In the Media

My ordeal at the hands of the hunt master John Norrish

PUBLISHED May 22, 2012

The 33-year-old mother accused John Norrish, 67, of abusing his position as an "upstanding member of the community" and subjecting her to the most difficult 10 months of her life.

Norrish was jailed for four years after a jury convicted him of taking advantage of the woman as she attempted to make her way home from a black tie ball.

His victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, had drunk nine glasses of wine and 11 vodkas when she climbed into his car in the mistaken belief that he simply intended to give her a lift.

Instead, she was subjected to a 20-minute attack, during which she was "effectively unconscious" and unable to defend herself.

Norrish showed no reaction as the jury returned its majority verdict after more than 11 hours of deliberation at Exeter Crown Court.

Mr Justice Field said the rape was a "grave abuse of a vulnerable woman" who was too drunk to exercise free choice. "Instead of simply giving her a lift home, which you should have done to ensure her welfare, you took advantage of her as she sat in the front passenger seat of your car," he said. "The effect of what you did will, I am sure, endure for her for years."

The court heard that Norrish had been the "star of the show" at the Tiverton Staghounds annual ball held in the lambing shed of a farm near Chawleigh, Devon, last July.

A well known and respected local figure, he was resplendent in his red hunting tails as he greeted each of the 400 guests as they arrived, before changing into black tie for the dinner and dancing.

Emboldened by half a dozen whiskies, Norrish was apparently relishing the opportunity to hold court with some of the community's most important figures.

Perhaps it was the spotlight's sudden glare which led a man, just four years off his golden wedding anniversary, to offer a lift home to a woman he had never met and then rape her when she got into his car. "She was drunk and I have no doubt that you appreciated that," Mr Justice Field told him.

"She did not consent to your advances, early on she told you she did not want to and later she was too drunk to exercise a free choice, whether to consent or not. You did not reasonably believe that she was consenting and proceeded to have sexual intercourse."

The case has shaken the community. Long-standing friends and colleagues described Norrish, who has two children, as a hard-working man who has devoted his life to hunting.

With little formal education and few interests outside country pursuits, some found him challenging company. One former villager said he was not universally liked: "There were those around here who got on with him but there were also those who did not."

In 2007 Norrish was prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act when some of his hounds attacked a woman's Jack Russell terrier, causing it to be put down by a vet. Norrish later apologised and was acquitted of the charge.

But the case left a bad feeling in certain quarters, with some villagers feeling those associated with the hunt were able to act above the law.

Norrish was master of the Tiverton Staghounds and later a huntsman before retiring this year. It is a relatively small hunt with a community feel and has a long heritage. Founded in 1896 by Sir John Heathcoat Amory from Tiverton, to hunt deer beyond the limits of his land, it stretches from Wellington in Somerset to Barnstaple in North Devon.

Norrish, who was previously kennel manager of South Devon Hunt, has been a vocal supporter of hunting and in 1998, reacted angrily to the Labour government's decision to ban the sport.

"Tony Blair is being a dictator and he won't win. He'll just drive hunting underground," he said.

"This is a way of life to country people - it is to us what Manchester United is to the people of Manchester."

But he was less articulate when attempting to defend himself against the rape charge. "She never pushed me off her or anything," he told the jury. "She never spoke. It just happened."

Norrish will be placed on the sex offenders' register for life and was told he would be released on licence in two years.