A POLITICAL row is brewing after Prime Minister David Cameron’s local hunt near Chipping Norton became the first to be convicted of illegally killing foxes.
The Heythrop Hunt was fined £4,000 after pleading guilty to four charges of intentionally hunting a fox with dogs in the Cotswolds.
Former huntsman Julian Barnsfield, aged 49, of Worcester Road, Chipping Norton, and recently retired hunt master Richard Sumner, aged 68, of Salperton, Gloucestershire, also pleaded guilty to the same charges and were fined £1,000 and £1,800 respectively.
The RSPCA is celebrating what it calls a “landmark”
decision at Oxford Magistrates Court on Monday.
But after a judge called the £326,000 the RSPCA spent bringing the case “staggering”, Barnfield attacked the prosecution as “political”
and accused the RSPCA of deliberately targeting a hunt in Mr Cameron’s Witney constituency.
“I am staggered by it all,”
he said. “That a charitable body can take on this political thing using money that people have donated, I find staggering.
“They have picked on the Heythrop Hunt because it is in David Cameron’s constituency and they are trying to put pressure on him not to give a free vote.”
But RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “These defendants were well aware that they were breaking the law in that their actions would lead to a fox being torn apart by dogs.
“You cannot put a price on justice and as the animals can’t bring this case themselves – particularly when they have been torn to pieces – so we have to do it for them.”
The court heard the hunt was filmed on several occasions during November last year and in February and March this year by members of the Protect Our Wild Animals group and the footage was passed the RSPCA.
Jeremy Carter-Manning QC, prosecuting, said: “On the basis of the video evidence and the expert conclusions, 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.”
Philip Mott QC, representing the three defendants, said the hunt was involved in legal trail hunting – 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.
The hunt was also 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 a £15 victim surcharge. This case is the first where a hunt, rather than named individuals, has faced corporate charges.