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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 February, 2005, 16:38 GMT
Welsh hunts ride out after ban
Llangeinor Hunt (library shot)
Hunts like the Llangeinor were meeting
Thousands of Welsh hunt supporters turned out for the first major meetings since the ban on hunting with dogs came into force.

The hunters have vowed they and their estimated 50,000 supporters will not break the new law.

Anti-hunting groups have been monitoring meetings throughout the UK.

No problems were reported in Wales, but police in Wiltshire arrested four suspected hare coursers - three of them from south Wales.

The controversial law came into force at midnight on Friday.

Hunt supporters have said they will continue efforts to overturn the ban.

The new legislation has been criticised by Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Wales and co-chairman of the Middle Way Group.

'Sombre mood'

He visited two hunts in his constituency on Saturday - the Tanatside Hunt in Welshpool, and the David Davies Hunt in Llandinum, Newtown - and said he was "overwhelmed" at the show of support.

"There was a bigger turn out than I have ever seen in the past," he said. "There were about 500 people at the Tanatside and about 250 at the David Davies Hunt.

"Their mood was very clear - sombre and determined, and actually quite optimistic that the ban will eventually be overturned."

Mr Opik - who said he had never hunted - said the hunts in his area were being "very careful to stay within the law".

Fox hunt
The ban makes it illegal to knowingly chase and kill a fox

At Hayscastle in north Pembrokeshire, about 80 riders turned out in full hunting regalia with a pack of hounds.

Hunt master Wyn Morris said the meet was intended as a show of defiance and to exercise the dogs.

They would not be hunting, he insisted, and if the hounds picked up a fox's scent, they would be called off. But he admitted that might be "pretty difficult".

Around 60 riders were seen off by several hundred supporters when the Flint and Denbigh Hunt met at Dolwen near Aberegele.

There was no apparent police or anti-hunt presence. The huntsman Jeremy Reed said they intended to "exercise" the hounds in the morning and then use two of the dogs to flush a fox out to be shot. Both activities, he said, would be within the law.

Scent trails

None of the Welsh police forces has reported hunting-related incidents. South Wales Police, however, said there had been several calls from members of the public saying they had seen hunts assembling.

Inspector Gareth Hawkins said staff were informing people that, although hunters were out, dogs were following scent trails, not hunting live animals.

In Wiltshire, however, police arrested four suspected hare coursers. Three of the men - aged 31, 32, and 33 - were from south Wales and the other was from Ireland.

They were arrested after being spotted on an unclassified road with four dogs and a dead hare near Malmesbury on Saturday.

Police said the men were also being questioned about possible firearms offences and offensive weapons charges.

They have been released on police bail pending further inquiries."

The League Against Cruel Sports said it had no evidence of illegal hunting in Wales.

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, has so far issued no instructions to police on how they should deal with hunters who violate the law.

He said he will consult the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police "in the near future" to decide what measures to take with regards to hunting prosecutions.

The Country Land & Business Association (CLA) has issued new guidance to members setting out what the new law does and does not allow.

'Legal activities'

It said landowners can allow a hunt to enter their land for legal hunting activities such as drag-hunting or the exercising of hounds, but they cannot knowingly permit a hunt to use their land for illegal hunting.

Christopher Price, Public Law Adviser at the CLA, said: "The important issue is for the landowner to be able to make it clear to the police that they only gave permission for legal activities.

"One way to achieve this is to have a detailed letter from the hunt stating precisely which activities it wishes to carry out.

"The landowner also needs to send a reciprocal letter back to the hunt permitting lawful activities but emphasising that the hunt is prohibited from carrying out anything that is unlawful under the Hunting Act 2004."

Hunting ban facing first big test
19 Feb 05 |  Politics

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