Huntsman’s hounds chased 'distressed' calf in field near Buxton, court hears

A calf leapt across two drystone walls escaping a pack of snarling dogs when a Derbyshire huntsman lost control of his hounds in a farmer’s field, a court heard.

By Ben McVay
Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 9:21 am
Updated Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 9:28 am

The “distressed” infant cow was seen fleeing across fields as the pack pursued it in November last year.

A video widely shared online at the time showed more than a dozen dogs chasing the cattle before a hunt member arrives on horseback to bring them under control.

Chesterfield Magistrates Court heard how huntsman Phillip Watts, 72, admitted being in control of the hounds on November 4 during a police interview.

The calf flees the crazed pack

However he denied they had been pursuing the calf during the High Peak Harriers hunt in a field in Hurdlow, near Buxton.

His solicitor Stephen Welford told magistrates Watts had 40 years’ experience “in hunt service” and a “novice” had laid the artificial scent for the hounds to follow that day.

As the calf fled across the field it had run along the line of the scent and “the scent travelled with the calf”.

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The “distressed” infant cow was seen fleeing across two fields as the beasts pursued it

Prosecutor Shairoz Ahmed told the court how on the day of the chase neither the High Peak Harriers nor Watts, of Bakewell, had permission to be in the field.

The farmer who owned the field expressed “surprise” it was not injured, adding that “they don’t normally jump over walls”.

Mr Welford, mitigating for Watts, told the court how on November 4 his client had been “persuaded” to hunt for High Peak Harriers however this was “something he didn’t really want to do.”

He said: “There’s an image in the media of men in scarlet with horses running around the countryside chasing foxes.

Phillip Watts, 72, admitted being in control of the hounds on November 4

“But that’s not the reality for Mr Watts - it’s been a very hard 40 years.”

The solicitor described how Watts had begun his hunting career as a “whipper in” - or assistant - before becoming a huntsman himself.

Watts - who retired during the 2020-2021 hunt period - had spent two hunt seasons in Ireland before returning to England.

He added that Watts' 40-years' service in the hunt had passed “without incident” until November 4 last year.

He said: “Two-three hounds really were the ones who showed interest - it’s an accident.

“As soon as he could he stopped the hounds and took them away and there was no harm caused - sometimes things go wrong.”

Watts, of Alport, Bakewell, initially denied being in charge of a dog worrying livestock however he changed his plea to guilty before a trial got underway.

He was conditionally discharged for six months and made to pay £85 court costs and a £22 victim surcharge.

Addressing Watts a magistrate noted there was “no permission” from the farmer for an artificial scent to be laid and the calf was “clearly distressed”.

However she added: “You were not responsible for how the scent was laid or where it was laid”.

After video footage of the incident was released in November 2020 High Peak Harriers said: “Following a highly unusual incident in which some young hounds became distracted while carrying out lawful trail hunting activities, the High Peak Hunt can confirm that the hunt staff stopped the hounds as soon as possible and that they have never experienced anything of this nature in the past.”