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Sunday, September 26, 1999 Published at 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK


Prince's 'secret foxhunting link' denied

Foxhunting supporters are planning a major protest at Labour's conference

The chief executive of the Countryside Alliance has insisted there are no formal links between his organisation and Prince Charles.

According to Sunday's edition of The Observer, a leaked document from the organisation lists Charles among more than 30 of its most important backers - and suggests the prince wants his support kept secret.

[ image: Prince Charles: A supporter of countryside issues]
Prince Charles: A supporter of countryside issues
But CA chief executive Richard Burge told the BBC's Breakfast With Frost: "The fact is that he held for one of our predecessor organisations a cocktail party back in 1995.

"I understand that he took a decision in early 1997 that because the issue was becoming contentious he would remove himself from it and that seems to be a very wise decision indeed."

He added: "There are no formal ties whatsoever."

Huw Edwards reports, followed by a discussion between Richard Birch of the Countryside Alliance and Angela Smith MP
However, asked if he believed Prince Charles was a supporter of some of the Alliance's aim, he said: "I imagine he must be. A lot of things he is talking about - sustainability in the countryside, jobs for people, communities that thrive - these are all things that we are intensely concerned with and he publicly backs.

"But there is a difference between him publicly backing the issues and backing an organisation."

Royal denial

St James's Palace also moved to defuse the row over the Prince of Wales's alleged support.

Prime Minister Tony Blair: "I don't believe foxhunting is the big countryside issue"
Royal aides admitted the prince had supported field sports enthusiasts in the past, but said it was before the establishment of the Countryside Alliance and its campaign to save fox hunting.

Fox hunting
A spokeswoman said: "The prince has not given any financial donations to the Countryside Alliance and the reception referred to in the article was for an organisation that pre-dated the Countryside Alliance (The British Field Sports Society) and was on general countryside issues.

"The prince is interested in countryside issues but he is not entering into any political debate."

Mass protest

The Countryside Alliance is planning to stage a major demonstration in Bournemouth on Tuesday, when Prime Minister Tony Blair will be addressing the Labour party conference.

[ image: Tony Blair: An opponent of foxhunting]
Tony Blair: An opponent of foxhunting
Mr Blair has said it is the government's intention to outlaw fox hunting, but sought to pacify the countryside lobby last week by saying Labour would not ban shooting or fishing.

Mr Burge, dismissed suggestions they were trying deliberately to disrupt the party gathering in Bournemouth.

He said: "It is going to be a legitimate, democratic form of protest, it is going to be peaceful, there will be lots of rural people with their families there.

"I am afraid it is only in North Korea and Stalinist Russia that you get people coming out in support of government.

"The nature of government is that people protest when they think you have got it wrong. It is legitimate. I think we are helping our cause, we are bringing home to the Government that there are ordinary working people in the countryside who deserve their support, deserve their respect, they deserve more than a few words, they deserve action."

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