The Daily Telegraph: Anti-hunting laws punished only nine people in the first two years

Saturday, 12 January, 2008

JUST nine people were punished under Labour's anti-hunting legislation in the first two years after it was introduced and none of them was part of an organised hunt.

The news comes after the ban on hunting was left in tatters when a judge suggested it was virtually impossible to bring a conviction against those accused of breaking the law.

Campaigners said the legislation was being used to convict poachers, rather than stop organised hunting with dogs. Figures released by the Home Office showed that eight people have been fined and one person has been cautioned in the two years since the legislation came into force in February 2005.

The statistics also revealed the difficulties of making charges stick. In 2006 under half of the 11 prosecutions brought by police forces in Cheshire, Durham, Essex and Humberside were successful.

David Ruffley, the shadow home office minister who discovered the figures, said: "The Hunting Act 2004 was a classic new Labour piece of legislation - poorly thought through, shoddy and unfair.'' The Hunting Act made it illegal to hunt with dogs. However hounds can still be used to follow a fox's scent and to flush it out of its hiding place.

To remain within the law, huntsmen are required to shoot the fox as soon as possible once it has broken cover.

However, the Act does not specify time or distance limits for how long the animal may be chased before it is shot.

Last November, Judge Graham Cottle said that the legislation was too difficult "to interpret or apply'' as he upheld an appeal from the first huntsman to be convicted of breaching the Act.

Tim Bonner, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said "These figures show exactly how pointless and wasteful the whole Hunting Act debate was. Not a single one of these prosecutions in 2005 or 2006 involved an organised or registered hunt.''

Barry Hugill, a spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "These figures are very old and refer only to the first year of the Act. The current figure for those convicted stands at 20 with more cases pending.''