The first huntsman prosecuted under the Hunting Act has today had his conviction overturned on appeal.
Tony Wright, huntsman of the Exmoor Foxhounds, appeared in Exeter Crown Court at 2pm, where the judgment was delivered by Judge Cottle.
In his conclusion, the Judge stated: “During this appeal we have enjoyed an extended opportunity to observe and to hear from the appellant [Tony Wright]. And we have no doubt that he and the master of the hunt genuinely wished to comply with the Act.
“On that day, with the benefit of hindsight, the arrangements in place may not have been sufficient to ensure compliance with the Act but we are satisfied that the appellant has proved that he reasonably believed, perhaps optimistically, that he had put in place the safeguard that would ensure compliance with the Act.”
Tony Wright was found guilty last August at Barnstaple Magistrates Court, in a prosecution brought privately by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS).
The case hinged on an exemption under the Act that allows two hounds to flush foxes to be shot, which Tony Wright has always maintained he was doing on 29 February 2005.
“We’re delighted that justice has finally been done,” said Stephen Lambert, chairman of the Masters of Foxhounds Association.
“And we’re thrilled and delighted for Tony Wright whose courage and perseverance in this predicament has been quite superb.”
Mr Lambert added: “We are very grateful to our superb legal team.”
Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “This verdict is an absolute vindication of Tony Wright and the Exmoor Foxhounds and another nail in the coffin of the Hunting Act.
“While we celebrate this judgment, we must not forget why an innocent man faced with a vindictive private prosecution has had to spend over two years and two court cases to clear his name.
“The Hunting Act is not only a pointless and prejudiced piece of legislation, it is also a very bad law. If the courts cannot be sure what is hunting and what is not how on earth can anyone else?
“Only by scrapping the Act can we ensure that other innocent people will not be persecuted and today’s result adds to the clear case for its repeal.”
For full reaction and coverage, see next Thursday’s edition of Horse & Hound.