Three prominent members of the College Valley and North Northumberland Hunt have been found guilty of illegal fox hunting.
Joint Master Timothy Wyndham Basil Smalley, Huntsman Ian Robert McKie and Kennel Huntsman Andrew John Proe were found guilty of hunting a wild mammal with a dog following a two-day trial at Berwick Magistrates Court.
The trio were secretly filmed by investigators working for animal rights charity League Against Cruel Sports as they led a scheduled meet on Thursday, February 27, in and around West Kyloe Farm near Lowick.
McKie, 56, of Wooler, Proe, 52, of Cornhill-on-Tweed, and Smalley, 53, of Lowick, claimed they were following a legal scent trail of fox urine laid that morning.
Prosecuting, Jonathan Moore said: “The defendants throughout the course of their interviews say they were trail hunting and not carrying out the pursuit of a fox.
“This matter is a question of fact. In relation to the actions of Mr McKie, Mr Smalley and Mr Proe, does it amount to hunting a wild animal with dogs? The crown says it does.”
He added: “The defendants trail hunt by using fox urine so there was always the danger and risk that they would go after the real thing.
“Going after the real thing accidentally is not an offence but going after the real thing intentionally is.”
Defending, Steven Welford argued that there was no evidence that any of his clients intended to hunt a fox.
He said: “Accidents happen and wildlife is disturbed - that is what happened.”
The court heard that at 12.44 on February 27 Smalley, who is one of five joint masters responsible for the conduct and finances of the hunt, spotted a fox and indicated that it was there by raising his hat and pointing in its direction.
The crown argued that this was a signal for the hunt to follow it, and alleged that both McKie, who controls the hounds, and Proe, who looks after them in the kennels, then encouraged hounds in their illegal pursuit with shouts and blasts of the hunting horn.
Mr Moore added: “They had every opportunity to gather the hounds together and stop them following a fox but they did not.”
Summing up, District Judge Bernard Begley said: “When Mr Smalley raised his hat the hunt was, so to speak, on.
“Neither he nor Mr Proe did anything to stop the hounds. If [Proe] was trying to control the hounds at that point he failed miserably.”
All three were found guilty of one count of illegal fox hunting.
Smalley was fined £2,075 with £120 victim surcharge; McKie was fined £1,150 with a £115 victim surcharge; and Proe was fined £480 with a £48 victim surcharge. Each defendant was ordered to pay costs of £385.
McKie, Smalley and Proe were all cleared of a further charge relating to an alleged incident of illegal hunting later that same day.
Speaking after the trial, Joe Duckworth, chief executive at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “We are extremely pleased with today’s verdict. We hope this successful case will make other hunt members think twice before breaking the law and causing harm to wildlife.
“We know that many hunts continue to regularly flout the law. Our team of professional investigators work hard in the field to capture illegal activity and work with the relevant statutory bodies to bring about prosecutions.”
Adrian Simpson of the Countryside Alliance commented: “Mr Smalley, Mr McKie and Mr Proe are obviously disappointed with that response and will have to consider their options.
“They were open and transparent on the day. Their activities were entirely legal and they did not breach the hunting legislation, which is acknowledged as being confusing.”