THE Heythrop hunt has been fined thousands of pounds after pleading guilty to four charges of intentionally hunting afox with dogs on land in the Cotswolds.
Former huntsman Julian Barnsfield, aged 49, and recently retired hunt master Richard Sumner, aged 68, also pleaded guilty to the same charges during a hearing at Oxford Magistrates' Court today.
District Judge Tim Pattinson fined the hunt £4,000, Sumner £1,800 and Barnsfield £1,000.
The hunt was told to pay £15,000 towards RSPCA legal costs, Sumner £2,500 costs and Barnsfield £2,000 while each defendant was also ordered to pay £15 victim surcharge.
The case is the first where a hunt has faced corporate charges.
The court heard the hunt was filmed on several occasions in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire during November last year and in February and March this year by members of the Protect Our Wild Animals group.
The footage was passed to the RSPCA, which, after reviewing it, decided to prosecute.
Mr Carter-Manning told the court: "The court has before it, so far as the RSPCA is aware, the first prosecution of a hunt itself under the legislation which abolished the hunting of foxes with hounds in almost all circumstances and, in particular, traditional fox hunting.
"On the basis of the video evidence and the expert conclusions, it is the case for the prosecution that this hunt was on the four occasions spread throughout the 2011/12 season deliberately hunting in a manner which does not comply with the law.
"The guilty pleas thus carry with them the express acceptance that the fox hunting on the four occasions involved was deliberate and intentional.
"The prosecution maintain specifically that in very simple terms on each occasion on the summonses the defendants sought out and then chased live foxes and that the pursuit of the fox can by no means at any stage be properly characterised as accidental or an unwelcome consequence of otherwise legitimate activity.
"The evidence, we suggest, points to no other reasonable activity."
Philip Mott QC, representing the three defendants, said the hunt was involved in legal trail hunting - that of laying a scent for the hounds to chase - and had pursued foxes in the course of that legal activity.
"In 500 hours of recorded footage we have unlawful hunting totalling no more than 15 minutes," he said.
Mr Mott said the defendants, who were all of good character, should be given credit for their early guilty pleas.
He said both Barnsfield, of Worcester Road, Chipping Norton, and Sumner, Penhill Farm, Salperton, Gloucestershire were of limited financial means.
Passing sentence, District Judge Tim Pattinson said he found it "quite staggering" the RSPCA had spent £326,980.23 bringing the prosecution.
"Hunting of foxes provokes extremely strong feelings on both sides of the argument," he said.
In total the hunt, Barnsfield and Sumner were ordered to pay £19,500 between them.
Speaking after the hearing, RSPCA chief inspector Mike Butcher said: "The evidence in this case was incontrovertible - it clearly showed hounds being encouraged to pursue a fox.
"This is illegal under the Hunting Act and constitutes a wildlife crime.
"This hunt and its members were hunting foxes in direct contravention of the law for at least one whole hunting season.
"We are very grateful for the vigilance and dedication to animal welfare shown by the independent hunt monitors, including those who are members of POWA.
"Their footage was vital to our case."