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The prosecution of members of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds (D&S) for unlawful hunting has been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The case against D&S joint-master Maurice Scott, huntsman Donald Summersgill and whipper-in Peter Heard had been on hold following a High Court ruling on exempt hunting in February.

Now the CPS has said that in the light of that ruling, which put the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove a hunt was not carrying out exempt hunting, they would drop the case.

It follows the dropping of four charges of illegal hunting against Heythrop huntsman Julian Barnfield on 10 March.

Mr Scott said: “This is a huge relief, not just for myself and others facing the charges but for hunting as a whole.

“We were always convinced that what we were doing was legal and, while we hope that the Hunting Act will not last much longer, the D&S will be able to continue some form of hunting and deer management until it is repealed.”

The Countryside Alliance said the CPS decision is further proof that the Hunting Act has failed.

Chief executive Simon Hart said: “This is the second high profile Hunting Act case to be dropped by the CPS as a result of the High Court judgment.

“There have only been three successful prosecutions of hunts, involving five people, since the Act came into force in February 2005.

“The decision to drop this case suggests that prosecutions under the Hunting Act will now be even rarer.

“It could not now be more obvious that this Act has failed and all it now promotes is confusion, cost and conflict. There are no reasonable arguments left for retaining the Hunting Act, and its repeal cannot come soon enough.”