Tony Wright relied on the defence that he reasonably believed the hunting was exempt. The burden of proving that defence rested on him: it was not for the prosecution to disprove it. There were five conditions, all of which Mr Wright had to prove in order to be acquitted:

  • The flushing out by his hounds was undertaken to prevent or reduce serious damage the fox would cause to livestock. He won on that: the judge accepted the flushing out was to prevent predation of lambs.
  • Mr Wright had been given permission to do the flushing out by the landowner. The judge accepted he had that permission.
  • The flushing out used only two hounds. The judge did accept that to be the case.
  • The flushing out did not involve the use of a hound below ground. Again, the judge accepted that to be the case.
  • Where Mr Wright came to grief was on the fifth, tightly drawn condition, that (a) reasonable steps were taken to ensure that as soon as possible after being flushed out, the fox was shot dead; and (b) each hound used in the flushing out was kept under sufficiently close control to ensure it did not prevent or obstruct the prompt shooting dead of the fox.

    The judge found that the length of time between flushing out and shooting could be up to 2-3min, which he said went far beyond “flushing”, and he said that after the fox is flushed, the hounds should be called off.

    The judge found that the only gun with the hunt that day was often as far as 1km or more from where hounds were searching.

    Moreover, there were occasions when Mr Wright and the marksman were out of sight of one another, so the fox could not be shot “as soon as possible” after being flushed. The judge also found, on the facts, that the hounds were not under tight control. The judge ended by doubting whether it could ever be possible, save in some limited areas of woodland or similar cover, to utilise the exemption from criminal liability with Foxhounds.

    Mr Wright, understandably, expressed himself very disappointed, and said he will appeal. His fine of £500 will strike many sympathetic to hunting as heavy, given that people who steal from shops are commonly fined far less for a first offence.

    On the other hand, he was ordered to pay only £250 costs in respect of a prosecution LACS said cost £65,000 and he did not suffer the confiscation of his equipment, hounds or hunting articles. So the judge certainly seems to have been fairly even-handed on sentence, even if his decision to convict was a tough one.