Police warn of hunt ban problems

SUFFOLK'S Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter warned last night of the difficulties faced by police forces as they tried to enforce the new ban on hunting with hounds.

By Danielle Nuttall

SUFFOLK'S Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter warned last night of the difficulties faced by police forces as they tried to enforce the new ban on hunting with hounds.

On the day a legal challenge was mounted against the ban, the police chief outlined a series of challenges that would make catching illegal hunters difficult.

But Mr McWhiter, rural spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, insisted that those who defied the law would be prosecuted, and admitted guidance and tactics were already being drawn up to assist officers in such operations.

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The House of Lords rejected a compromise solution on Thursday, voting instead to allow hunting under regulation.

This meant the original wording of the Bill, which called for hunting to be outlawed three months after the legislation was passed, became law using the Parliament Act and will take effect from February.

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Mr McWhirter said: “We will face a number of challenges over the next few months.

“This will include demonstrations and civil disobedience from those who wish to protest against the act, dealing with those who wish to be martyred, saying 'Look I'm hunting, come and prosecute me' in order to make a protest.

“You do not commit an offence until you actually start hunting a mammal. That's what we have to prove. We have got to see a wild mammal in there, unless the person says 'We are going hunting'.

“The next one is those who are covert hunting - those are the people going off on large estates and going hunting and we will not know about it until someone tells us. It's an area we are going to find challenging.”

Mr McWhirter said some anti-hunting groups would re-emerge as hunt watchers, which could cause its own problems as drag hunting and exercises with hounds would still take place legally and might be mistaken for foxhunting.

But he stressed the ban would be enforced and said police chiefs were now preparing guidance on the practical aspects of the legislation.

“It's going to be challenging and difficult but we will enforce the legislation,” he said.

“The proper way to protest this law passed by parliament is to do it through the ballot box.

“Not to take up scarce resources which could be used for other things.

“Of course we will use all sorts of tactics. One of the things people keep asking is will we be using the police helicopter?

“I think it would be unlikely where horses are involved because it might frighten the horse and people might end up getting injured.”

The long battle over fox hunting moved to the law courts yesterday as pro-hunt campaigners launched a legal challenge to overthrow Parliament's ban on their sport.

Lawyers backed by the Countryside Alliance lodged papers at the High Court in London seeking a judicial review of the Hunting Act.

Alan Hurst, Labour MP for Braintree, was one of the 46 who voted to delay the ban's introduction until 2007.

He said: “I oppose hunting, but I do not believe in grinding people into the ground.

“The delay until 2007 sounded very reasonable. It was showing consideration to people affected and would have given them time to adjust.”

Mr Hurst, who is a solicitor, said that as with all prosecutions, the police would have to prove the elements of the offence.

He added: “I don't think many people will flout the law, but those who do will be fairly conspicuous - I doubt if they will go riding with hounds dressed as poachers.”

Another solicitor turned MP David Ruffley (Conservative, Bury St Edmunds), said he found the statement of Suffolk's Chief Constable compelling.

He added: “Here is the person charged with enforcing the law saying that it could be difficult, especially the need for the police to spot an animal in order to prove that a hunt in progress.

“No matter what view you have on the merits of hunting, this is a badly drafted piece of legislation - ludicrous and unworkable.”

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