’Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello… Is this YOUR pack of ‘ounds, Sir?"
"Why no, constable, my friends and I were out for a gallop and these dogs came running alongside us and then, dash it all, a blessed fox ran out of the woods…"
POLICE CHIEFS will be told to apply common sense when enforcing the ban on hunting, according to David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.
He indicated that hunts that switched to drag hunting might not face prosecution if their hounds accidentally killed a fox. But if they deliberately sought to flout the law, they would be prosecuted.
Mr Blunkett, who had backed the ‘middle way’ option of registered hunting which was voted down by Labour MPs in favour of a total ban last month, said the police would fully enforce the ban. Any attempt to carry on foxhunting in defiance of the Hunting Act would be a challenge to the whole basis of the legal system, he said.
But he added that he would expect the police to enforce the law with "sensitivity" to allow people to get used to the legal changes that take effect on Feb 19 2005.
He made clear that there would be no extra money for chief constables to police the Act. They would have to rely on resources used at present to protect hunts from saboteurs.
"They will use their resources wisely to protect people," Mr Blunkett said on ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme. Despite threats by hunt supporters to defy the law, as well as warnings of a campaign of civil disobedience, Mr Blunkett said he hoped confrontation could be avoided.
"I want common sense from those who want to go out with their horses and hounds and I want common sense in the use of police resources. If we can get that right, then what looks at the moment to be a very major challenge will turn out not to be."
Senior police officers have said that policing the ban would impose an added burden on them and would be very difficult to enforce.
Alastair McWhirter, the Chief Constable of Suffolk and spokesman on rural affairs for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said they would be seeking guidance form Ministers on what priority they should give the issue. "This is an additional burden. It is going to be challenging. But we are going to deal with what Parliament has passed. That is our job."
Mr McWhirter acknowledged that in some cases it could be difficult to determine if an offence was being committed, as there had to be proof that a wild mammal was being hunted. He emphasised that it was still legal for hunt followers to ride to hounds on drag hunts.
"A person commits the offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog. So somebody has to see a wild mammal being hunted. We expect to get a lot of calls from people saying, `Look, there are people hunting.' But unless they are actually chasing a wild mammal or have the intent of doing so, they will not be committing an offence."