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Hefty costs for Stowmarket hare coursers

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Two men have been ordered to pay more than £2,000 between them after being convicted of hare coursing on private farmland near Stowmarket.

Frank McFarlane, 28, and Christopher Ward, 38, were found guilty by magistrates of daytime trespass in pursuit of game following a trial in Bury St Edmunds on Friday, December 4.

McFarlane, of Stonham Road, Mickfield, and Ward, of East Ham Manor Way, Newham, London, were apprehended after being seen with four ‘lurcher-type dogs’ in the privately owned field in Creeting St Peter on September 8.

Sentencing the men, magistrate Colin Reeve said: “We do not think it is credible that there were two other people with four dogs in the area at the time who were not you.”

Prosecuting, Cathy McCulloch said that Mr Cobbold was ploughing the field near Pound Lane when he saw two men with four ‘lurcher-type’ dogs walking through the stubble in the adjacent field.

The dogs were ‘waved on’ to chase a hare, Mrs McCulloch said.

Mr Cobbold called the police and the landowner, Robert Wrinch, who later confirmed he had not given permission for anyone to be on his land.

Two police officers arrived at 9.32am and saw a Nissan Navara, later found to be owned by McFarlane’s father, and another smaller car.

The officers saw McFarlane and Ward walking from the field with four dogs onto the nearby footpath and they were arrested at the scene on suspicion of hare coursing, said Mrs McCulloch.

Giving evidence, Mr Cobbold said that despite being several hundred yards away he was ‘absolutely 100 per cent sure’ the animal he had seen was a hare and that he had seen one of the men wave the dogs on, a gesture indicative of pursuing game.

He said the men were in the middle of the field ‘within 40 to 50 yards of each other’, another factor which can indicate hare coursing.

In a Section Nine statement read to the court, Mr Wrinch said this was an area ‘known as the Rundo with no footpaths running through it’.

Defending McFarlane, Declan Gallagher called into question the distance at which Mr Cobbold had viewed the two men, suggesting you would need ‘extremely good eyesight to see what was happening’.

However Mr Cobbold insisted numerous times that he ‘knew what he’d seen’.

Mr Reeve said the magistrates found Mr Cobbold’s evidence ‘convincing’, adding: “He is knowledgeable of the area and the issues relating to hare coursing.”

Pc Andy Sedgwick, of the Suffolk Roads Policing unit, was one of the officers who apprehended McFarlane and Ward.

Giving evidence, he corroborated Mr Cobbold’s description of the four dogs.

He said that as he and his colleague drove down Pound Lane, they got a view across the field and saw the two men around 500m up the public footpath, with the dogs around 20m out into the field.

“The dogs were tied with bits of string or rope,” Pc Sedgwick said. “I never saw a proper lead.”

The court heard a Section Nine statement from Pc Mark Bryant, Suffolk wildlife crime officer, who is involved in a countywide action against hare coursing named Operation Galileo.

Pc Bryant’s statement outlined some conditions of hare coursing including the use of lurcher type dogs and of slip leads, which can be removed quickly to release the dogs, and the act of trespassing i.e. using private land.

Giving evidence, McFarlane argued that he and Ward were just out walking their dogs - a Doberman terrier cross, a deerhound, an arthritic mongrel, and a pregnant wolfhound.

McFarlane, who admitted he also owned a collie and a mastiff which he left at home on September 8, said he had walked his dogs in the field ten times and ‘didn’t know’ who owned the land.

Cross examining, Mrs McCulloch said: “There was nobody else fitting that description with the four lurchers. You are asking this court to believe that you were innocently walking your dogs.”

Mrs McCulloch also honed in on McFarlane’s initial interviews after the pair’s arrest, in which he had answered ‘no comment’ to almost every question put to him.

“These two men had not had the opportunity to get together and make up their version of events,” she said.

Ward, defending himself, declined to give evidence, which the magistrates concluded caused ‘adverse influence’.

The pair were each fined £180 and ordered to pay costs of £310, as well as a £520 criminal courts charge and a £20 victim surcharge.