Four years on and hunting still rears its head

By Ian Dunt

On this day in 2005, the ban on hunting with dogs came into effect.

But four years later, hunt protestors still complain there is no sustained campaign to shut the practise down, with hunting continuing as normal across whole swathes of the country.

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Seventy-six people have been prosecuted in England and Wales since the ban on hunting with hounds came into force.

Forty per cent of convictions under the Hunting Act are in Merseyside, while Cumbria, for instance, has not experienced a single one.

When the local News and Star visited two hunt monitors earlier this year, they asked to be kept anonymous for fear of reprisals.

One told the journalists: “Sometimes we think we’re fighting a losing battle. They are carrying on as if nothing has changed.

“Nobody takes any notice. It’s nigh on impossible to get a conviction. We have to show they are encouraging the hounds to kill foxes.

“The police say they are short staffed and this isn’t a priority.”

The Merseyside example demonstrates prosecutions are possible. A total of 19 people were found guilty of breaching the Act in 2007, all but two of which were fined.

The Act is considered massively ineffective by both sides of the debate.

A High Court ruling earlier this month said searching for foxes with hounds was legal as long as they were not chased.

While the prosecution would have to prove the accused was not covered by an exemption, the hunter would have to prove what he was doing.

In a sign of the curious legal entanglement the Act has provoked, both sides welcomed the ruling.

Rad Thomas, spokesman for the Quorn Hunt, told Melton Today: “I think it shows how unworkable the bill is, how badly thought out it was and how unnecessary it was.

“I think it has taken us one step closer to repealing the act and there is a good chance it will be on its way out soon, as it should be.”

At the same time, Douglas Batchelor, chief executive at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “We are delighted the judgment has focused on the need for better enforcement of the act and has set out clear guidelines for police forces to do this.

“There is absolutely no suggestion the law is unenforceable, in fact quite the opposite.

“We have said from the offset the act is clear but unfortunately the pro-hunting lobby has been unable to accept this and has continually criticised the legislation because it goes against their desire to kill for fun.”

Far from going away, the debate could very well be set to burst back onto the media’s agenda, especially if the Tories win the next election.

David Cameron has promised a free vote on a repeal, although Conservatives have told they plan to limit parliamentary time on the subject as much as possible, believing that enough ink has already been spilt on the matter.

Hunting with dogs carries a fine of up to £5,000 along with a possible confiscation of dogs or vehicles.