Monday, July 23, 2018

The Fraud of Professor Stephen Harris

Imagine if the expert witness in a hunting case was a serial liar and a fraud working in cahoots with a radical animal rights group.

No need to imagine. From The Telegraph:

Hunting prosecutions have been thrown into doubt after an expert witness has been exposed as having close links to a prominent animal rights campaign group.

Professor Stephen Harris, a leading authority on foxes and badgers, failed to inform the court about his friendship with Paul Tillsley, the head of investigations at the League Against Cruel Sport and his other connections to the group.

The disclosure, which this week caused the collapse of a court case, has been described as having “extensive ramifications” for cases bought under the Hunting Act....

In the past four years, seven people have been convicted of hunting offences at trials where Prof Harris was called as the expert witness.

However, the academic’s neutrality was cast into doubt this week at Newton Abbot magistrates’ court, during the hearing for a private prosecution bought by the League Against Cruel Sport against six members of the Lamerton Hunt.

The league claimed members had filmed an incident where the hunt encouraged the hounds to find and follow a fox, which led them to an earth containing at least two fox cubs.

During the trial Prof Harris, an environmental scientist at Bristol University, was cross examined over why he failed to disclose his long established connections with the league.

The court heard he had written a book that was published by the League, appeared at its campaign events and had published an academic paper sponsored by the group.

Prof Harris admitted during cross-examination that he had long-term friendship with Mr Tillsley, who was also a witness in the case.

Asked why he had not disclosed this relationship to the court, Prof Harris said the league’s solicitor, Rachael Newman, told him that if they had not discussed the case it was not relevant.

An email from 2012 was shown to the court in which Prof Harris said that if his friendship with the league’s head of enforcement was exposed, another man called Steve Harris, it would be “very damaging” for him.

Following cross-examination, the league withdrew its evidence, causing the private prosecution to collapse.

Jamie Foster, a lawyer acting for the Lamerton Hunt, said: “The reason the relationship with Mr Tillsley is so important is because there is a legal duty for expert witnesses to declare potential conflicts of interest.

"It is a huge landmark moment and the ramifications are going to be extensive.”

He went on: “I have no doubt that people who were previously convicted will have serious questions to ask.”

The proper thing to do is toss the prosecutions where Harris testified, and to charge the costs of those prosecutions to Harris and LACS.

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