The issue of what constitutes exempt hunting was thrown dramatically into focus last Thursday when two men from the Quantock Staghounds were found guilty of breaching the Hunting Act.

Just two days after Stephen Lambert, chairman of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, warned that the current situation was untenable (see page eight in todya’s H&H), Richard Down and Adrian Pillivant were convicted of hunting a wild mammal with dogs.

The pair were each fined £500 and ordered to pay £1,000 in costs by District Judge David Parsons in a case brought privately by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). The duo’s legal team will meet next week and H&H understands that an appeal is likely. The Countryside Alliance (CA) and the Council of Hunting Associations have agreed to underwrite any appeal.

Although some aspects of the judgement mirrored those seen in the Exmoor case in which huntsman Tony Wright was also found guilty of hunting (news, 10 August 2006), for the first time the issue of purpose played its part in the verdict.

In his judgement, District Judge Parsons stated: “The purpose of the undertaking was preserving a way of life the participants and defendants are not prepared to give up.

“The defendants were hunting for sport and to continue with their way of life and are disingenuous in attempting to deceive me into believing that they were exempt hunting.”

Tom Yandle, chairman of the Masters of Deerhounds Association, was shocked at the interpretation.

He told H&H: “What has enjoyment got to do with the law? It seems a very odd way of approaching it. I’m very unhappy with the outcome, as we have always considered that we’ve been hunting within the law. One thing’s for certain — there’s no question of us giving up.”

The CA’s Tim Bonner admitted to being surprised by the emphasis District Judge Parsons placed on recreation.

He told H&H: “We haven’t encountered this before. The judge accepted that they fulfilled some conditions of the exemptions, but because he saw the primary purpose as recreation, he ruled against them. In many ways, this interpretation is worse than in the Tony Wright case.”

Read this news story in full in today’s Horse & Hound (14 June, ’07), including views from the field a QC’s perspective on the case