Monday, July 31, 2006


The Times
Simon de Bruxelles

A HUNTSMAN tried to get around the law by pursuing foxes with just two hounds and hiding his terriers in a box, a court was told yesterday.

The League Against Cruel Sports is bringing a private prosecution against Tony Wright, 52, who is the huntsman for Exmoor Foxhounds, claiming that he was in flagrant breach of the hunting Act.

The group claims that he and his hounds pursued foxes across Exmoor in April last year, followed by an unspecified number of hunt supporters on horseback.

Mr Wright is the first person in England to be prosecuted for hunting foxes. He pleaded not guilty at an earlier hearing.

The prosecution alleges that Mr Wright “hunted a wild mammal with a dog” at Drybridge, West Exmoor.

As a professional huntsman, Mr Wright, who lives at Exmoor Foxhounds Kennels, near Simonsbath, was responsible for controlling hounds on the day. He faces a fine of up to £5,000 and confiscation of his equipment, dogs and “hunting articles” if he is convicted.

Edward Furlong, representing the league, said: “Mr Wright’s conduct was a cynical attempt to pay lip service to the legislation by having one man on a quad bike present with a gun bag, by using no more than two hounds and by having the terriers hidden in a box.

“No firearms were seen by either of the prosecution’s witnesses that day. The object of the meet — and indeed the eventual outcome — was for Mr Wright to provide a traditional spectacle for paying customers. That spectacle consisted of hounds pursuing foxes up to the point where they could catch and dispatch the foxes.”

Under the hunting Act, the onus is on the defendant to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that his hunting was exempt or that he reasonably believed it to be exempt.

Exempt hunting must fulfil five key tests: that the aim was to prevent serious livestock damage; that the defendant had permission from the landowner; that he used no more than two dogs to flush out a fox; that no dog was used below ground; and that reasonable steps were taken to shoot flushed foxes quickly while keeping hounds under close control.

About a dozen pro-hunt supporters, headed by Baroness Ann Mallalieu, QC, president of the Countryside Alliance, sat in the public gallery at Barnstaple Magistrates’ Court as a video made by Edmund Shepherd, a league member, was shown.

Mr Shepherd said that two foxes were pursued but there was no attempt to place the hunt’s marksman, Iain Marfleet, in a position to intercept and shoot them.

He said that he heard “a series of very short horn calls of a staccato type”, but did not hear Mr Wright using recognised signals to call off the hounds.

Although Mr Wright is the first person to be prosecuted for illegal foxhunting, one man has been convicted under the hunting Act for hunting rabbits without the landowner’s permission.

Last year, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute Mr Wright after concluding that the league’s video evidence did not offer a reasonable chance of success.

The trial is expected to last four days and District Judge Paul Farmer has said that he will give his written judgment at a later date.

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