Police have been accused of treating hunt monitors with ‘disrespect’.
The claim was put to Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, during a meeting at Worthing town hall on Thursday, where she was a guest.
A letter was read out from Sue Baumgardt, of Brighton, who said monitors had collected evidence over the years showing hunts had a ‘disregard for the law’.
She asked why the officer in charge of keeping the peace between the two camps was confident the hunts were staying within the law, adding: “Clearly he has taken the word of the hunts.”
Mrs Baumgardt said: “Over the past few years, the relationship between the police and people monitoring fox hunts to try to prevent illegal hunting activity has deteriorated and we are often treated with disrespect or disdain.”
The Hunting Act 2004 made the hunting of wild animals with dogs illegal. It does allow for trail hunting, which involves people on foot or horseback following a scent along a pre-determined route with hounds or beagles.
Mrs Bourne said there had been complaints about a recent hunt and added that any evidence that hunts were stepping outside the law should be reported to police.
She added: “There are a number of challenges for Sussex Police when it comes to balancing the rights of the hunting community to hunt within, obviously, the confines of the legislation, and then balancing those with the rights of those against hunting to protest.
“These challenges often include protecting individuals and property from harm in a very proportionate and sensible manner.
“They also have to remain very impartial in what can often be difficult and emotive circumstances.”
Mrs Bourne told the meeting that Superintendent Alan Sproston regularly met with hunt masters and hunt monitors across Sussex and Surrey ‘so that he can maintain the balance’.
The issue was discussed at performance and accountability meeting in October, where Deputy Chief Constable Bernie O’Reilly told Mrs Bourne that the force had a ‘good dialogue’ with the hunts and hunt monitors, but less so with the Hunt Saboteurs Association.
He added: “We’ve got more work to do there. We’ve certainly not given up and it’s certainly not for the want of trying.”