Page last updated at 13:09 GMT, Friday, 28 January 2005

Police told 'avoid hunt arrests'

Hunt in Oxfordshire
The ban is expected to be widely flouted

Police may decide not to break up illegal fox hunts if the ban is upheld, BBC News has learned.

Instead they may video the hunt for future prosecution, according to police guidelines released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The guidance, sent to all forces, says police can arrest hunters, but are not obliged to do so.

It says maintaining order and safety is usually more important, but says the decision should be taken locally.

The advice, drawn up by Nigel Yeo, Assistant Chief Constable of Sussex Police, works on the assumption the ban will be upheld.

It will prevent many thousands from continuing lawfully what has been for many a major source of recreation and enjoyment
Sir Sydney Kentridge QC

On Friday the Countryside Alliance lost its High Court bid to overturn the ban, but was granted leave to appeal.

It is expected that if the ban comes into force on 18 February it will be widely flouted.

Alastair McWhirter, rural spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), says officers would not normally break up illegal hunts but would aim instead to take legal action later.

'We will gather evidence'

He told BBC News: "If they're doing something unlawful, then of course we'll take action and we'll deal with it.

"What we probably won't do is go out there and stand and say 'Stop' to the hunt and stop them going then, but [we will] gather evidence using our eyes and using video cameras."

BBC Correspondent Margaret Gilmore said it appeared police were hoping to minimise confrontation.

The guidelines say the police's priority would be to prevent injuries and disorder.

But they acknowledge the duty to prevent and investigate crime, including illegal hunts and say officers should bear in mind the impact on the local community and the strong feelings surrounding the subject.

Enforcement will also depend on what resources are available and what is safe and practical, the guidelines say.

It's the duty of the police to make sure that people who are indulging in criminal offences are apprehended
John Cooper, the League Against Cruel Sports

In a statement Acpo said forces would work with the Home Secretary's national policing plan and their own local plans which "set priorities for policing in each area".

It added that chief constables had been encouraged to contact all hunt organisers to explain the law and ask that it be adhered to.

But the idea of a softly-softly approach by police alarms many supporters of the ban.

John Cooper, of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "The important thing to stress here is that it's law, or will be law very soon now and the... vast majority of the public want to see an end of cruel practices.

"It's the duty of the police to make sure that people who are indulging in criminal offences, or alleged criminal offences, are apprehended and the public will demand that of the police."

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