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Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Protesters close to their quarry
By BBC News Online's Neil Bennett

If the government does ban fox hunting, it will be a remarkable victory for a campaign which has been waged for much of this century.

The cause of animal welfare is probably most associated with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals( RSPCA) which was founded in 1824.

But the RSPCA did not come out against hunting for sport until 1958.

Foxes have many campaigning friends
Foxes have many campaigning friends, including IFAW which published this picture
Even then it made an exception for fox hunting in the belief it was the least cruel means of control.

Its formal opposition to the hunt came in a policy statement issued in 1976.

In the meantime, organised opposition to hunting had been left to others.

In 1891, the Humanitarian League had been set up, and animal welfare was one of its platforms.

But the league's embracing of vegetarianism led its members to be classed as cranks and it disappeared.

The anti-hunting campaign really took off in 1924 with the establishment of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) - set up by disgruntled members of the RSPCA.

Inspiration from CND

Initially, most of its members were elderly and its activities low key.

But the league began to looked towards the anti-nuclear campaigners of the 1950s and 1960s for inspiration - particularly at their skill in getting publicity for their cause.

A former Tory MP, Howard Johnson, voiced the hopes of many when he told the League's AGM in 1963:

"I have a vision in the coming stag and fox hunting season of whole numbers of you sitting in the roads where hunts meet and doing exactly what the anti-nuclear demonstrators do."

But the League Against Cruel Sports still relies mainly on pamphleting, lobbying and publicising.

It has recently developed undercover tactics -infiltrating hunts and taking videos of what happens at the kill.

The pictures are widely circulated to the media.

copper the fox
"Copper": A fox rescued from the hunt by saboteurs
But for many campagners this level of protest has never been enough.They wanted direct action to be taken against the hunt and sabotage was the policy adopted.

The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) sprang up in 1963. It is a collection of local groups dedicated to the disruption of hunting and coursing.

Their aim is to get between the hunt and the quarry.

Their tactics include spraying scent to mask that of a fox and laying alternative trails for the hounds to follow by dragging socks filled with dog food.

They have also learnt to use hunting horns to mimic the sound of the hunt master and confuse the hounds.

Clashes with police

Tactics have often led to clashes with the hunt supporters and the police. HSA official policy is to discourage illegal activity - but that has not always been followed on the ground.

For their part, HSA members complain regularly of assaults by hunt followers and harrassment by the police.

For some hardliners though, even this kind of strategy was not direct enough.

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) began in 1976 with the aim of destroying laboratories which used animals for experimentation, and attacking hunt kennels.

The ALF is quite prepared to break the law, making it different from the other organisations which have opposed hunting.

Sir Paul McCartney:
Sir Paul McCartney: "A barbaric practice."
The RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have come together in a campaign called Deadline 2000, supported among others by Sir Paul McCartney.

In a foreword to its campaign pamphlet he says:

"I believe that hunting with dogs is a barbaric practice that in no way can be justified as sport.

"It must be banned in our society before we can think of ourselves as civilised."

The support of prominent people has always been important to the campaign.

Much more important was the election of a Labour government in 1997.

Without that, all the anti-hunt campaigners know they would never have had a chance of banning hunting with dogs.

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Ben Stewart of the League Against Cruel Sports: Trying to change the law, not break the law
Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

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