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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 November, 2003, 15:48 GMT
Hunt protesters show united front
By Danny Savage
BBC North East reporter in Trimdon

Demonstrators are prepared to break the law

A countryside campaigner told a gathering of more than 2000 hunt supporters that the government is "up against a movement of people that cannot be ignored".

Columnist and countryman Willy Poole was addressing a mass meeting in the village of Trimdon, in the Prime Minster's constituency of Sedgefield.

Members of a dozen hunts from the north-east of England and Scotland gathered to show their opposition to the proposed law to ban all hunting with dogs.

Poole told the meeting that their gathering was "a show of grassroots democracy in action".

'Dire' consequences

The vast majority of people at the rally put their signatures to the hunting declaration, which effectively commits all those who sign it to ignoring any ban on hunting with dogs and facing the consequences - even if it means going to prison.

Here were people, including a vicar, who see any ban as being totally unjust regardless of any political process to make it law

But one man who couldn't sign the declaration was Major Blair Radford, a serving Army officer at Catterick garrison in north Yorkshire and joint master of the Catterick Beagles.

As a serving officer he says he has to uphold the laws of the land, but makes no secret of the fact that if he was a civilian then he would put his signature on the declaration.

He says if a ban is introduced the consequences for his hunt would be dire .

"The civilian staff we employ would lose their jobs and it would be the end of the Catterick Beagles" he said.

Warm welcome

The biggest cheer of the rally was saved for the south Durham hunt, who were hosting the event.

The fox hounds and riders were given a warm welcome and were joined by other riders from neighbouring hunts.

Many of those gathered were adamant that they would continue to hunt, even if there was a ban.

They dismissed completely any questions about it being a cruel pursuit.

Here were people, including a vicar, who see any ban as being totally unjust regardless of any political process to make it law.

Women and children

There were no anti-hunt campaigners at the meeting - the rally was held on private land so they would have been unable to make their point even if they had wanted to.

But there was a large police presence, with dozens of officers from the County Durham force and a helicopter.

If the ban on hunting with dogs does become law it will be these same officers that in the future could be seen chasing women and children round the countryside.

Reflecting on the prospect, the master of the south Durham Hunt Mark Shodden said "they'll have to be quick".

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