A Devon huntsman has become the first person to be successfully prosecuted under the Labour government's anti-hunting laws.
Tony Wright was found guilty of breaking the Hunting Act 2004 by signalling for his hounds to pursue foxes when the fleeing animals should have been shot.
The 52-year-old denied breaching the act when he led the Exmoor Foxhounds last spring, saying his hounds were under control, and has promised to appeal against his conviction.
He was fined £500 at Barnstaple magistrates court in a private civil case brought by the League Against Cruel Sports, which had videoed the hunt on April 29th.
It claimed the film showed him urging the hounds to pursue two foxes to kill them. Mr Wright argued that he was simply using the hounds to flush out the animals, and a marksman was ready to shoot them as soon as possible, as required under the law.
"I understand the difficulty that everyone has with the act coming into force," the judge told the court, but he added: "What I saw was not exempt hunting."
Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the league, said today's ruling sent out an "absolutely clear" message that it was a crime to chase a fox with hounds.
"People who hunt do so because they wish to torment a fox. The Hunting Act has taken away their playtime. I would now expect the police to be visiting their local hunts to make it clear that they are not allowed to pursue foxes," he said.
"If we become aware of other hunts acting illegally we will have no hesitation in passing on the information to the appropriate authorities."
However, Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, declared: "No right-minded person thinks that Tony Wright should have been branded a criminal.
"If people were confused about the Hunting Act before today they will be a lot more confused now. We believe that he was trying to comply with the law as he understood it and will be supporting his appeal.
"This is a piece of legislation which took seven years and 700 hours of parliamentary time to get onto the statute book yet still it is illogical and unclear.
"Any law which can put a man like Tony Wright through nine months of court action and tell him he is a criminal for doing something he believed was entirely legal clearly isn't working."
The Hunting Act came into force in England and Wales in February last year, although the Countryside Alliance has mounted a series of appeals against the law.