UK

Fox killing inquiry: 'Smear campaign' against PC stalled investigation

Man apparently carrying fox cub into a shed
Image caption The video filmed covertly by anti-hunt activities allegedly shows a terrierman carrying a fox cub into a shed housing hunting hounds

A police inquiry into the alleged killing of fox cubs by hunting hounds stalled for nearly two years while the officer in charge was himself investigated, the BBC can reveal.

West Mercia PC Richard Barradale-Smith has now been cleared of the allegations against him - including that he had had affairs with anti-hunting activists.

At least one claim was made by somebody with links to the hunt in the case.

Police have now said five people are to be charged with animal cruelty.

Three men and one woman aged between 29 and 54 will appear at Birmingham Magistrates' Court next week.

In May 2016, activists from the Hunt Investigation Team used hidden cameras to film a South Herefordshire Hunt terrierman apparently taking the young foxes into a shed of barking hounds before emerging with their lifeless bodies.

The anti-hunting activists believe the terriermen were training the dogs to see foxes as prey.

Image caption PC Richard Barradale-Smith has previously investigated allegations made by animal rights campaigners

The footage and the bodies of two cubs were handed to PC Barradale-Smith who had investigated previous allegations made by animal rights campaigners.

But West Mercia Police then began an investigation into the officer after receiving an allegation that PC Barradale-Smith had been in a relationship with two anti-hunting activists, including the woman who brought him the evidence.

This would have been misconduct in public office.

Police searched both his house and that of the anti-hunting activist, who has asked the BBC not to use her name.

Anonymous threatening letters were sent to another woman who has campaigned against fox-hunting, also accusing her of having an affair with the officer. She passed them to the police.

The person who made the allegation works in the farming community and has close links to the South Herefordshire Hunt. He is not one of those charged.

The BBC understands he did not name the officer and told the force he did not want to get further involved.

Image caption Anti-hunt investigators said the foxes were alive in a cage before later being filmed lifeless

Mr Barradale-Smith's family believes it was a "smear campaign" aimed at disrupting the case.

Further allegations against the officer were made in October 2016 by a senior prosecutor who said PC Barradale-Smith had leaked confidential information to the activist who gave him the video evidence.

He was also accused of bombarding the CPS with emails.

This triggered a separate misconduct investigation and he was taken off the fox cubs case.

In January 2017, the officer went on sick leave and is yet to return to work.

By March this year both investigations had been resolved and he has been cleared of any wrong-doing.

Now, within weeks, the decision to prosecute has been taken, two years after the investigation began.

Image caption The video allegedly shows a hunt worker taking foxes out of a cage in a lorry and into the home of the hounds

The Hunt Investigation Team described the force's response as a scandal and claimed the police seemed more interested in "harassing" the officer who investigated the allegations than examining the allegations themselves.

The activist alleged to have been involved with the PC asked to remain anonymous but said: "The police are there to investigate without fear or favour when evidence of a crime is brought to their attention."

"For two years they've been investigating an unsubstantiated allegation that I had an affair with a police officer that I've met once. It would have been very easy to show that was completely false and what you would have expected West Mercia to do is say, given the source, 'is there a conflict of interest here'."

In a joint statement, West Mercia Police and the CPS said the fox cub inquiry had involved a number of "complex factors".

The force refused to comment about PC Barradale-Smith.

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