Friday, 30 November 2007

Judge overturns first Exmoor hunting conviction

THE first huntsman to be prosecuted under the Hunting Act, Tony Wright, of the Exmoor Foxhounds, has had his conviction overturned on appeal.
Mr Wright, aged 53, had been found guilty in August of last year by magistrates sitting in Barnstaple of breaching section one of the Act while leading the foxhounds at Drybridge, in Devon.
The prosecution was brought by the League Against Cruel Sports, which said a hunt on April 29, 2005, allowed the hounds a ‘prolonged period of pursuit’ of a fox on two occasions.
Under the Act, all that is lawful is the exercising of hounds, chasing a scent trail, and flushing out foxes to be shot.
Mr Wright, of Exmoor Kennels, Simonsbath, was fined £500 by the magistrates and ordered to pay £250 costs.
But now, at an appeal heard in Exeter Crown Court on Friday, November 30, the conviction has been quashed.
Judge Graham Cottle allowed the appeal and said he was satisfied Mr Wright reasonably believed he had put in place safeguards which he thought would ensure compliance with the Act.
The Exmoor is one of only two fox hunts to have been prosecuted successfully.
More people have been convicted of hunting rats under the Act than have been found guilty of illegal fox hunting.
Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart said: “This verdict is an absolute vindication of Tony Wright and the Exmoor Foxhounds and another nail in the coffin of the Hunting Act.
“While we celebrate this judgment, however, we must not forget why an innocent man faced with a vindictive private prosecution has had to spend over two years and two court cases to clear his name.
“The Hunting Act is not only a pointless and prejudiced piece of legislation, it is also a very bad law.
“If the courts cannot be sure what is hunting and what is not, how on earth can anybody else.
“Only by scrapping the Act can we ensure that other innocent people will not be persecuted and today’s result adds to the clear case for its repeal.”
The case has cost the League more than £100,000 to pursue, after Avon and Somerset Police refused to prosecute based on the available evidence.
Mr Wright was ‘delighted’ with the appeal result and said afterwards the Hunting Act was a ‘very difficult law to interpret’ and ‘probably not very well written for people like myself to understand’.
For the League, Mike Hobday, head of its prosecution unit, said: “We shall be taking urgent legal advice about the prospects of appealing on some of the findings of law.”
Mr Hobday described the appeal result as ‘deeply surprising’ and said he was ‘shocked and disappointed’ at the legal interpretation of the Hunting Act.
  • Our photograph shows an image from a video of an Exmoor Foxhounds hunt used by the League in its prosecution. Photo submitted.

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