HUNT supporters have continued their war of words with Cheshire’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) after learning the county’s fox hunting review cost taxpayers £34,000.

The Countryside Alliance, which discovered the figure under the Freedom of Information Act, insists David Keane has an ‘obsession’ with hunting – having commissioned the independent review last year despite just 19 of the county’s 80,000 recorded crimes in 2017 being related to hunts.

It follows a public meeting in February where Mr Keane discussed the review’s 11 recommendations with Chief Constable Darren Martland.

Mr Keane, who is a Labour councillor in Warrington, also suggested at the meeting that Cheshire Police could work with hunts, landowners and residents in future to develop event plans in a bid to maintain public safety.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “We now know that the review into the policing of hunting commissioned by Mr Keane cost £34,000, but this is just one part of the cost of his obsession.

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“His own office, and Cheshire Constabulary, must also have spent thousands of pounds contributing to the review and arranging subsequent meetings. Indeed the PCC seems to spend much of his time meeting anti-hunting groups.

“Worse than that, the PCC has ignored the recommendations of his expensive review and proposed a series of other restrictive proposals which conform with his prejudices.

“He seems to be incapable of accepting that Cheshire hunts are operating perfectly legally as they have been since the Hunting Act came into force.

“Cheshire residents must be furious that their PCC is wasting vast sums of taxpayers’ money on political campaigns whilst crime in Cheshire rose by 32 per cent last year.”

It was revealed at February’s meeting that Cheshire Police received 200 reports of incidents in the 2018-19 hunt season, more than 10 times the number in 2017-18.

The figure for 2018-19 includes 51 alleged criminal offences, but John Dwyer – former Cheshire PCC and Conservative candidate in 2020’s PCC election – is critical of his successor’s stance.

Knutsford Guardian:

“The PCC has ignored sound advice to instead plough ahead with his own ideas,” he said.

“The advice he received cost a lot of money to the public purse and ought to be taken heed of.

“If what is reported is accurate then I think he is in danger of encroaching on operational policing matters, by getting involved in the detail of policing hunts.”

However, Mr Keane’s attempts to bring both sides of the debate together on hunting were praised by Chf Con Martland.

He also agreed with the review’s findings that suggested the Hunting Act 2004 could be revised to require proof of recklessness, rather than intent to kill, to make prosecutions attempts more successful.

And the PCC admits he is ‘disappointed’ the Countryside Alliance has not bought in with his proposals for cooperation.

READ > Police chief praises 'ground-breaking' work on fox hunting

Mr Keane said: “The issue of Cheshire Constabulary’s policing of fox hunting was raised to my office by a number of Cheshire residents and elected representatives.

“In my role representing the residents of Cheshire in scrutinising the actions of Cheshire Constabulary, it was my duty to explore this issue further to ensure Cheshire Constabulary is enforcing the law in relation illegal hunting.

“It was only right that this issue was investigated by an independent team that could bring impartiality to the matter. The review was commissioned following a tendering process to ensure the review provided value for money.

“The actions discussed at a public scrutiny meeting into policing of hunting have been formed following the independent review. They are intended to help all parties act within the law whilst participating in their activity, which will result in a more efficient and effective police service to deal with all crimes.

Knutsford Guardian:

“I am disappointed that they haven’t been welcomed by the Countryside Alliance.”

Meanwhile, Mr Keane has also been supported by anti-hunt campaigners, who suggest public opinion is largely against hunts.

Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “One of the key conclusions from the review was that strengthening the Hunting Act to remove its ambiguity would likely lead to more prosecutions, and it is for this reason we are calling for these changes to be made by parliament.

“Our polling has consistently shown that opposition to hunting with dogs remains high, and clearly this is reflected by the people of Cheshire.

“We believe the PCC was right to conduct an independent review into how the Hunting Act and to further scrutinise its findings, inviting the public and views from all sides to contribute.”

READ > Cheshire PCC slammed over fox hunting 'obsession'