Fox allegedly illegally killed at Great Thurlow Boxing Day hunt in Suffolk

Stock image of fox hunting (not at Great Thurlow). Picture: DAVID CHESKIN/PA WIRE

Stock image of fox hunting (not at Great Thurlow). Picture: DAVID CHESKIN/PA WIRE - Credit: PA

Police are investigating allegations a fox was killed illegally on a Boxing Day hunt in Suffolk.

Suffolk Constabulary was called to attend the Great Thurlow Hunt, about five miles north of Haverhill in west Suffolk, at around 2pm yesterday.

The force received reports a fox had been killed and a disturbance had broken out between observers and members of the hunt.

Images posted on social media purported to show the dead animal.

No arrests have been made, but officers are gathering evidence and police are appealing for witnesses, or anyone who has video footage of the incident, to come forward.

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Suffolk Police said in a statement: “Officers from Suffolk’s rural crime team were called to attend the Great Thurlow Hunt.

“As a result of an incident between the hunt and hunt observers, officers are currently investigating allegations of offences committed under the Hunting Act 2004.

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“Police are asking anyone who may have witnessed the incident or have any evidence such as video footage, to contact the rural crime team at Suffolk Police on 101.”

Last night, a spokesman for the Thurlow Hunt confirmed a fox had been killed by a pack of hounds on Boxing Day but claimed the animal had inadvertently been turned into the pack’s path by a group of animal rights activists while the hunt was legally trail-hunting.

Meanwhile across the county as a whole, hundreds of people turned out to see the traditional Boxing Day hunts. The majority were there to enjoy the historic spectacle but there were also small groups of protestors.

Riders and hounds from the Essex and Suffolk Hunt met at Holbecks Park, in Hadleigh, and around 300 supporters watched the Suffolk Hunt, which began from Great Whelnetham, near Bury St Edmunds.

At the Hadleigh event, a group of around 20 placard-waving anti-fox hunting campaigners marched through the park chanting with a megaphone before the riders set off. One of the protestors, Bryony Swift, said: “In a civilised society, how is this ethically or morally acceptable?”

The Essex and Suffolk Hunt, which is thought to date back to the 18th-century, was not interrupted by the protest and started as planned at 11.15am.

James Buckle, master of the Essex and Suffolk Hunt, said: “It’s lovely, and there are crowds of people still pouring in. We used to start from the market square but there are too many of us now, but we still go through the town as some people can’t get down here and like to watch.”

Meanwhile Gary Tate, Suffolk Hunt secretary, said: “It was a good day, the wind was a bit chilly but we had around 30-40 horses. People love to see the horses and as you go by some houses, they will be waving out of their windows.”

It has been reported in recent days that Prime Minister Theresa May will abandon her Conservative general election manifesto pledge to give MPs a free vote on whether to overturn the fox hunting ban.

Organisers said around 6,000 supporters turned out for Oxfordshire’s Heythrop hunt, and joint-master Nessie Chanter added: “Every year we are humbled by the number of people that turn out - whatever the weather - to greet us in the square at Chipping Norton.”

Sam Butler, chairman of the Warwickshire hunt, which met at Upton House, near Banbury, said: “People put this date in the diary as part of their annual festivities and although we don’t meet in a town centre, the crowd increases year after year.

“It’s magnificent that so many well-wishers make such a huge effort to get here to show their support.”

The Countryside Alliance said hunting was younger and more diverse than it had ever been, with a survey of registered hunts showing more women and young people taking part in legal hunts such as “trail” hunting than 10 years ago.

The organisation’s head of hunting, Polly Portwin said: “With huge crowds showing their support again today and an increasing number of young people joining the hunting field, the future of hunting is secure.”

But polling for the League Against Cruel Sports showed continued widespread opposition to repealing the Hunting Act, which came into force in 2005 and outlawed the hunting of animals including foxes and deer with dogs.

A survey of 2,003 people by Ipsos MORI for the League Against Cruel Sports found that 85% did not think fox hunting should be made legal again, while opposition to legalising deer hunting stood at 87%, and hare hunting and coursing at 90%.

Opposition to legalising fox hunting had risen from 73% in 2008 to 85% this year, the animal welfare organisation said.

Chris Luffingham, director of policy, communications and campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports, criticised the portrayal of Boxing Day hunts as a “celebration of a great tradition with huge public support”.

He added: “With 85% of the public saying they do not want fox hunting made legal again, there has never been a better time to strengthen the Hunting Act and bring an end to the illegal persecution of wildlife still going on under the guise of ‘trail’ hunting.”

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