdict in the trial of Bryan Griffiths over the death by manslaughter by gross negligence of Trevor Morse. Analysis of the statement reveals interesting insights into the Countryside Alliance and how it frames the debate over the future of the Hunting Act (2004).
The CA says, “This is a difficult time …”
Yes, any compassionate person will regret the premature death of anyone regardless of who they are and the circumstances in which they die.
The CA says, “As a result of animal activists one man is dead …”
While this statement is factually correct, the failure to simultaneously recognize the defendant was found not guilty as charged could be read by some in the polarized context of this debate as an allegation that the verdict was somehow incorrect.
The CA says, “It is not for animal rights activists to police the Hunting Act or any other law …”
Nonetheless, if any hunt moves across public property the public is entitled to watch it regardless of their motives. It is lawful to watch public activities of public groups of people on public property.
The CA says, “the activity which led to Trevor Morse’s death is not repeated … “
Again, any compassionate person would agree with this statement. What is noteworthy, however, is the omission by the CA to use this opportunity to condemn anyone following the hunt from threatening or assaulting anyone who legally follows their activities. There is plentiful evidence on the Internet and elsewhere of such instances. This omission could signal in the minds of some a tacit approval for their aggressive behavior. It is the responsibility of the hunts and their supporting organizations like the CA to ensure their followers comply with the law.
The CA says “especially not using clearly unsafe methods such as using a gyrocopter or any other aircraft … “
Providing the pilots of any such aircraft are in compliance with any laws and regulations governing their behavior they are legally entitled to fly wherever they choose. The gyrocopter was on the ground when it became “unsafe.” It became so because the court heard the deceased refused to remove him self from its immediate proximity.
The CA says they “were not even filming the hunt from the gyrocopter”
Why is this relevant? What difference does it make whether they were filming from the gyrocopter or not?
The CA says “This was not about enforcing any law.”
No, it was not about enforcing the law. It was about the legal activity of flying a gyrocopter over the British countryside. The law, however, with respect to the charge brought against the defendant has been enforced. He was found not guilty.
One further concluding comment: To say that this is a tragedy for all concerned is to make this statement appear trivial. Nonetheless, it is true. A group of people who follow hunts chose to confront other people who were engaged in a legal activity that they found annoying. Increasingly the debate about the Hunting Act appears to be less and less about the welfare of wild animals and more about the self-righteous behavior of those who do not like to be told they can no longer do something that they believe they are entitled to do.