Monday, July 31, 2006


Jon Land

A huntsman pursued foxes across Exmoor in "wilful disregard" of the Hunting Act, a court was told today.

Exmoor Foxhounds huntsman Tony Wright, 52, appeared in court in a private prosecution brought by the League Against Cruel Sports.

Wright, of Exmoor Kennels, Simonsbath, Exmoor, pleaded not guilty at an earlier hearing to a charge of hunting a fox on April 29 last year contrary to the Hunting Act 2004.

It is the first prosecution in England relating to a fox or stag hunt to be brought under the Act.
Prosecuting for the League, Richard Furlong told district judge Paul Farmer, sitting at Barnstaple Magistrates Devon: "This is not about whether the Act is right or wrong, or whether it is fair. It remains the law of England and Wales and he has broken that law."

Mr Furlong alleged Wright, an employee of Exmoor Foxhounds, hunted two foxes with hounds in circumstances which were in "clear breach" of the Act.

Save for the fact only two hounds were used, his activities appeared to be "traditional hunting", said Mr Furlong.

The court watched a video of the day's activities made by the League's education and sanctuaries officer Edmund Shepherd.

Wright had two defences available to him which had to be proved on the balance of probabilities - that what took place was lawful within terms of exemption within the Act, or that he reasonably believed he was engaged in exempt hunting.

"We say from his conduct on that day you can be sure on the balance of probabilities, and even beyond a reasonable doubt, what Anthony Wright did was unlawful and he knew it was unlawful," Mr Furlong told the judge.

When the hounds found foxes what took place was neither stalking nor flushing them out of cover - the terms used in the Act to create the exemption.

What happened was a "prolonged period of pursuit" of the foxes by hounds in Mr Wright's charge which the League said was hunting within the Act and not covered by the exemption.
Mr Furlong said no reasonable steps were taken to have the foxes shot dead as soon as possible by a competent person - which was really the whole basis of exempt hunting.

"Exempt hunting is not hunting at all - it is finding, flushing and shooting," said Mr Furlong.
He said there was a man present on a quad bike with a gun bag slung over his back, but at no stage was he seen to produce any gun.

And at the time the hounds were pursuing the foxes, he was not in any position to shoot them.

Reasonable steps to ensure a fox was shot dead as soon as possible after being found or flushed required a "line or lines of guns," said Mr Furlong, adding "there was nothing of the sort."
He said the hounds were not being called off by horn or whip, nor were they under close control of Mr Wright to ensure they did not obstruct someone from shooting a fox.

While hunting the second fox, Mr Wright was encouraging the hounds in their pursuit with staccato horn calls traditionally used to "egg on" hounds, not call them off.

Mr Furlong said the object of the exercise was shooting, and it did "violence to common sense" to argue that Mr Wright and his followers were engaged in a shooting exercise.
He added: "They were of course engaged in a hunting exercise."

He said Wright's conduct on the day indicated "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 terriers hidden in a box".

"The object of the meet that day, and indeed the eventual outcome of the meet, was for Mr Wright to provide a traditional spectacle for paying customers," said Mr Furlong, adding: "cruelly and deliberately Mr Wright pursued his ends in wilful disregard of the law."

Mr Shepherd, who produced the video to the court, said that when the hounds found and chased the first fox the huntsman was nowhere to be seen, and he heard no shots, or attempts to stop the pursuit.

A video of the day's activities, shot by League education and sanctuaries officer Edmund Shepherd, showed two occasions on which foxes were pursued across Exmoor by two hounds.

Mr Shepherd told the court he heard no attempt by huntsman Tony Wright to call off the hounds, no one was in position to shoot the foxes and he heard no shots.

The trial was adjourned to tomorrow.

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