Peter Mark Doggrell, of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt, appeared in court on charges of hunting a wild mammal with a dog contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act 2004.
The court heard how a witness for the hunt claimed to have laid a ‘trail’ that she believed consisted of fox urine. However, the hunt’s hounds were then filmed in full cry chasing a live fox through the graves in a church yard nearby.
Fox hunting was banned under the act, which campaigners are lobbying to be strengthened with a recklessness clause. This would prevent hunts claiming it’s an ‘accident’ when their hounds chase – and potentially kill – wild animals.
The case follows an investigation by Avon and Somerset Police based on evidence obtained by Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime.
A spokesperson for Somerset Wildlife Crime, said: “This is a very disappointing result in what should have been an open and shut case of illegal hunting.
"The hounds tore through consecrated ground, in pursuit of an identified wild mammal, and they were urged on by the huntsman.
“The law isn’t working, and this case signifies exactly why we need a recklessness clause added. With it, British wildlife would be afforded the protection they were meant to benefit from when the Hunting Act was passed nearly 15 years ago. There is no excuse for any hounds to pursue a fox, hare, stag or any other animal.”
Joe Hashman, founder of Hounds Off, said: “We believe that trail hunting is a false alibi being used to cynically subvert the law. I struggle to understand how magistrates’ courts continue to be taken in by the trail hunting excuse.”
Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “To think of a pack of dogs in full cry disturbing the graves in a church yard is astonishing, and we can only guess at how the relatives of those interred there must be feeling at this lack of respect.
“The decision by Taunton magistrates highlights again why we are campaigning for the Hunting Act to be strengthened with a recklessness clause – so that it is a robust piece of legislation that properly prevents hunts from chasing wildlife.
“Every week we receive reports at the League of hunts behaving exactly as they did before the fox hunting ban came into force. There should be no excuse for these ‘accidents’ to happen.
“It’s high time the law was strengthened and fox hunting was consigned to the history books.”
The incident involving the Blackmore and Sparkford Hunt took place on Saturday, 23 February 2019 in a churchyard in Charleton Horethorne in Somerset.
The case comes nearly 15 years after hunting with dogs was banned in England and Wales with the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004, which came into force on February 18, 2005.
This article is based on a press release from the League Against Cruel Sports.