The older sister of the late Princess Diana gave a character reference in court today (Thursday) as two members of the Belvoir Hunt were given suspended jail sentences for seriously assaulting two League Against Cruel Sports investigators during a meeting.
Lady Sarah McCorquodale, who is joint master of the Belvoir Hunt and a former High Sheriff of Lincolnshire, provided support for terrier man George Grant (57) as he appeared at Leicester Crown Court with his 25-year-old son Thomas.
The hearing was told that one of the investigators, former policeman Darryl Cunnington, had his neck broken in three places during the assault, which took place as they monitored the activities of the hunt, near Stathern in March 2016.
The attack involved the two convicted men and four unidentified masked men, who punched and then pushed the investigators off a 14-foot ridge before escaping with one of the investigator’s cameras, the court heard.
After pleading guilty to charges of grievous bodily harm on Mr Cunnington at an earlier hearing, a judge today handed them 13-month prison sentences suspended for two years.
For causing actual bodily harm to Roger Swaine and theft of a camera and damage to a SD card, which they also admitted, the pair were given three months jail, suspended for two years, to run concurrently.
They were each ordered to pay £500 compensation to Mr Cunnington and told to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work and to pay a victims’ surcharge.
After the hearing, Mr Cunnington, the league’s head of field operations, said: “l am very lucky that the assault has left me with no long-term serious injuries.
“After falling 14 feet, finding myself unable to move, I feared I was paralysed.
“The offenders refused to cooperate with the police and showed no remorse or concern.
“They must both think they are very fortunate not to have gone to prison today.”
Mr Swain, the other man who was assaulted, said: “The Investigations team have a policy of non-interference and we are there purely to record any hunting or other cruelty offences.
“We were filming the Belvoir Hunt from a public bridleway from a distance of 1km.
“This violent response by an employee of the hunt and five others was unprovoked and a complete overreaction.”
Martin Sims, who is director of investigations for the league and former head of the police’s British National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “The fact that both guilty men made no comment throughout this investigation shows their lack of courage when confronted with the part they played in this brutal and unprovoked attack on our professional investigators.”
Mr Sims said the league would consider paying a reward for any information leading to the conviction of four other men believed to have been involved in the incident.