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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 February 2005, 21:13 GMT
Final hunts held as ban looms
Bilsdale Hunt leaves
The government says it is confident of its position
Hunts in England and Wales have been out to mark the last day that hunting with dogs is legal.

With the ban due to come into force at 0001 GMT on Friday, many riders were defiant and vowed their activities had only been "suspended temporarily".

But anti-hunt groups welcomed the imminent ban, saying it must be upheld.

The Countryside Alliance had its latest legal bid to block the ban thwarted on Wednesday, when the Appeal Court ruled the Hunting Act was lawful.

Illegal hunting

Among the hunts out on Thursday was the East Kent hunt, which saw about 50 horses and 100 local supporters gathered on farmland near Ashford.

There are people who are angry and in distress
Nick Onslow, East Kent hunt

Several had tears in their eyes as the master of foxhounds, Nigel Fisher, made a welcome speech.

He said the day marked merely "the end of an era and the start of another" and that they would succeed in the getting the law overturned.

Hunt spokesman Nick Onslow said it would be meeting on Saturday, but had no intention of breaking the law.

Police intelligence

"It's a very emotional day. There are people who are angry and in distress," he said.

Among the hundreds gathered to support the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt in Wiltshire were riders Henry Jodrell, 37, his wife Christina, 36, and daughter Marina, seven, from nearby Easton Grey.

Using the war in Iraq as a comparison, Mr Jodrell said Britain had sent troops there to fight for democracy but could not achieve it at home.

"The majority of people do not support the ban," he said.

If they continue to chase foxes... we're confident they'll be brought to justice
Mike Hobday

The Countryside Alliance says hunting will continue in some form after the ban comes in, with hunts expected to test the new law to its limits.

It has been suggested that others may continue to hunt illegally.

Anti-hunt organisations, for whom the ban is the culmination of years of campaigning, say they hope most will stay within the law.

Mike Hobday, of the League Against Cruel Sports, told BBC News: "We've long urged them to go drag hunting - to follow an artificial scent - and that is what we hope they do.

"But if they continue to chase foxes, to chase wild mammals around the countryside, that's against the law and we're confident they'll be brought to justice."

Clashes

In West Sussex at least one person was injured in clashes between anti-hunt protesters and huntsmen from the Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray Hunt.

A spokesman for Sussex Police said the clashes took place in Petworth Park, West Sussex, and added that "hunt saboteurs and huntsmen" were involved.

The person went to hospital "but their injuries are not thought to be serious".

And in Gloucestershire, Wansdyke MP Dan Norris was pelted with eggs and a member of his staff punched during a debate on hunting.

The incident happened at Badminton, near to the home of the Beaufort Hunt, late on Thursday.

Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael said the government was confident it could fend off legal challenges, including an action being brought by the Countryside Alliance under human rights legislation.

He added: "Hunt supporters have the right to demonstrate legally and to take action in the courts, but they do not have the right to flout a law that has been passed lawfully by a large majority of democratically elected MPs."

An International Fund for Animal Welfare celebration
Anti-hunt activists celebrate what some are calling the 'last tally-ho!'

The Countryside Alliance maintains the ban is unenforceable because the law is unclear and impossible to police.

But Mr Michael said claims by some that there was confusion over the law was "simply ill informed".

The League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA say they will monitor hunts and assist police in bringing prosecutions.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has issued guidance to forces on how to deal with the new rules.

A spokesman said: "It's not going to be police officers chasing about in cars across fields, it will be based on intelligence and information received as well."


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