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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
The dogs are let out

By Ollie Stone-Lee
BBC News Online politics staff at Labour's conference

A huntsman and hounds at the rally
Huntsmen say prejudice is behind the ban
They promised they would hound Labour and on Tuesday the pro-hunt lobby set the dogs on the party's conference in Brighton.

Terriers, retrievers, lurchers, greyhounds and packs of hounds turned the promenade outside Brighton pier into one huge dog-walking area.

With every claxon of the hunting horns there was a flurry of barking and inevitably some of the dogs got rather excited, with one ambitious border terrier locking mouth-to-mouth with a far bigger fox hound.

Only a few hand-picked dogs were allowed to join the march up the seafront to the conference centre.

But their presence was a vital part of the pro-hunters' message.

Dave Reece, from Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdrey Hunt, said: "Having the dogs here shows what is at stake.

The rally on Brighton seafront
This measure goes to the heart of people's passions
Labour peer Baroness Mallalieu

"These are living animals, they are making decisions regarding those hounds when they have no dealings with them."

He said without hunting there would be no future for hounds like Midget, the dog who nuzzles against his trousers.

Far outnumbering the dogs were the thousands of hunt supporters determined to continue the protests already seen outside Parliament when MPs voted heavily for a hunt ban.

At the rally ahead of the march, a swathe of banners included slogans such as "New hunt quarry: Labour MPs" and if that was enough to get the message through there were regular eruptions of chanting and a cacophony of whistle-blowing.

Among some campaigners there was a feeling that the hunters were not going to change minds among Labour MPs.

As the PA announcer said: "They will get the message eventually, believe me" one women sighed "I wish".

But Anthony Clay, who had journeyed from Cambridgeshire with his five black Labradors, said a ban was unjust, would do nothing for animal welfare and would be unenforceable.

"That is not democracy," he said.

A police officer meets a hound at the rally
There was a heavy police presence

Labour peer Baroness Mallalieu, president of the Countryside Alliance, told BBC News Online that minister Alun Michael's hearings of evidence were being ripped up.

"They do not seem to understand that this measure goes to the heart of people's passions and we cannot legislate to stop a religion with any sense of hope of success," she said.

Pointing to the marchers, she added: "These are the hard-working families that they are talking about there in the conference hall."

'Village idiot'

John Prescott's attack at the conference on the "braying" of the hunt "mob" with their "contorted faces" had sparked new anger among many of the campaigners.

Some posters depicted the deputy prime minister with a Hitler moustache with the words: "Who's the fascist?"

Kitten from Big Brother
Big Brother's Kitten brought the anti-hunt message
And from the rally podium Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart called the attack intimidatory and a disgrace, claiming it would have cost him his job if it had concerned any other minority group.

"The man is a bigot but then every village has its idiot and I suppose the Labour village is no different," he said.

Mr Hart urged campaigners to remember hunting was not the only important issue, asking marchers to spare a thought for the family of hostage Ken Bigley.

But in a warning for the Labour leadership, he added: "If this goes on, we will be back here but it will be interesting to see how many of the delegates up the road will also be here in five years time."

'Hunt the rich'

The hunt lobby dominated an overcast seafront but there was a celebrity glimmer from the anti-hunt lobby.

Big Brother's Kitten was ushered away by police when she turned up in fox ears with a fake bloody knife and a "hunt the rich" banner.

The 24-year-old from Brighton told reporters she wanted to show support for hunt saboteurs and animal rights activists.

"The arguments from pro-hunters are really not justified and it is a very cruel sport," she said as a handful of hunt supporters tried to shout her down with horns and bellows of "scum", "you don't know what you're talking about" and one cry of "ban gays".

At the conference hall there was a wall of about 20 police officers in riot gear.

Patrick Joyce, a Labour delegate from Rugby, said the campaigners were entitled to demonstrate but suggested their appeals would not be heeded because people felt the sport was cruel.

"People say: where were you when miners tried to save their jobs, do not expect our support when you're trying to protect your leisure facilities."

For the hunt protesters, the fear must be that the dogs' bark may have no bite when the government decides whether to force a ban through the House of Lords.

The BBC's Robert Hall
"The call for non-violent action was heeded, though many could barely contain their frustration"

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