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Last Updated: Monday, 14 February, 2005, 16:21 GMT
Defiant spirit at last Waterloo

By Kevin Bocquet
BBC News at Altcar, Merseyside

This was the biggest crowd which has turned out for the Waterloo Cup for years.

These are country people who feel under attack.

And although their eyes may have been on the hare coursing their thoughts were on the impending ban.

A pro hunt supporter trades insults with anti hunt campaigners
Feelings ran high as insults were traded between the two sides

The overriding reaction from everyone here and the organisers is defiance: they say foxhunting and hare coursing will survive the ban about to be imposed.

The ancient pursuit of hare coursing still looks much as it did in 1836.

But anti-hunt campaigners hope this will be the last Waterloo Cup.

This year's event was brought forward ahead of the ban on hunting with dogs, but the organisers say there are loopholes in the law and they will be back next year.

"It just goes to show how stupid the law is," Nicky Driver from the Countryside Alliance told me.

'Shot the hare'

"If you shot the hare before the dogs got to it, that would apparently be legal. That might be one possible route we take, but we'll have to wait and see."

And the foxhunting fraternity are organising huge meets next weekend in what they claim will be an enormous show of defiance.

"Of course the meets will be operating within the law.

Hunting supporters at the Waterloo Cup
Supporters threw mud and fireworks at protestors

"There are several ways this can be done within the Act and that is how it will be until such a time that the hunts can start off properly again," said Alastair Jackson, Master of Foxhounds Association.

The other side of the Waterloo Cup tradition is the demonstration by anti-blood sports campaigners.

This year it has been smaller, perhaps in part because the protesters believe they have already won the argument.

Dr Jane Evans from the League of Cruel Sports said anti-hunt campaigners would not stand back and accept difficulties in enforcing the law.

"If there is any illegal hunting it will be brought to the attention of the police. We will see through the process to ensure the police and magistrates carry out their duties," she said.

Off to Ireland?

The police have had a lot of experience of the Waterloo Cup, but policing the new anti-hunt legislation will be harder.

They say it is difficult to envisage intercepting a hunt in full chase, even if the law is being broken.

Anti-hunt protesters demonstrate
Protesters waved banners and parts of dismembered hares

"I think the vast majority of people will and should follow the sort of line that the countryside alliance have shown them, which is how to hunt lawfully," Asst Chief Constable Nigel Yeo from the Association of Chief Police Officers said.

So what is the future for the Waterloo Cup?

Many of these protesters do believe this is the last time any of them will have to come here.

But the organisers say one way or another the Waterloo Cup will continue.

Some have suggested that it could be transferred to Ireland.

But the organisers say they do not particularly favour this solution, because they believe they can still stage this event here next year, even if that means having to change the rules a little.


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