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A Publication of


From The Ark No. 188 Summer 2001

Hare-coursing ‘celebration’

As a bizarre way of celebrating the anniversary of the birth of the Prince of Peace, a massive hare kill in Newmarket was organised - and oppposed by Ark member Moira Walshe and several others.

By Moira Walshe

From December 10 - 14 last year, what was billed as a ‘Millennium Celebration’ by the organisers, Greyhound 2000, was held in the Newmarket, Suffolk and the Swaffham area, Norfolk.  In fact, this was the largest harecoursing event since 1878 and consisted of a greyhound exhibition and show at Tattersalls on the 10th followed by four days of coursing. The organisers of this event included Mark Prescott, the race horse trainer, and the Countryside Alliance.  Many people are unaware that hare coursing is still legal since other such ‘sports’ such as cock-fighting and bear baiting were banned over 150 years ago.  In hare coursing, pairs of dogs, usually greyhounds or lurchers, are released onto a hare who should be given a 80 yard start.  The dogs are awarded points for making the hare ‘turn’ to evade its pursuers.  Some hares escape but many are killed, and some are caught in a tug-of-war between the two dogs.  The death of the hare is often far from instantaneous and many have to wait to be despatched by a ‘picker-up’ who will break their necks.

Harecoursing, as well having the object of testing the agility and speed of the dog, is one of gambling to pick the overall winner.  In this event, 128 dogs were used to course hundreds of hares on estates at Six Mile Bottom, Newmarket, and also at Narborough, near Swaffham, Norfolk.  The event attracted a couple of thousand bloodsport enthusiasts from around the world.  Local animal rights campaigners learned of this event just two to three weeks beforehand and quickly tried to work out our response to such appalling news that this blood festival was to be hosted on our doorstep.  The Catholic Study Circle circulated all local members with a letter alerting them to the horror and Newmarket’s parish priest, Fr Paul Hypher, wrote in the weekly bulletin from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that ‘It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly’ and other passages.

With the coursing itself happening from Monday to Thursday, we knew that many people would be unable to attend any demonstrations on those days, so much attention focused on Sunday 10th, the first day, at Tattersalls Sales Paddocks.  In the run-up to the event, local campaigners held information stalls in Newmarket and hundreds of people signed petitions and wrote postcards to their MPs.  On the 10th, we congregated outside the Post Office in Newmarket and walked the short distance to Tattersalls.   Hundreds of cars were rolling through these gates all day to the various events, including the showing of the coursing dogs.  We were supervised by the police and also the events’ own security men.  A presence was maintained here throughout the day in spite of heavy rain which persisted from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.   The protest against the cars entering through the gates was very vocal but always peaceful.  Many at the gates were dismayed to see their local MP, James Paice, drive through.  Also the bloodsports supporter Robin Page of the TV programme, One Man and His Dog, made an appearance.

Another anti-hare coursing stall was meanwhile set up by members of Ipswich Animal Rights in the indoor shopping centre at the Rookery.  Although only a few shops were open, much support was received from the public.  At 3 p.m. a large group of two hundred or so protesters and members of the League Against Cruel Sports assembled by the Clocktower at the top of Newmarket High Street.  We were joined by the LACs and a human-sized brown hare from London! (See opposite page ??) After a media photocall, it was time to march down the High Street and back to Tattersalls as the last hare coursing supporters of the day entered.

Hearing the hares’ screams

On Monday morning, a small group of protesters met to go to the coursing fields at Six Mile Bottom.  Some used the public footpaths around the fields to try and disrupt the meet. Three people were subsequently arrested.  Others reported how they watched helplessly as the dogs caught and killed hares just feet away.  They heard the hares scream.  Five hares were killed in three hours, a third of those coursed, and the gruesome total for that day was 14 dead. The coursers were behind schedule because of the disruption and were coursing until after dark.  For the following two days, the coursers moved to fields at Narborough, Swaffham.  Here a small band of protesters met.  However small, their presence was much appreciated by those who could not attend, myself included.

Back in Newmarket for the final day, which dawned dry and cloudless unlike the previous ones, members of Ipswich Animal Rights attended.  One of them was punched in the chest and knocked into the mud by a supporter of coursing as she maintained her peaceful protest.  It is believed that no hares were killed on that day.  The coursing and the protest attracted much media attention and provoked many letters to the local papers.  We hope that at least people are now more enlightened about this dreadful ‘sport’.  We also hope that all hunting will soon be banned and that this will be the last event of its kind.  Well done to everyone who prayed about or protested and campaigned against this event.

Return to The Ark No. 188

For questions, comments and submissions, please contact:
Deborah Jones at The Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare

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