Campaigners call for end to hunting ban

COUNTRYSIDE campaigners have renewed their calls for the hunting ban to be overturned - as police admitted the legislation was difficult to enforce.

Craig Robinson

COUNTRYSIDE campaigners have renewed their calls for the hunting ban to be overturned - as police admitted the legislation was difficult to enforce.

With the hotly-contested law approaching its fourth anniversary, not a single huntsman has been prosecuted in Suffolk or Essex for illegal fox hunting.

Pro-hunt supporters, who are preparing for the traditional Boxing Day hunts today, said they were keeping within the law by using legal practices such as drag hunting.

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But they argued the situation was very confused and the legislation was a farce and should be scraped.

Alice Barnard, regional director for the eastern region of the Countryside Alliance, said despite allegations by protestors only five people connected to three different hunts had been convicted of any wrongdoing across the entire country.

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“The police are in an almost impossible position,” she said. “On the surface hunting looks like it has always looked.

“The hunting act has not worked whichever way you look at it. The perimeters are very blurred. The restrictions are so complicated and confusion arises all the time. It is a crazy situation. We strongly believe that the act should be repealed.”

James Buckle, one of the masters of the Essex and Suffolk Hunt, said since the law had been introduced more and more people were turning out to support the meetings.

“We strongly believe the act should be repealed - it's a ridiculous piece of legislation,” he added.

“It doesn't please anyone - the police, us, the saboteurs. It's been a complete embarrassment.”

Pc Mark Bryant, who is in charge of all hunt-related work at Suffolk Constabulary, admitted the law had caused confusion.

“There have been sporadic complaints of illegal hunting which have ranged from genuine concerns from anti-hunt groups through to genuine but misinformed members of the public who thought all hunt meetings had been banned in general,” he said. “We've had more of those than anything else.

“At the time the legislation came into force there was a lot of confusion and misinformation. When it first came in it was obviously going to be contentious - it was a new law and the hunts were obviously going to test it to its limit.

“Its difficult to police - we have priorities and we will respond to complaints. This is not one of our major priorities but we will not ignore law breaking by any parties.

“Since the ban we have put several cases before the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) but there hasn't been a prosecution for fox hunting - although we have had several successful prosecutions for hare coursing.”

A spokeswoman for Suffolk CPS said hunting offences were complex and the county had a specialist lawyer who worked closely with the police.

“Cases involving hunting wildlife require clear evidence to prove to a court beyond reasonable doubt that a defendant intentionally sought to hunt a specific animal,” she said. “The number of hunting offences referred to the CPS for a charging decision, both locally and nationally, are few and each case is considered on its own merits.”

Bill Stock, spokesman for Essex Police said: “There have been very few problems in Essex since the introduction of the legislation that bans hunting with dogs.

“Public disorder and confrontations that surrounded hunts when they were legal has now reduced to a handful of incidents. Those have involved minor confrontations between hunt supporters and protestors and mostly happened within the first two years of the new legislation.”

THE Hunting Act 2004 prohibits the hunting with dogs of all wild mammals and all hare coursing.

Exemptions to the Act, which allow hunting in limited circumstances and with the consent of the landowner, include:

§ ratting and rabbiting;

§ stalking and flushing out with up to two dogs;

§ using a single dog under ground to flush out wild mammals, such as foxes, in order to protect birds kept for shooting.

Anyone found guilty of an offence under the Act faces a fine of up to £5,000 and could have their dogs, vehicles or articles used in hunting confiscated.

Hunting is deemed an intentional activity. For example, if a dog ran off after a squirrel in a park, the person accompanying the dog would not be guilty of unlawful hunting.

Also, if dogs used in drag-hunting run off after a fox, the drag hunters are not guilty of unlawful behaviour.

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