More hunts in fox-breeding scandal

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The Independent Online
FURTHER EVIDENCE emerged yesterday that fox-hunts around the country are using artificial breeding dens for foxes.

The League Against Cruel Sports claimed it could identify 32 hunts, including the Beaufort, which is favoured by Prince Charles. Among the others were the Heythorp, Cumberland Farmers, Cheshire, Bicester with Whaddon, Chase, Isle of Wight, Essex, West Norfolk, and Puckeridge and Thurlow. The organisation claimed that its evidence included photographs of the dens.

The claims come in the wake of The Independent's revelation yesterday that the prestigious Sinnington Hunt in North Yorkshire is under investigation by the RSPCA. Inspectors and police found a pair of cubs trapped in a cage on land owned by the hunt.

After yesterday's disclosure, the Master of the Foxhounds, the sport's governing body, announced that it was launching its own inquiry into the claims.

Animal activists say the dens undermine the argument of blood-sport supporters that hunting is essentially a form of pest control.

Fields Sports campaigners are said to be deeply embarrassed about the Sinnington Hunt revelations, which are the result of an investigation by the League Against Cruel Sports. If animal cruelty charges are brought, it could lead to a maximum penalty of six months' jail or a pounds 5,000 fine.

The British Field Sports Society claimed that what appeared to have been found at Sinnington was "very much a legacy of the past".

There were further claims yesterday that some hunts created artificial earths to ensure that there were foxes for slaughter.

Clifford Pellow, a kennelman and huntsman for 23 years, said the practice was a fairly commonplace. "Artificial earths ensure foxes are attracted to the area and provide foxes for poor scent days," he said.

"Some hunts then take a further step. The kennelmen work through the night to block up all badger setts and earths - it's called `earth-stopping'. This means the foxes cannot get away, and ensures a good day's hunting."

Mr Pellow claimed that in one incident a fox caught in a trap was kept in a shed for two days and then tipped out on the day of the hunt. "Despite all this, the fox actually got away. The theory of pest control is a joke. Hunting people have hundreds of excuses but really no justification for what they do."

Peter Hepworth, a Yorkshire farmer, said he knew of a hunt which had around 16 artificial earths. "It may well be shocking but it is not particularly surprising to country people. Having the artificial earths ensures the hunters do not have what they consider to be a wasted day. It is particularly important if the hunt has an important guest; it makes sure there is a fox to hunt and there is no embarrassment on the big day."

As the row rumbled on yesterday it emerged that divisions had appeared in the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, over the sacking of one of its most high-profile campaigners.

Janet George fronted the public relations campaign for the Countryside March to London earlier this year but was sacked by the alliance's new chief executive.