Exmoor huntsman Tony Wright has today been found guilty in Barnstaple Magistrates’ Court for breaching the terms of the Hunting Act. Tony Wright, 55, argued that he was attempting to comply with the conditions for ‘exempt hunting’. Mr Wright, who was fined £5000, will launch an appeal against his conviction.

The case was brought to court as a private prosecution by the League Against Cruel Sports at a cost of £65,000 after Avon and Somerset Police dismissed it based on the evidence available. During the week-long hearing Mr Wright denied breaching the Hunting Act when he led the Exmoor Foxhounds at Drybridge in Devon on 29 April, 2005. Despite evidence that he was trying to comply with the conditions for ‘exempt hunting’ (that he was accompanied by two hounds and a marksman to shoot the fox), the judge found Mr Wright guilty.

Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “No right minded person thinks that Tony Wright should have been branded a criminal.”

Over the course of the hearing the League told the court that Wright signalled to the Exmoor Foxhounds to pursue two foxes at Drybridge in Devon, thus breaking the terms of the Hunting Act.

The Countryside Alliance believe that today’s verdict brings the Hunting Act and ‘exempt hunting’ into question. “If people were confused about the Hunting Act before today they will be a lot more confused now,” said Mr Hart. “We believe that he [Mr Wright] was trying to comply with the law as he understood it and will be supporting his appeal. This is a piece of legislation which took seven years and 700 hours of parliamentary time to get onto the statute book yet still it is illogical and unclear.” According to the Countryside Alliance, Mr Wright does not know what else he could have done.

“There is a lot of analysis to be done,” said a Countryside Alliance spokesperson, “But one thing Mr Wright is clear about is that he is not stopping hunting.” Over the coming days the Countryside Alliance will be issuing hunts with new advice. “We have to find a way through this,” said the spokesperson. “This Hunting Act has got to go.”

To read a full analysis of the implications of this prosecution, including information on the appeal process and how hunts are responding to the news, pick up next week’s issue of Horse & Hound (August 10)