Alleged hunt saboteurs appeal for judge rather than magistrates after Colston 4 verdict

Two alleged hunt saboteurs accused of getting into a scuffle with a pro-hunting group at a Boxing Day meet will stand trial in September. But their lawyer has called for the case to be heard by a district judge rather than magistrates due to the ‘fast-moving and rapidly changing’ law around someone’s right to protest.

Solictor Lydia Dagostino cited Bristol’s Colston 4, who were cleared of criminal damage after pulling down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston. This trial has now been referred to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney General, but the review will not impact Colston’s 4’s verdict.

Among other issues, she is seeking a clarification on when someone can employ a defence of human rights in a case of criminal damage. Andrew Purbrick, 59, from Westbury, Wiltshire, and Adrian Earl, 52, of Calne, Wiltshire, are charged with using threatening or abusive words or behaviour with intent to cause fear of violence.

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The charges relate to clashes between pro and anti-hunting groups outside the Red Lion pub in Lacock, Wiltshire, when the Avon Vale Hunt passed through on December 27. The traditional Boxing Day meet took place a day later than usual because Boxing Day fell on a Sunday.

Purbrick and Earl deny any wrongdoing but prosecutor Tom Power told Swindon Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday they are accused of becoming involved in the “melee” and “general pushing and scuffling” between the different factions. Earl is further accused of smashing a mobile phone out of someone’s hand “who was simply standing there minding their own business”.

Lydia Dagostino, for Earl and Purbrick, said: “Mr Earl is not part of any support group, either pro or anti-hunt, he had simply dropped his wife off and found himself in the melee.”

Ms Dagostino said Earl suffered a significant assault and was a victim in the incident.

She said Purbrick had been protesting peacefully against the hunt with other demonstrators when they were deliberately targeted by hunt supporters who had been drinking. Ms Dagostino said the issues in the case were self-defence and defence of others.

She asked for the case to be listed in front of a district judge rather than lay magistrates in light of questions of law being raised by a number of cases involving the right to protest, describing it as “a fast-moving and rapidly changing area”.

Earl and Purbrick’s trial was listed for a one-day trial at Swindon Magistrates’ Court on September 29, with a case management hearing on June 8. They were granted unconditional bail.

Wiltshire Police came under fire for their handling of the hunt meet. Officers have been accused of not intervening to prevent the violence, while some saboteurs have claimed one of the officers is a full member of the hunt.

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) said it has referred 10 complaints to Wiltshire Police’s professional standards department to be investigated further.

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