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Police have been advised to stop monitoring hunts in guidelines drawn up by ACPO.

The new guidelines by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) recognise that the “gathering of evidence of offending behaviour has proved a difficult task for the police, and with available resources it is likely to remain so”.

Instead, police are advised to rely upon initial evidence “gathered by members of the public who are often organised for this purpose”.

ACPO spokesman on rural affairs, Richard Brunstrom, also chief constable of North Wales said in an interview with The Times: “If you look at hunting, the penalties do not include a prison sentence for offenders. This puts the Hunting Act to the lower rather than the higher end of offences….hunting is definitely not a policing priority.”

Although the ACPO guidelines state police will accept and deal with evidence of “any criminal offence”, it warns forces to be “very cautious in forming informal partnerships with any organisation unless satisfied that those who purport to or do act on their behalf can distance themselves from any broader objectives their organisation might have to strengthen, extend or repeal legislation”.

Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart warned that while policing the Hunting Act is not a priority, the policing of animal rights extremism should be.

“We are concerned by campaigns of violence and harassment by hunting rights activists in a few areas of the countryside,” said Simon. “An anti-hunting activist is awaiting trial for the murder of a hunt supporter last March and the next hunting season could see increased extremism.”