The inaugural meeting of Derby Hunt Saboteurs was held in a house in Shardlow on May 20th 1977 in response to the growing opposition in the Midlands against hunting with hounds. Hunts that were targeted originally were the Meynell, the Quorn and South Notts. Beagle packs were also targeted, the main one being a RAF pack named the Per Ardua Beagles based near Newark and the group also made odd visits to the Derbyshire Beagles and the Oakley Foot Beagles. Assaults were common place at this time and supporters of the Per Ardua Beagles and South Notts Foxhounds had the worst reputation. Even so, the founder of the group, Harry Griffiths, was known to sab South Notts FH on his own by laying false trails which kept the hunt busy for hours!
There were always strong links with other Midland Groups from the beginning. The national Hunt Saboteurs Association moved its headquarters to Nottingham and Derby had a strong influence in shaping it to the organisation of the present day. Chris Williamson, another founding member of Derby Hunt Saboteurs, became Press Officer on the committee of the national HSA.
Derby sabotaged the first grouse shoot in the UK on August 12th 1978 in the Peak District. Derby was also also involved in sabbing a Seal Cull off the coast at Long Sutton near Skegness at around the same time. With this diverse range of activities members of Derby Hunt Sabs were responsible for changing the constitution of the HSA to oppose all bloodsports, rather than solely hunting with hounds which had been concentrated on previously. In the Eighties the group diversified into general animal rights issues and henceforth had a dual identity Derby Animal Rights and Derby Hunt Saboteurs. The group was probably at its strongest in the late Eighties/ early Nineties when the clapped-out Derby van was a common sight in the Midlands.
By the late 90s the group had reduced in number, like many groups, thanks to the attempt to outlaw hunt saboteurs by the last Conservative government. The committed few however continued, despite the pressure from police and Government to shut them down, tactics got more developed and smarter, and even the small Derby group became infamous within the hunting community across the Midlands. The group was one of the first in the country to use a 4x4 which was invaluable as the focus shifted primarily to Derbyshire hunts like the Meynell and the High Peak Harriers. The group continued to work with Nottingham, Sheffield, Northants, Leicester and Wolves sab groups with other trips to the Barlow, Blankney, Quorn, Cottesmore, and Albrighton Hunts.
It wasn't only bloodsports Derby Huntsabs focused on, they were also heavily involved in disruption of the Krebs Badger Cull when one of the regions chosen was Derbyshire and Staffordshire. This was a 3-year campaign which required huge financial resources to combat. The 6 weeks every year cost as much as the whole of the hunting season!
By the new millennium hunts were more on the defensive. The weekly summer street stalls were a common sight outside St Peter's Church in Derby and the group handed 1000s of leaflets out to the general public showing the true horror of bloodsports. There was a major push in Parliament to outlaw hunting with dogs and in 2004 the Hunting Act finally went into law. Derby Huntsabs enjoyed lots of publicity at that time with members appearing in ITV and BBC features and lots of large articles in the Derby Telegraph! Nottingham and Derby groups made history by attending the quadruple meet(!) of the Meynell & South Staffordshire, Staffordshire Moorland, DNS Beagles and Dove Valley Minkhounds at Darley Moor - a last show of defiance on the 19th of February 2005 - a day after the Ban came into force. The sabs cracked open a bottle of champagne outside the meet. We naively thought the worst was over and we'd bought nice, shiny new camcorders to enforce the Law!
Things started out promising. As Derby Huntsabs were now a very experienced and respected group, Staffordshire Police called a number of meetings where members acted as consultants. Questions such as "how does a mink hunt work?", "which way do you think they will go?" seemed to suggest a relationship with the police the group could only have dreamt about a year earlier! They actually shut down one hunt of the Dove Valley Minkhounds under the Animal Welfare Act! This however was shortlived. Prime Minister Tony Blair had made it very public he didn't agree with the Hunting Act and this promise of enforcement evaporated quickly.
Sabbing continued although the threat to hunt sabs of being arrested for Aggravated Trespass lessened (as the police would also have to prove the hunt was acting lawfully that the sabs were disrupting). Derby Huntsabs continued with a monitoring role for a couple of years, then reprised rating if needed, and then by 2009 had returned to full-on sabbing techniques.
Despite this in 2011, information provided to the group resulted in one of the most successful convictions under the Hunting Act. Two members Roger Swaine and Robin Ellison caught the Meynell and South Staffordshire illegally cub hunting on camera. In August 2012, the "Honourable" Johnny Greenall and hunt steward and supporter Glen Morris were convicted of illegal cub hunting under the Hunting Act. This was the first time anyone had been convicted of cub hunting, and was the highest fine to date!