Heythrop Hunt rides despite prosecution

Herald Series: Riders and supporters gather in Market Square Riders and supporters gather in Market Square

HUNTERS were in defiant mood yesterday as they met in Chipping Norton for the latest Heythrop Hunt.

The hunt has been meeting for 177 years but the one held on Boxing Day was the first since it was prosecuted by the RSPCA.

Last week the Heythrop Hunt – which began in 1835 and is Prime Minister David Cameron’s local hunt – along with members Julian Barnfield and Richard Sumner, admitted at Oxford Magistrates’ Court a total of 12 charges of unlawful hunting with dogs.

The case was the first where a hunt has faced corporate charges and the first taken by the RSPCA involving the prosecution of a hunt itself.

Hunt chairman Mikey Elliot said: “They are going out to hunt legally so I don’t see it as a provocative act. There is a huge sense of community here today.

“There were 52 cases brought against us and they had set aside 30 days for the case. We didn’t have the funds to defend ourselves. It was corporate bullying.”

Despite the recent case there was no high profile protest in Chipping Norton’s market square, where hundreds of people gathered.

Hunter Peter Trotter said: “The ban was done entirely for political reasons and has not saved a single animal.

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“We didn’t have the money to fight the case and we had to plead guilty.”

Spectator Mary Sunderland from Woodstock said: “I don’t like animal cruelty but it is just to have a go at what they perceive to be toffs, which is not the right way to go about making laws.”

Referring to the recent case against the hunt, RSPCA spokesman Klare Kennett said: “Our prosecutions department is given footage on a regular basis and in this case the evidence was overwhelming.”

A group of hunt monitors did attend the event. However, Penny Little, who runs the Little Foxes sanctuary near Thame, was unable to attend.

She said: “I think it is unacceptable them meeting in Chipping Norton as if nothing had happened.”

Speaking yesterday, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said it was unlikely a vote on repealing the fox hunting ban, introduced in 2005, would be held in Parliament next year despite it being a coalition agreement.

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