A verdict is not likely to be returned until next week on the private prosecution of the huntsman and whipper-in of the Quantock Staghounds accused of breaching the Hunting Act.

Huntsman Richard Down, 36, and whipper-in Adrian Pillivant, 44, appeared in Taunton Magistrates Court last week accused of hunting deer with hounds on 16 February 2007. Both deny the charge.

The case, which lasted four days, is a private prosecution by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) — the second brought against a hunt under the Act and the second by LACS.

“The case hinges on the first part of the ‘fifth condition’ of the flushing exemption, that ‘reasonable steps are taken for the purpose of ensuring that after being found and flushed out, the wild mammal is shot dead by a competent person’,” said Countryside Alliance (CA) spokesman Tim Bonner. “We believe the Quantock Staghounds were fulfilling that, and all other conditions, of ‘exempt hunting’. Richard Down and Adrian Pillivant believed what they were doing was legal.”

He added: “Whatever the outcome, the Quantock Staghounds are absolutely determined that they will continue their crucial role in the management of Red Deer in the Quantocks.”

Video evidence filmed by LACS employees Graham Floyd and Edmund Shepherd on 16 February at Longstone Hill, near Holdford, was presented in court.

Richard Furlong, prosecuting for LACS, told the court a herd of 11 deer was chased across the moor for more than an hour before gunshot blasts were heard.

Mr Shepherd added that “no attempt was made to control the hounds”.

Giving evidence for the defence, Richard Down said the hunt had started at about 11.45am, with three guns present, and had flushed deer from two covers, killing four hinds cleanly before LACS employees arrived.

He said the deer in the video evidence were being flushed back towards the three guns, and although they did not come in range of the guns on that occasion, they were re-found and two were shot, as heard by the LACS employees.

Witnesses called for the hunt included the three guns, the landowner, local farmers and Quantock Staghounds chairman Nick Gibbons, who confirmed the events of the day.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (31 May, ’07)