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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2007, 14:44 GMT
Are licensed hunting monitors needed?
By Liam Allen
BBC News

As hunts across the country mark the first day of the season, are licensed monitors needed to stop the fox hunting ban being broken?

Huntsman
The Countryside Alliance says hunts are 'working within exemptions'

Tory MP Anne Widdecombe said on Thursday that there was a "widespread ignoring" of the hunting ban and that monitors, who film hunts, should be licensed.

Under the 2004 Hunting Act - introduced in February 2005 - packs of dogs can no longer be used to chase wild foxes.

Hunts must now use techniques such as drag hunting, where dogs follow a trail laid in advance by a runner or rider dragging a lure.

What is happening is widespread ignoring of the ban - it's a nonsense to suppose people are out there faithfully adhering to the law and just jumping through the odd loophole
Anne Widdecombe

Miss Widdecombe said some hunts were flouting the act by chasing foxes with dogs, but that it was not practical to deploy police "in large numbers throughout the countryside".

"What is happening is widespread ignoring of the ban - it's a nonsense to suppose people are out there faithfully adhering to the law and just jumping through the odd loophole," she said.

She added: "There are people called hunt monitors who film and then produce evidence of illegal hunting which they send to the police.

Why not have amateur monitors to complain about people speeding through your village or amateur monitors doing drug raids at your local nightclub - this is ridiculous
Simon Hart
Countryside Alliance

"My view is what we should do is license monitors and then make it an offence to obstruct them."

Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart said that if hunt opponents had evidence to show that laws had been broken, the police were the "proper authority" to enforce the law.

"If not, why not have amateur monitors to complain about people speeding through your village, or amateur monitors doing drug raids at your local nightclub - this is ridiculous."

The alliance says that less than 5% of hunting days are attended by monitors, and that the attendance was "always in public with the police fully aware of where they will be and when".

It was up to police to enforce the law, not "political activists", it added.

But the League Against Cruel Sports says there is "a considerable amount going in" including monitoring "across the country" on Thursday - the first day of the hunting season.

'Verbal abuse'

Barry Hugill, spokesman for the league, said Miss Widdecombe's comments reflected its concerns about "threats" made to monitors by people on hunts.

This ranged from "verbal abuse to physical assault", he said.

We would say that any hunt that can't control its hounds should not be out
League Against Cruel Sports

He said monitors had done a valuable job in helping the league to succeed in three private prosecutions relating to breaches of the Hunting Act.

There had also been a further 20 convictions brought under the act, he added.

Some hunts were "determined to break the law," he said.

Mr Hugill also alleged that hunts were using underhand tactics to get around the ban.

"It's not illegal to go out with a pack of hounds so they will hunt a scent.

"Then, surprise, surprise, the hounds will come across a real fox and the hunters will say that, despite their best efforts, they can't control their hounds."

'Technical breaches'

Mr Hugill said that before the ban, hunts took great pride in the control of hounds.

"We would say that any hunt that can't control its hounds should not be out," Mr Hugill added.

Those convicted [of illegally fox hunting] genuinely believed they were working with the exemptions and their intention was not to break the law
Countryside Alliance

A Countryside Alliance spokeswoman said there were a small number of convictions from 30,000 hunting days covered by the ban.

Hunts were not getting around the ban but were "working within the exemptions that Parliament considered acceptable", she said.

She dismissed Miss Widdecombe's allegation of a "widespread ignoring of the ban".

"Those convicted [of illegally fox hunting] genuinely believed they were working with the exemptions and their intention was not to break the law," she said.

"The convictions were technical breaches of exempt hunting."



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