Saturday, August 05, 2006


By Elsa McLaren and agencies
The Times

A huntsman has been found guilty today of illegally hunting foxes in the first prosecution in England brought under new hunting regulations.

Tony Wright, 52, was fined £500 and ordered to pay £250 costs for hunting with dogs after a week-long hearing at Barnstaple Magistrates’ Court, in Devon.

District Judge Paul Palmer said: “I understand the difficulty that everyone has with the act coming into force."

He added: "What I saw was not exempt hunting.”

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

The private prosecution brought by the League Against Cruel Sports was the first in England against a fox or stag hunt under the Act.

Wright claimed he was acting within exempt provisions in the Act, which stipulate that hounds should be kept under sufficiently close control for a fox to be shot as soon as possible after flushing.

Wright had used only two dogs, but it was felt by the judge that he had not controlled the hounds quickly enough, and they had been able to chase the fox. Also the marksman, who was present to shoot the fox, had not done so immediately as is detailed in the Act.

Judge Palmer said that video evidence, gathered by the League, showed the hounds following the line of the fox at speed without immediately being called off. He said there was a “substantial period” of chase for each of the two foxes seen on the videos, which, in his view, was hunting.

The judge added that there was only one marksman who was not in the position to shoot the animal as soon as possible.

As such, he said no reasonable steps were taken to shoot the fox as soon as possible and the dogs were not under close control as required by the hunting exemption.

Mr Wright, who became huntsman at the Exmoor Foxhounds in 1982, told the court that five foxes were flushed that day, one of which was shot, the others got away. He said outside court that he will be appealing against the decision.

Wright said: “We are going to have to have a serious look at the judgment today and the Act and see where we go from here.

“I can assure you we will be continuing and trying to stay within the Act as I always have done.
“It is very disappointing and we will have to see what happens after this.”

Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "No right minded person thinks that Tony Wright should have been branded a criminal.

“If people were confused about the Hunting Act before today they will be a lot more confused now. We believe that he was trying to comply with the law as he understood it and will be supporting his appeal.

“This is a piece of legislation which took seven years and 700 hours of parliamentary time to get onto the statute book yet still it is illogical and unclear.

“Any law which can put a man like Tony Wright through nine months of court action and tell him he is a criminal for doing something he believed was entirely legal clearly isn’t working.”
"If this judgment is to stand, it would be impossible to use dogs of any sort to flush foxes from almost anywhere. The act has got to be repealed and will be repealed," said Baroness Ann Mallalieu, president of the pro-hunting group Countryside Alliance.

Foxhunting was banned in 2004 after a bitter fight in Parliament and major street demonstrations. Supporters of the sport say foxhunting is a vital rural tradition and an important way of controlling predators. But, opponents consider it cruel, unnecessary and a preserve of the upper classes.

The Hunting Act, which took effect on February 2005, outlaws traditional foxhunting and other sports in which dogs chase and kill prey. Under the law, dogs can be used to locate a fox and drive it into open ground, but not to harm the animal, which is shot instead.

Many hunts have been reformed into trail or drag hunting, in which dogs track an animal scent that has been artificially laid out through the woods in advance.

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