ONE OF the UK’s leading stag hunts has become one of the first to be formally investigated for allegedly breaching the anti-hunting laws following the imposition of the Hunting Act earlier this year.
Police are looking into a complaint by anti-bloodsports campaigners that the Quantock Staghounds allowed a pack of hounds to chase deer across the countryside before shooting them. Under the Hunting Act, which came into force in February, it is permissible to shoot stags for pest control, but only by using no more than two dogs to flush them out. Hunting them down with a pack of hounds is now illegal.
The League Against Cruel Sports has passed six videos to Devon and Cornwall police, which, it claims, show that the Quantock hunt is going much further than pest control.
The league claims the hunt plays a cat-and-mouse game with stags: flushing them out into the open, releasing them and then sending the dogs after them again.
Although the stags are shot, the league says such protracted hunting is for sport. The videos are purported to show members and hounds chasing stags for several minutes.
At one of the alleged incident, the league filmed and photographed a pack of at least six hounds apparently chasing a stag; the stag and the hounds disappear from view in the film and a single shot is heard a few minutes later, it is claimed. The case may prove difficult to investigate, as the video fails to identify who was in charge of the hounds at the time.
To bring a prosecution, Inspector Nevin Hunter, Devon and Cornwall police’s principal countryside officer, would have to prove that the hounds were under the control of Quantock members and that they intended to chase and hunt the stag. Under the rather vague definitions of the Hunting Act, if dogs ‘accidentally’ chase an animal, whether it is a fox, a deer or a hare, they are not deemed to be hunting it. This loophole was used soon after the Act became law by several Foxhunts.
The Quantock Staghounds hunt, which ranges across Devon and Somerset, is one of the most militant in the country and is supported by Baroness Mallalieu, who led the opposition to the hunting bill in the House of Lords.
Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance denied that the hunt’s members had done anything illegal. "These hounds ran off when they were being exercised and picked up a scent. Nobody was hunting," he said.
LACS says it understands that the video evidence has been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service. A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: "The evidence is still under investigation."
It is understood that the league has made complaints about other hunts defying the ban but details have not been released.
l Late last year, Trevor Adams, 46, joint master of the Duke of Buccleuch's Foxhounds, was charged with hunting a fox with 20 hounds, two months after the sport was outlawed in Scotland. But a sheriff found that he was "searching" for foxes, not hunting them.
Under the ban imposed north of the border, hunts can use hounds to flush foxes from cover to be shot by waiting marksmen. They only break the law if they deliberately chase and kill a fox in open country.
Adams appeared at Jedburgh Sheriff Court charged with deliberately hunting a fox with 20 dogs at Courthill, near Kelso, Roxburghshire, on October 16, 2002. The case was the first time someone had gone on trial for an alleged breach of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.
In what was considered a test case, Sheriff Kevin Drummond ruled Trevor Adams, 46, had not broken the law introduced in 2002. Sheriff Drummond said: "I have found he was searching for foxes for the purpose of flushing them from cover in order that they might be shot. He acted to ensure that that was done."