A BARRISTER defending the Master of a North Yorkshire hunt, its whipper-in and a follower told a court yesterday that "legitimate activities" of a pack of hounds could include following a scent trail, during which it was possible that wildlife and mammals would be disturbed.
Robert Woodcock, QC, was at Scarborough Crown Court defending Anthony Graham Winter, 44, Master of the Sinnington Hunt, of Sykehead Lane, Nawton, near Helmsley; his partner, Caroline Scott, 37, another hunt employee and whipper-in to the hounds; and hunt follower Wilfred Gamble, 65, of Beckett Close, Nawton. All pleaded not guilty to hunting a fox with dogs, in December last year, contrary to the Hunting Act of 2004.
Mr Woodcock said the "absolute kernel" of the case was to be found in a short but critical part of a video film taken by officials of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), which was screened in court.
A fox was seen to pass the camera, said Mr Woodcock, and later hounds appeared further away.
He told District Judge Simon Hickey: "It is my submission that only if you are sure that at that moment those hounds were hunting the identified mammal, and that they were doing so intentionally, can you conclude that any of the defendants are guilty."
After nearly two days of hearing the prosecution case, based on evidence the League took to the Crown Prosecution Service, Mr Woodcock submitted there was no case to answer.
He said it was permissible to lay a trail of fox-like scent and "there is little or no control of whether hounds will follow the scent of the trail or that of a live mammal".
Mr Woodcock said there were three minutes between the fox being seen on the video film, taken at the disused Wombleton airfield near Kirkbymoorside, and the appearance of the hounds. That made it hard to say that the hounds were in pursuit of the fox. He suggested the fox was "ambling" when seen on the film.
Mr Winter had sounded his hunting horn, calling the hounds, but that could have been because they were heading for a busy road or a farmyard.
"The activities of the hunt were legitimate," said Mr Woodcock.
"There was an enormous distance between the line taken by the fox and the one taken by the hounds."
For the Crown Prosecution Service, John Paul Swoboda said there was a case to answer.
He said: "It was not trail hunting, but unlawful hunting. It is fanciful to say it was trail hunting."
He said League Against Cruel Sports observers had been at the scene for two hours and had seen no sign of any trail being laid.
One of the LACS team, Robert Hill, told the court: "I kept my head down before I came out after keeping surveillance."
He said vegetation in a wood on the edge of the airfield had been broken down and there were human and mammal footprints at the scene. There was fresh blood on the ground and a tuft of red fur which I believed was from a fox."
Judge Hickey said he would give his judgment on the case on Monday.