Exmoor huntsman Tony Wright’s lawyers have lodged an appeal at Exeter Crown Court against his prosecution for illegal hunting. The appeal will be heard later this year, but in the meantime hunts will carry on as before. Devon and Cornwall Police have confirmed the case is not a legislative benchmark: “Nothing has changed as a result of the Wright case,” said Assistant Chief Constable Richard Stowe, adding that hunts across the country have been found to be hunting within the law.
Mr Wright was filmed chasing two foxes across Exmoor along with two hounds. He firmly believes he was hunting within the law and will appeal against the magistrate’s court ruling that fined him £500 and £250 costs. The Countryside Alliance will be supporting Mr Wright’s appeal. “No right-minded person believes that Tony Wright should be branded a criminal,” said a CA spokesperson.
According to Devon and Cornwall Police, Tony Wright’s appeal will help clarify the Hunting Act 2005.”The law hasn’t changed as a result of the prosecution but it could as a result of the appeal. It could bring about case law which would be helpful,” Assistant Chief Constable Stowe told CLO.
The CA believes the outcome has created confusion amongst hunts: “This judgment has created even more confusion over the Hunting Act than before – any law which can put a man like Tony Wright through nine months of court action and tell him he is a criminal for doing something which he believed was entirely legal, clearly isn’t working,” said a spokesperson.
Hunting is not a priority for the Devon and Cornwall Police, Assistant Chief Constable Stowe confirmed. “It is not part of the National Policing Plan,” he said, “There are 33 hunts in Devon and Cornwall, about 10% of the country’s hunts. If we had to police them all it would be very difficult.” But he was keen to point out that violence at hunt meets will not be tolerated. “Whilst I’ve said hunting is not a police priority, violence is,” he warned.
Assistant Chief Constable Stowe was also keen to point out that in the police’s absence ‘monitors’ do not have a special status. “There is nothing illegal about someone filming a hunt but they have no special status,” he confirmed.
Police forces across the country have reported the majority of hunts are operating within the law. “There have been 30 allegations of illegal hunting in Devon and Cornwall and none of them have been sent to the Crime Prosecution Service,” added Stowe.
Tony Wright’s 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. His appeal is due to be heard this autumn.