Howard backs hunters with new law

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A CRACKDOWN on hunt saboteurs was announced by the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, yesterday.

Those convicted of obstructing or disrupting blood sports, or intimidating participants, will face three months in prison or fines up to pounds 2,500.

Mr Howard, in a speech at Didcot, Oxfordshire, said he was also cracking down on New Age travellers, trespassers, hippies, and people who disturb rural peace. They would all be covered in the Government's Criminal Justice Bill, which is being introduced in the next session of Parliament.

He denounced hunt saboteurs as 'wreckers' and 'bullies'. He said the five million people who took part in hunting, shooting and fishing faced a marked increase in threatening behaviour by animal rights activities. Two people have died and hundreds have been injured in clashes in the past three years.

But a spokesman for the Hunt Saboteurs Association accused Mr Howard of 'playing to his own gallery for cheap votes'. Hunt supporters, not opponents, were behind the violence, he said.

Mr Howard's announcement came as fox hunts took place across the country. Saboteurs tried to disrupt several in northern England and North Wales. Mr Howard said: 'Those who threaten, bully or use violence to disrupt country sports have been warned. I am blowing the whistle on their antics.

'They should stop their appalling behaviour and leave people in peace to enjoy their traditional - and entirely legal - country sports.'

Peter Smith, director of the British Field Sports Society, said: 'We have been lobbying long and hard for such an offence, and are very pleased that the Government has recognised the seriousness of this countryside problem.'

But the Hunt Saboteurs Association spokesman Ben Ponton said: 'Mr Howard is not going to stop the efforts of people to seek to save wild animals from being killed for entertainment. He is not going to be our Nemesis.'

At its annual meeting yesterday, the National Trust supported continued hunting on its land. It postponed a debate over deer hunting until spring.

Howard's way, Sunday Review

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