A huntsman was today cleared of breaking Scotland's fox hunting ban.
In what was considered a test case, Sheriff Kevin Drummond ruled Trevor Adams, 46, had not broken the law introduced in 2002.
Adams appeared at Jedburgh Sheriff Court charged with deliberately hunting a fox with 20 dogs at Courthill, near Kelso, Roxburghshire, on October 16, 2002.
The case was the first time someone had gone on trial for an alleged breach of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.
Adams, from Melrose in the Scottish Borders, is joint master of Scotland's largest hunt, the Buccleuch.
The sheriff's judgment was welcomed by pro-hunting campaigners.
Allan Murray, director of hunting and equestrian sports for the Scottish Countryside Alliance, said: "Trevor has always had our full support and we are very pleased that he has been vindicated.
"The hunting community in Scotland are a vital part of the rural economy and a necessary operation for farmers and landowners.
"We hope that they will continue to contribute to the rural community in this way for many years to come."
Buccleuch Foxhounds spokesman Joe Scott-Plummer added: "This confirms our belief that the fox control service that we have been offering landowners and farmers over the past two-and-a-half years has been undertaken within the bounds of the law as we and our advisers have interpreted it.
"All hunts in Scotland had to restructure as a result of the legislation and, in consultation with police forces, agreed a form of pest control permitted by the Act."
Outside the court, Mr Adams said: "I am very relieved by the sheriff's ruling."I have never been accused of a crime before.
"I am very glad that justice has prevailed and I am looking forward to getting on with my job, which is my life.
"I will continue in my job as huntsman and will continue to offer the pest control service the landowners and farmers have requested from us.
"I am personally very pleased that our interpretation of the new form of hunting has been supported by this judgment."
The legislation resulted from a Member's Bill brought to the Scottish Parliamentby Labour peer Mike Watson, who represents the Glasgow Cathcart consituency.
Under the legislation, hunts are banned from using packs of hounds to chase and kill foxes.But the dogs are still allowed to be used to flush out foxes towards people with guns to shoot them.
Earlier the trial heard that Mr Adams, a self-employed foxhounds master, was in charge of a group called the Fox Control Service which had offered its service to farmers.
Witness Ian Hutcheson, 50, a nearby tenant farmer, had refused them entry to his land at Courthill and called the police as he believed they were hunting illegally.
Today Sheriff Drummond said: "It was said that Parliament has indicated by the terms of this legislation that the shooting of foxes is promoted and the accused had taken care to comply.
"There was no deliberate hunting of a fox with dogs.
"The accused activity accordingly falls within the terms of Section 2 (2) and he is not guilty of the offence."
Livingston MSP Bristow Muldoon, who piloted the Bill through its final stages in the Scottish Parliament after Lord Watson was appointed a minister, refused to comment on the ruling.
The Labour backbencher said: "I wouldn't wish to comment on a court case that I have not followed and I don't think it's appropriate for politicians to do that.
"But certainly I will read closely the outcome of the case."
He added that "the overwhelming majority" of Scots and their elected representatives at Holyrood regarded the sport of hunting with hounds "a cruel practice".Reuse content