A fox hunting conviction has been upheld in what campaigners have described as a 'landmark ruling'.
George Adams, a former huntsman with the Fitzwilliam Hunt, appealed his conviction for illegally chasing and killing a fox, using what is known as the 'falconry exemption'.
Loophole in the law
This loophole comes from a clause in the Hunting Act 2004, which was designed to ensure falconers did not get prosecuted if their birds killed a mammal that had been flushed out of cover by dogs.
According to welfare group The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), some hunts 'exploit this loophole and having birds of prey accompany them on the day of their hunt'.
According to Adams, his hunting activity was legal, because his hunt carried a golden eagle with it on the day. But the judge rejected his reasoning - making this case the first instance of a fox hunt being successfully prosecuted while using the 'falconry exemption'.
A spokesperson for pro-bloodsports pressure group the Countryside Alliance told Peterborough Today that the hunt was acting lawfully.
"We are clearly disappointed in the judgment but maintain the hunt was, to the best of their knowledge, acting within the confines of the Hunting Act," they said.
"They were operating openly, as they have been since February 2005, and were confident that their hunting activities were entirely legal. We will assess the judgment and look forward to seeing the Fitzwilliam hounds out again in the autumn."
'Sends a message'
"Hunts are using exemptions and loopholes in the law to cover up their fox hunting and we welcome the judge's decision today to uphold the original conviction of George Adams from the Fitzwilliam Hunt," Martin Sims, Director of investigations at the League Against Cruel Sports, said in a statement sent to Plant Based News.
"The decision to reject the hunt's appeal shows how farcical the falconry exemption is, and sends a message to hunts across the country that the falconry exemption loophole will no longer wash. It is simply ludicrous anyway to believe that a falconer would release a valuable bird of prey to chase a fox when it too could be torn to pieces by the pursuing hounds.
"We need a proper deterrent to stop the barbaric activities of the hunts and we also need to close the loopholes that allow hunts to get around the law. We are calling for the hunting ban to be strengthened with the introduction of prison sentences for those caught illegally hunting. Hunts have a history of exploiting a variety of exemptions in the Hunting Act, which is against the spirit of the law. We hope that today's decision will put a stop to the use of the falconry exemption as a cover for illegal hunting."
Evidence for the prosecution came from Beds and Bucks Hunt Saboteurs, who released an official statement on the decision.
"We are clearly very happy with the decision to uphold the conviction of George Adams that we achieved back in April last year," said the statement. "We would like to
take this opportunity to thank the prosecution team, in particular the excellent David Matthew QC who performed admirably against the defence who persisted in attempts to discredit the witnesses and ambushing the court with last minute legal claims and the questionable addition of their own so-called expert witness, a computer forensics expert with no background in animal sciences.
"We hope this finally signals the end of the Bird of Prey or Falconry exemption within the Hunting Act. Other hunts which use this loophole will now have to reconsider their options as they will no longer be considered to be taking part in exempt hunting just by having someone with a bird of prey present. The use of birds of prey alongside hunting with hounds is not, and never was falconry. There are serious welfare issues for the raptors used in this manner alongside the abhorrent cruelty involved in setting one or 30 animals against another.
"Judge Cooper, in summing up stated that 'something significant' must change in the planning and training of the hounds and the characteristics of hunts in the future if they don't want to be charged with illegal hunting.
"We will continue to actively target all hunts in an effort to stop their abuse of our wildlife with all and every means at our disposal. The Hunting Act is in desperate need of strengthening, all the loopholes should be closed and hunting with dogs finally consigned to history. We will continue to work towards that end but in the mean time you will
find us, and all hunt sabs standing up to defend our wildlife in the fields no matter what violence, abuse and intimidation we face."
According to LACS, when convicted, Adams was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay a £100 victim surcharge and £930 costs. In today's appeal judgement, further costs of £11,323 were awarded.