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Tit for Tat campaigns in hunting ban battle

BOTH SIDES in the planned Hunting ban have been sabre-rattling over the tactics they intend to employ in the battle before and after the ban takes effect.

Police are planning to use spy cameras in the countryside to enforce a ban on fox hunting. Chief constables said they intend to site CCTV cameras on hedgerows, fences and trees along known hunting routes to enable them to photograph hunt members who break the law after hunting with hounds is outlawed.

The controversial measure was agreed at a secret meeting between the Home Secretary, David Blunkett and the chief constables of England and Wales after the hunting ban was announced last week.

Police chiefs warned the Home Secretary that enforcing the ban would cost in excess of £30 million and divert resources from front-line policing. The plan to use cameras was put forward as a way of detecting illegal hunts without deploying hundreds of extra police to roam the countryside.

Some senior police have voiced concern that the measure could be easily foiled by riders and foot followers donning balaclavas – a measure which seems to have been overlooked by Mr Blunkett and his officials.

Mr Blunkett, however, was said to be enthusiastic about the idea, believing that cameras would be an affordable way of allowing police to identify where illegal hunts are taking place before moving in.

An aide said – apparently without any hint of irony: "This is the sort of imaginative policing solution that we will need to be able to police this ban, without incurring massive extra cost
Police officers in rural areas fear that if they have to arrest hunt members, it will drive a wedge between them and their local communities."

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper claimed that it has learned that hundreds of farmers are to refuse to allow the Armed Forces to carry out military manoeuvres on their land if the Government succeeds in passing its Bill to outlaw hunting.

The decision by landowners in Wales and parts of England to implement a permanent ban will place tens of thousand of acres out of bounds to the military and paralyse Ministry of Defence plans for forthcoming exercises.

The move is a direct retaliation for the Government's decision to force the anti-hunting Bill onto the Statute books.

The MoD has long been reliant on the unpaid co-operation of farmers in allowing the Armed Forces to use their land for large-scale manoeuvres.

Ken Jones, the master of the Irfon and Towy Hunt and the chairman of the Federation of Welsh Packs, said that dozens of farmers in mid-Wales would no longer give the MoD permission for troop exercises.

Mr Jones, who owns an 800-acre sheep and cattle farm near Llanwrtyd Wells in Powys, said: "All co-operation with the military will be stopped immediately and for good. The Army and the SAS use our land for large exercises two or three times a year, but not any more they won't.

"There is a big exercise set for November with units from all different parts of the world taking part but that will probably have to be cancelled now. We have a very good relationship with the military so we don't relish doing this.

"The last thing we want to do is to ruin national security, but when you have people like the Labour Party running the country and the way they are treating country folk, we need to stand up."

Other hunt supporters hinted at plans to disrupt the entire country. Farmers and landowners are to refuse access to their land for pipelines and road widening and for the construction of mobile police masts.

John Jackson, the chairman of the Countryside Alliance, said: "I have been warning and warning that the countryside could erupt. That is now happening."

The Alliance has set up a unit to follow the movements of ministers and to co-ordinate mass protests. Plans for hunting to continue under a ban are also to be announced soon by the Council of Hunting Associations (CHA).

The favourite option is for the main hunts in England and Wales simply to declare themselves to be drag hunts chasing an artificially laid scent and challenge police to catch them killing a fox.

The Government plans to retaliate by denying farmers subsidies if they allow illegal hunts on their land.

Ministers are concerned, however, about the implications of a campaign of civil disobedience. Mr Jackson said that he had received a letter from Alun Michael, the rural affairs minister, expressing outrage at being prevented from attending an event last weekend to mark the start of the right to roam.

In his letter, Mr Michael said that he had withdrawn on police advice. "I have to be conscious that there could be dangers to innocent bystanders," he said.

"I have consistently warned Alun Michael that if he did not keep his promise to address the question of hunting on the basis of evidence and principle the countryside would erupt in fury and that is now happening because of what he did. He has lit a fuse which needs to be put out before a huge, damaging explosion."

The Conservatives stood by the protesters, but said they would not support illegal actions. James Gray, a Tory spokesman on hunting, said: "We entirely decry any illegal activity whatsoever. But the fact that Army officers, JPs, dentists and nurses are prepared to do this shows the strength of their disaffection with New Labour's England."