Farmer found guilty of knocking huntsman unconscious spared jail

A farmer who attacked a huntsman after hounds strayed onto his land has been spared prison.

Thursday, 20th December 2018, 8:11 am
Updated Thursday, 20th December 2018, 8:18 am
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Geoffrey Dent, 39, from Scarborough, punched Stephen Hall to the ground, then kicked him in the head while the victim was lying helpless on the ground.

Mr Hall suffered a black eye, bruising and grazes to his head, a swollen face, and cuts and soreness to his ear and rib cage.

A jury at York Crown Court heard that violence flared when some of the hounds with the Staintondale Hunt strayed onto Dent’s land during a drag hunt using an artificial scent.

Prosecutor Frances Pencheon said that Dent’s 300-acre farmland was out of bounds for the hunt which had a pre-planned route and had no permission to venture onto the farmland.

About 25 hounds and 20 horses were involved in the hunt and some of the hounds strayed onto Dent’s land, scaring sheep that were grazing in a field.

Mr Hall got off his horse and climbed over a fence into the field to try to retrieve the dogs, said Ms Pencheon.

“The defendant approached him and spoke to him, but before (Mr Hall) had the chance to reply, the defendant punched Mr Hall, causing his riding hat to fall off,” she added.

A second blow knocked Mr Hall to the ground. The attack continued while he was laid out.

Seeing Mr Hall in trouble, other huntsmen dashed into the field and got Dent off him. During the ensuing melee, Dent himself suffered a fractured cheekbone and cuts and bruises.

Mr Hall was taken to Scarborough Hospital where an x-ray and head scan revealed there were no broken bones.

Dent, of Bridge Farm, Harwood Dale, was subsequently arrested but denied being responsible for Mr Hall’s injuries, claiming the victim must have been injured during a general melee after refusing to leave his land.

Dent denied assault occasioning actual bodily harm, but the jury found that it was the burly cattle farmer who was the aggressor and that the other huntsmen had gone to the aid of their colleague.

Mr Hall - who had been working for the Staintondale Hunt for six years when the attack occurred on March 4 last year - said it was hunt policy to stick to the pre-planned route, but that a few of the younger hounds had encroached into a field on Dent’s land.

“I got off my horse… and got the hounds together using horn and voice,” said Mr Hall.

“I saw Mr Dent there (in the field), coming towards me. He said to me, ‘Who gave you permission to

be on this land?’, and before I had a chance to answer, he hit me.

“I went to the ground. I was hit again and again. I was getting punched, kicked and stamped on for what seemed like an eternity.”

Mr Hall, who was “in shock”, claimed he had been temporarily knocked unconscious.

He said Dent had hit him “at least 20 times”, adding: “It seemed (like) forever.”

The jury returned a guilty verdict on Wednesday following a short trial.

Defence barrister Amy Levitt said that Dent, who looked after the Staintondale hounds, had no previous convictions and the assault was “out of character”.

Dent, who was also a company director, was a hard worker and an immediate jail sentence would be catastrophic for his business and result in the slaughter of all his livestock.

Judge Andrew Stubbs QC told Dent: “Your lifestyle is clearly a hard one. Maybe that’s why you badly lost your self-control when you completely overreacted to the fact that the Staintondale Hunt ended up in your field.

“You were entirely within your rights to tell them (they shouldn’t be on the land) and entirely within your rights to be annoyed when you saw them on your property, and the sheep were panicking in their pens, (but) all that made you lose your head in a way that you cannot accept.

“In the struggle that ensued, it seems as though a certain amount of summary justice was handed out to you… and I take that into account as well.”

Dent was given a 12-month suspended prison sentence with 100 hours’ unpaid work. He was also made to pay Mr Hall £500 compensation and £500 costs.