Wednesday, August 01, 2007


JOHN KIRK, Western Morning News

A row has erupted after it was revealed hunts are being insured by Britain's biggest bank to cover them if they are prosecuted for illegally pursuing foxes.The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) claims HSBC bank will pay legal fees associated with hunt employees taken to court for breaking the law - even if they are found guilty.

The Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA), which represents 174 packs of foxhounds in England and Wales and a further ten in Scotland, says it has always had insurance in place.

It said it would be "irresponsible" not to be insured, adding that the insurance was in place well before the controversial hunting ban came into force.

The row broke out after LACS released figures claiming HSBC is insuring as many as 125 hunts.

The league claims the cover means hunts can have confidence that they can break the law without suffering massive financial hardships. The hunting ban, introduced in February 2005, means that prosecutions can be brought against hunts as organisations or individuals.

Campaigners claim the law is being regularly flouted but, so far, just five cases have been brought against individuals by the Crown Prosecution Service and in private cases by campaign groups.

Carolyn Johnson, secretary of Dartmoor Hunt, said having insurance in place was nothing new.

"We have had insurance for many years," she said. "Nothing has changed.

"It seems to me that they are clutching at straws. I don't know why they have said this now because it's been established for many years."

Michael Bickell, chairman of Lamerton Hunt which hunts in Cornwall and Devon, said the league was "dredging from the bottom of the barrel. We're not insured by HSBC but we have not altered our insurance cover since before the ban was announced," he said.

Alastair Jackson, director of the MFHA, said insurance cover had been in place long before the ban was introduced, adding that the cover in place was "perfectly normal".

"The hunts are strongly advised, and always have been, to have legal fees and insurance and of course they must have public liability," he said.

"From the hunting office we run three insurance block schemes which include public liability, legal fees and personal accidents.

"Our insurance brokers for many years have been HSBC. But nothing has changed with the hunting ban. As far as I'm aware providing the intent is not to break the law. We are covered for a prosecution under the Hunting Act if there's a reasonable chance of success."

John Cooper, a barrister and chairman of LACS since 1995, said there was no dispute about hunts having been insured before the ban.

He said: "Since the ban members of hunts have been prosecuted and they have been convicted. We always knew they had insurance but it never crossed people's minds that the insurance would cover them to break the law."

He said he had written to the chief executive of HSBC to query the situation, stating he was "shocked" if the bank was paying legal fees for such cases.

HSBC declined to comment

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