Anti-hunt campaigners in Sheffield brand decision to dismiss case despite video footage 'shocking'

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Animal rights campaigners in Sheffield have branded a decision to dismiss illegal hunting charges against three men without trial as 'shocking'.

Sheffield Hunt Saboteurs member Tommy Woodward filmed hounds chasing a fox through a field in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, which he claims shows members of the Derwent Hunt breaching the fox-hunting ban.

A still from the footage which was presented to court (pic: Sheffield Hunt Saboteurs)

A still from the footage which was presented to court (pic: Sheffield Hunt Saboteurs)

Three men were charged in connection with the footage but the case was dismissed at court without going to trial.

A magistrate ruled earlier this month that there was insufficient evidence as he said the video did not show the fox being flushed out and the 'behaviour and manner' of the riders was 'not consistent' with that of those looking for an 'active pursuit'.

Magistrate Ian Nicholson, sitting at Scarborough Magistrates' Court on September 7, reportedly told the defendants: "You arrived with good character and you leave with good character."

The footage initially shows riders dressed in red waiting with a pack of hounds, before the dogs can be seen pursuing a fox across a field.

The riders do not appear to follow the hounds, but campaigners claim they 'show no urgency' in attempting to call off the hounds.

What appears to be a quad bike can also be seen entering a wooded area. Anti-hunt protesters say this is evidence of 'terrier men' used to flush out foxes, though no one can be seen doing so on the video.

Responding to the court ruling, Mr Woodward said: "I understand that proving intent is difficult, but if footage of three hunt officials and two terrier men waiting for 10 minutes in a wood, followed by the hounds being released in pursuit of a fox doesn’t prove intent, then what does?

"If the hunt weren’t there to catch foxes, why did they have terrier men with them? These men are only used to dig out foxes that have escaped underground – so why were they there if the hunt was just out for a ride? There are way too many questions that needed to be answered, so the fact this didn’t even make it to court is shocking."

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "Unfortunately many hunts face malicious and vindictive allegations about their hunting activities.

"In this case, as with the vast majority of others, there is little or no evidence to support a conviction. There have been a tiny number of convictions relating to hunts since the Hunting Act was passed in 2004, whilst nearly 300 active hounds continue to operate across the country."

The League Against Cruel Sports believes the footage shows illegal hunting, and has criticised the case presented by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

A CPS spokeswoman said: "The decision to charge in this case was made in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. The case was presented to the court, and the magistrate decided to dismiss. "

Hunt master Sean McClarron, one of three members of the Derwent Hunt against whom illegal fox-hunting charges were dismissed, declined to comment.