Hunt protesters defiant after charges

Eight pro-hunting demonstrators who entered the House of Commons chamber during a debate on a Bill to ban the sport said yesterday they would contest charges of disorderly conduct.

The men, who include 22-year-old Otis Ferry, the son of rock star Bryan Ferry, and Luke Tomlinson, 27, a close friend of Princes William and Harry, were yesterday charged with disorderly conduct under Section 5 of the Public Order Act and will appear at Bow Street magistrates' court on 21 December, a spokesman for Scotland Yard said.

But speaking outside Charing Cross Police Station last night, the men's solicitor, Matthew Knight, said that at no time had it occurred to the men that they were committing a criminal offence. "There is no offence of trespassing in the House of Commons - it is not a criminal offence," he said. "If Parliament wanted to make entering the House of Commons chamber on foot a criminal offence it should have done so, but it can't do so retrospectively. We are not prosecuted for that. We are prosecuted for a Public Order Act offence. We are not guilty of it."

Mr Knight said the men had a statuary defence that they did not intend to harass or assault or hurt anyone and so could not be found guilty of disorderly behaviour.

Mr Ferry added: "I have no regrets. We have done nothing wrong beyond the obvious which was to stand up for our rights and not act like sheep like the rest of the country."

Another of the protesters, 34-year-old David Redvers said: "We are all pleading not guilty because we believe we made a peaceful protest. We regret that there were not more MPs debating something that is extremely important to us."

The demonstrators were arrested after they entered the Commons chamber on 15 September. Their protest came on the day of a huge pro-hunting demonstration in Parliament Square, as the Bill to ban the sport was being debated in the Commons.

Speaker Michael Martin later told MPs the men had used a forged letter to trick their way into the Palace of Westminster and had been assisted by a holder of a parliamentary pass.

Mr Ferry, from Shrewsbury, who has led the South Shropshire Hunt since May; Mr Tomlinson, a polo player, of Westonbirt, Gloucestershire and Mr Redvers, a horsebreeder, of Hartpury, Gloucestershire; were among those charged last night.

The other five are: Richard Wakeham, 36, a surveyor, from York; Nicholas Wood, 41, a chef, from Lacock, Wiltshire; Robert Thame, 35, a polo player, of Maidenhead, Berkshire; John Holiday, 37, a huntsman, and Andrew Elliot, 42, an auctioneer, both from Ledbury, Herefordshire.