- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

LONDON — They’ve used them on the streets and highways, enraging thousands of motorists, and now they’re going to install them on trees and fences, to the certain fury of hunters: Authorities in Britain have found a new use for spy cameras.

The infuriating gadgets are envisioned as a key tool to enforce the law when, as the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair expects, the ancient English tradition of hunting with hounds is legally abolished.

The government’s immediate aim is to stop fox hunting, and to protect the foxes, the police are planning to use roadside-type spy cameras to catch the hunters, their horses and their hounds as they “tally-ho” their bounding way across the countryside.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, the measure to turn the cameras into a new weapon in the class warfare that has simmered below the surface in Britain for centuries was agreed to at a secret meeting between Home Secretary David Blunkett and senior police officers in London last week.

Under the scheme, the police will install modified versions of the speed cameras on trees, fences and hedgerows along known hunting routes to photograph hunt members as they pursue the foxes across the countryside.

The Blair government said last week the move is intended to get its anti-hunting legislation through Parliament with alacrity. That is expected to happen Wednesday, when the House of Commons, dominated by Mr. Blair’s Labor Party, gets ready to vote its certain approval.

An aide to Mr. Blunkett said the home secretary was enthusiastic. “This is the sort of imaginative policing solution that we will need to be able to police this ban, without incurring massive extra costs.”

But some police, according to the Sunday Telegraph, aren’t so sure about the savings that spy cameras could provide. Some police chiefs have told Mr. Blunkett that the price could reach $55 million and probably more.

If the police’s experience with speed cameras is anything to go by, the cameras could run much more. What began with a few strategically placed cameras at known danger “black spots” has burgeoned to many thousands of the yellow-box gadgets dotting the landscape.

Furious motorists and other protesters have begun a form of guerrilla warfare against the devices. Speed cameras have been chopped down, pulled down with ropes and chains or run over — and their replacements swiftly and equally maltreated.

Paint has been smeared across their lenses, and powerful laser beams have been used to try to blind them. Others have been pelted with eggs and overripe fruit. Hundreds of motorists have taken their rebellion to the courts, costing police more time — and more money.

Hunting with hounds, anchored in hundreds of years of tradition, is in its own way just as contentious, pitting wealthy hunters, who view their hobby as a way to control the predators on their land, against poorer urban liberals, who view it as a rich man’s hobby that amounts to nothing more than animal cruelty.

Stances already are hardening, and critics predict that the spy cameras on trees, bushes and fences are certain to meet the same kinds of vandalism as the snappers on the highways.

For hunters determined to continue the chase and minimize their chances of getting caught on film, one observer suggested balaclava, knitted hats that cover the face.

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