The Hunting Act has been described as difficult to interpret and prosecute after three members of Yorkshire’s Holderness Hunt were cleared of illegal hunting.
Charges were brought against master of foxhounds Charles Clark, former huntsman David Elliot and amateur whip Philip Walker after complaints of hunting in the village of Aike, near Driffield, on January 21, last year.
Each was accused of hunting a wild mammal with dogs but at the start of a trial at Beverley Magistrates Court the prosecution offered no evidence against Elliott, of the Gatehouse, Market Weighton Road, North Duffield.
District Judge Daniel Curtis said the legislation was not easy and it was a classic example of the difficulties the Crown have in prosecuting such cases.
After hearing from villagers about events on the day concerned Allan Armbrister for the remaining two defendants submitted there was no case to answer and Mr Curtis agreed.
Clark, 32, of Elm Tree Farm, Wistow, Selby, and Walker, 26, of Westlands, Hornsea Road, Sigglestone, East Yorkshire, were both cleared.
Mr Curtis said the Hunting Act 2004 was a piece of legislation that had caused much controversy. It was debated in Parliament for a disproportionate length of time and was eventually brought in by a free vote. But he said: “It is difficult to interpret and apply and difficult for the CPS to prosecute.”
There was evidence that in the morning a rider was trying to marshal hounds away from an area, which is contrary to directing them towards prey, the judge added.
In the afternoon, he said, CCTV evidence showed six or seven hounds pursuing a fox through a garden, from a pack of around 30.
Mr Curtis said importantly there was no evidence that they were directed there. “It was a scene of chaos, disorganisation, little organisation and little leadership.”
Andrew Vaughan prosecuting had said: “We say what was going on throughout the day is illegal foxhunting and the legal trail hunting is something of a smokescreen.”
Ian Sargent told the court he called the police after he saw hounds in one of his fields having previously written to the hunt and told them they were not entitled to be there.
One of two huntsmen wearing red jackets had gone into the field to try to get the hounds out.
Mr Sargent said he spoke to a hunt master and was assured they would not return but in the afternoon he heard hounds nearby again and went out to investigate.
This time he saw a fox which ran into his garden. “It was in the most horrific state I have ever seen a fox, covered from its shoulders to the tip of its nose in blood.”
He said it headed off between his house and his neighbour’s and he said he then saw hounds come from the same direction as the fox had. He had there were about seven hounds in his garden, adding: “I was in fear of being bitten.”
When he subsequently saw three riders coming past he put his arms up to stop them but one just accelerated and he had to jump out of the way.
Mr Sargent agreed under cross-examination by Mr Armbrister that the hounds in his garden “were not under the control of any human or being directed there”.
After the case was dismissed Clark said: “We are relieved this ordeal is finally over.”
Tim Bonner, director of Campaigns for the Countryside Alliance, said: “The judge’s comments and the results of this case are further evidence that the Hunting Act is a failed law.”