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Police unable to identify illegal hunts

A TOP policeman has admitted that his officers will struggle to identify an illegal fox hunt when the Government's hunting ban comes into force next month.

Nigel Yeo, the assistant chief constable of Sussex Police, expressed his concerns about enforcing the ban on hunting with hounds in a letter to Alastair Jackson, the director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association.

Mr Yeo is spokesman on public order for the Association of Chief Police Officers and responsible for providing guidance on implementing the Hunting Act. He points out in his letter that because drag hunting will still be legal, as will using hounds to flush out a fox towards a gun, it will be difficult to tell when the law is actually being broken.

"You will be aware that one of the recommendations for people who intend to continue country pursuits is that they stop fox hunting once it becomes banned on 18 February and convert to drag hunting or hunting of the 'clean boot' as it is referred to," Mr Yeo wrote.

"In preparing the guidance for the police service as I am bound to do, I would greatly welcome your assistance in any guidance I can give to police officers on how to identify the difference between these and fox hunting."

Mr Jackson replied: "With respect, I would consider it almost impossible for anyone to know if a pack of hounds was hunting a fox or a drag. I do not envy you your job."

Mr Jackson added that from February 18 his organisation would no longer have "disciplinary powers" and "hunts will not be regulated" by them.

With 250 hunts preparing a mass outing on the day of the ban's implementation, police have approached dozens of hunt members for information. Some hunters revealed that they had been offered payments to act as police informants.

Under the legislation, hunts will be able to meet legally by re-classifying themselves as drag hunts or "hound exercise clubs". They will not be able to use a pack to chase and kill an animal.

Huntsmen will, however, be able to use two hounds to flush a fox towards a gun. They could also use the excuse that a fox was caught accidentally by hounds running out of control. Much confusion is expected to result from the fact that this will look little different from traditional hunting.

Darren Hughes, Spokesman for the Countryside Alliance commented on Mr Yeo’s letter and the total uncertainty of what was or was not an illegal hunt: "We have consistently warned the Government that the Hunting Act is bad legislation and that it would be practically un-enforceable," he said. "If senior police officers can’t differentiate between legal and illegal hunting, how on earth is a village bobby going to be able to tell when hunts meet as normal on 19th February? It is preposterous that the Government are forcing already overstretched police forces to waste extremely valuable resources implementing this ridiculous law."