PETER FROST pursues the unspeakable chasing the uneatable.

Members of the Oxfordshire Heythrop Hunt have been convicted of hunting foxes illegally in a prosecution brought by the RSPCA.

This is not just any bunch of Tory toffs on horses chasing a fox.

It is David Cameron’s and his notorious Chipping Norton set’s very own local hunt. The Prime Minister himself has hunted with the Heythrop in the past.

We would need to hack into Rebecca Brooks’s phone to find out if she has ridden with the hunt recently – and the Morning Star doesn’t do phone hacking – but we do know her husband Charlie Brooks is a keen and regular rider with the Heythrop.

Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson is reported to regularly welcome the riders and their pack of hounds to chase foxes on his land.

In court, the Hunt, Heythrop Hunt Limited, pleaded guilty to four charges of intentionally hunting a fox with dogs.

This is believed to be the first prosecution of a hunt itself under the legislation although there have been nearly two hundred prosecutions of individuals for flouting the law.

In court Heythrop hunt member Richard Sumner and hunt servant Julian Barnfield both also pleaded guilty to four charges of unlawfully hunting a wild fox with dogs.

The RSPCA, said the hunt was filmed killing foxes on several occasions.

The Heythrop Hunt Limited was fined a total of £4000 with £15,000 costs.

Barnfield, of Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was fined £1,000, with costs of £2,000.

Sumner, of Salperton, Gloucestershire, was fined a total of £1,800 with costs of £2,500.

The court case and conviction have rattled the Tory countryside establishment.

The Countryside Alliance is shouting “Foul!”

Even the supposedly neutral judge made a surprising comment. He described as “quite staggering” the amount of money the RSPCA spent on the prosecution, saying that the money may have been more “usefully employed”.

The Judge, Tim Pattinson, added “Members of the public may feel that RSPCA funds can be more usefully employed.”

Most members of the public will disagree with the judge and congratulate the animal charity on money well spent.

The RSPCA explained it felt it necessary to bring the prosecution itself because in the past it had passed evidence of similar cases to the Crown Prosecution Service only to find long delays and a final decision not to take the matter to court.

After this hearing, the RSPCA’s chief executive, Gavin Grant, said: “These defendants were well aware that they were breaking the law in that their actions would lead to a fox being torn apart by dogs.

The Heythrop Hunt, one of the most high-profile in the country, has been an important part of life for the notorious Chipping Norton set.

Each Boxing Day crowds gather to see the hunt – and its famous faces – in Chipping Norton Market Square. No doubt the guilty plea and fines won’t stop the bloody display this Christmas.

On 18 November 2004 hunting with dogs was banned in England and Wales. Scotland had banned hunting in 2002.

Even before the Hunting Act came into law many hunters announced their intention to flout the law.

A Hunting Declaration, organised by right wing activist Roger Scruton, scraped up 50,000 signatures from people prepared to break the law in the event of a hunting ban.

The Hunting Act was the culmination of many years of campaigning by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports, along with other groups and individuals.

The most recent surveys show that three out of every four people in Britain think fox hunting should remain illegal and 72% of those in rural areas do not want fox hunting legalised.

David Cameron has pledged to hold a free vote on restoring fox-hunting but is finding growing opposition to the so-called sport even in his own party.

The so-called Blue Fox group of Tories including a number of younger, mainly female, Tory MPs seem to have killed off any prospect of a Commons vote on reviving bloodsports before the next Election.

The RSPCA deserves praise for having the courage to bring this prosecution when the whole weight of the countryside Tory establishment was against them.

Old Reynard the fox and all real country lovers owe them a huge debt of thanks.

This article first published in the Morning Star, 2012


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