Tension is building on Exmoor following the perceived clumsy handling by police of their first prosecution under the Hunting Act.

Devon and Somerset Staghounds senior master Maurice Scott, 63, and second whipper-in Peter Heard, 23, were held in cells at Minehead last Monday for 2hr 30min before police laid charges.

Last Thursday, the pair appeared in Taunton Deane magistrates court charged with breaching the Hunting Act during an incident at Higher Broford, near Dulverton, on 25 April this year. The two were bailed, and their case adjourned until 2 November.

The arrests have heightened already strained relationships between local people and the region’s police.

The Countryside Alliance (CA) is “urgently” compiling a team of hunt stewards to assist Exmoor packs subjected to relentless monitoring, while hundreds of people are expected to attend a meeting in Exford village hall tomorrow (27 October) to address “serious and growing concern about police priorities”.

Devon and Somerset Staghounds chairman Tom Yandle said anger has been building since the hunting community learnt how Avon and Somerset police had met representatives from the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and RSPCA.

“Everybody feels it’s not the job of the police to connive with these groups,” he said. “It seems they’re looking for a way of giving in to them.”

He added: “We did have a very good relationship with the police — they would talk to us, we would talk to them — but it’s all blown up. The arrests look political to us and it’s not the job of the police to be political.”

Individuals from three packs in the area have now been accused of illegal hunting — two private prosecutions have been brought by LACS against the Exmoor Foxhounds and the Quantocks Staghounds, and now a first case has been brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) against the Devon and Somerset Staghounds.

Labour MP and CA chairman Kate Hoey has written to the Chief Constable of the Avon and Somerset police, Colin Port, saying she is “increasingly concerned that [the] force is giving allegations of offences under the Hunting Act that are wholly out of context with the status of the legislation, national guidelines and public interest”.

She continues: “I hope you will be able to reassure the rural community of Exmoor that they can have confidence in the impartiality and integrity of policing, free from bias and undue influence.”

Two other MPs, Jeremy Browne for Taunton and Ian Liddle-Grainger for Bridgwater, have written to Chief Constable Port, who has been invited to the meeting in Exford.

The meeting has been called by Endangered Exmoor, a group started by the local community seven years ago.

Secretary Pat Bawden told Horse & Hound: “People feel neglected by the police — feeling is running very high. They seem to be spending an extraordinary amount of time in charging these pillars of the community.”

  • Read this news story in full in today’s Horse & Hound (26 October, ’06)