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Scotland’s new drag hunt — the Highland Drag — has been forced to fold before it even began, due to allegations of neglect of hounds and the arrest of its huntsman.

Paul Lawrence joined the hunt in May, but turned out to be on the run from Thames Valley Police. He was arrested on 22 June in relation to a series of fraud offences across Oxfordshire and Berkshire and is in custody awaiting trial.

Officers from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) were called to a property in Dores by the hunt’s joint secretary Moira McCallum the same day.

Miss McCallum told H&H: “Paul had told me that the four hounds, which were being looked after by another person, needed rehoming.

“I was to meet him at the kennels but when he didn’t turn up — I later found he’d been arrested — I went in.

“Their pens hadn’t been cleaned and they had been given great buckets of food, as if that was to keep them going for days before someone would go back to them.”

She decided to call in the welfare charity.

Scottish SPCA chief inspector Iain Allan added: “Our inspectors found the kennels to be filthy, therefore we arranged to have the dogs moved to a more suitable environment. This is now complete and no further action will be taken.”

A spokesman for the charity added that the hounds had not been found in a poor condition — they seemed well-fed and healthy — but the conditions in which they were being kept were deemed unsuitable.

Joint-master of the Highland Drag Georgie Rutherford told H&H: “It has been a very sorry episode. We put our trust in someone, and they have let us down so badly. The Highland Drag Hunt has now been officially disbanded.

“The remaining six couple of hounds are here with me at our home farm, and are being kennelled and exercised properly. And we are open to any inspection.”

The Highland Drag had been due to hold its inaugural opening meet this September and had applied to join the Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (8 July, 2010)