10/17/2019 - Expert witness dropped from hunting case after kissing prosecution witness


An expert witness in the trial of a huntsman was banned from giving evidence by a judge after he was spotted kissing a prosecution witness.

one of Britain's leading authorities on foxes and a longstanding opponent of hunting, Professor Stephen Harris was excluded from the trial of Mick Wills after the incident was reported to Tim Daber, the District Judge.

Mr Wills, a huntsman with the Grafton Hunt, was subsequently found not guilty of illegally hunting a fox with dogs in Alithorn Woods, Northamptonshire, in September 2017.

It is the second time in recent years that Professor Harris' position as an expert witness in a hunting case has raised questions.

In the latest case Mr Wills' defence counsel Stephen Welford claimed that as a result of Professor Harris greeting Judy Gilbert, a veteran anti-hunting campaigner, with a kiss as they arrived at court, he could no longer be regarded as an independent witness, given his apparently close relationship with her.

In Judge Daber's ruling he told Wellingborough Magistrates Court: "The defence submission rests on the admitted fact that Professor Harris and Judy Gilbert greeted one another warmly with the witness kissing the Professor.

“If a relationship exists between a proposed expert and the party calling that expert which a reasonable observer might think is evidence of bias, then he must be excluded on the grounds of public policy. Justice must be seen to be done.”

The judge added: "The allegation of bias specific to this particular case is something that in my view the court cannot ignore. A reasonable observer would consider him to be partisan. "However unbiased he may be, this court must exclude Professor Harris’s evidence."

Professor Harris told The Telegraph that Ms Gilbert kissed him before he could stop her and claimed they had not seen each other for nearly twenty years.

He said: "She walked up to me in court, greeted me, and kissed me before I could stop her. I am not responsible for someone whoI have not seen for so long kissing me."

Mr Wills was acquitted of the charge of illegal hunting after using dogs to flush out a fox. He was cleared after the court heard that the plan had been to use a golden eagle to kill the fox once it had been flushed out.

Using dogs to flush out wild mammals for a bird of prey to hunt is permitted under the Hunting Act 2004.

In delivering his verdict last week Judge Daber stated: "The plan had been agreed by the master and the huntsman the day before.Things didn't turn out as expected."

"Mr Wills is a man with good character. It is true the hounds were not brought under control quickly enough. However there is no offence of reckless hunting. I find Mr Wills not guilty of this charge."

Professor Harris, a former professor of environmental sciences at the University of Bristol, had been employed by the CPS to give evidence on behalf of the prosecution,
despite earlier questions being raised over his independence.

https://www.gov.uk/hunting/mammals

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