A gamekeeper who kept a fox captive - reportedly so the animal could be used by hunters in blood sports - has been found guilty of an animal welfare offence.
Nigel Smith, Head Gamekeeper of the Buckminster Estate in the East Midlands, was found guilty of charges brought under Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act for failing to meet the welfare needs of an animal, at Lincoln Magistrates Court yesterday.
He has repeatedly refused to comment on why he was keeping the fox captive at the estate in the East Midlands.
Smith was caught on camera by investigators from the League Against Cruel Sports with a bag and net outside the disused building - on the day the Belvoir Hunt were due to meet nearby.
This followed an operation by the League, during which investigators found the fox, captured him and took him to a local vet for treatment, before releasing him back into the countryside.
According to investigators, the fox had been found in 'appalling conditions and in a terrified state'.
Smith was fined £400, has to pay a £40 victim surcharge and pay £1,200 costs. He was disqualified from keeping foxes - or being involved in it - for five years.
According to District Judge Peter Veits said Smith's refusal to give evidence at his trial led him to draw an 'adverse inference'.
He said: "Whatever the true motives, it is clear that fox hunting in this country by dogs is unlawful.
"The country expects people to abide by those laws and make sure foxes are not hunted by dogs.
"Having them torn apart by dogs is something that is viewed by Parliament as unlawful and we all have to respect the law."
When Smith was arrested, he repeatedly refused to tell police why he was keeping the animal captive.
The League Against Cruel Sports believes it rescued the fox from being killed by blood sports enthusiasts
Chris Luffingham, League Against Cruel Sports Director of Campaigns, said: "We welcome this conviction which will act as a deterrent to others who think they can get away with cruelty towards British wildlife.
"We're outraged that hunts are still chasing and killing foxes in the British countryside.
"Before the hunting ban came in they claimed this was about wildlife management but this case blows that argument out of the water and shows that foxes are being kept so they can be released for 'sport'."
He added: "The hunts have been conning the public since the hunting ban was introduced with their argument that they are 'trail' hunting rather than chasing and killing animals.
"This proves everything we’ve been saying since the myth of ‘trail’ hunting began to be touted about by the hunts after hunting was banned in 2004.
"This completely shatters the illusion of hunting being some sort of genteel activity wrapped up in tradition. It's not. It's barbaric and bloodthirsty and has no place in a modern, compassionate society."
Darryl Cunnington, League Against Cruel Sports Head of Investigations, who lead the operation to free the fox, added: "We're delighted with this conviction.
"The judge has sent out a clear message to any hunts across the country that are keeping foxes that this cruelty is not to be tolerated.
"He made it very clear that the consequences of doing this again would be very serious."