A huntsman was convicted today of illegally hunting foxes.
Exmoor Foxhounds huntsman Tony Wright, 52, was fined £500 and ordered to pay £250 costs by District Judge Paul Palmer after a week-long hearing at Barnstaple Magistrates' Court, in Devon
Wright, of Exmoor Kennels, Simonsbath, pleaded not guilty to the charge of hunting a fox on 29 April last year contrary to the Hunting Act 2004.
The private prosecution by the League Against Cruel Sports was the first in England against a fox or stag hunt under the act.
The judge told Wright: "I understand the difficulty that everyone has with the act coming into force."
He added: "What I saw was not exempt hunting."
Giving the reasons for his finding, the judge said he was of the view that Wright was hunting with two dogs.
Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "No right minded person thinks that Tony Wright should have been branded a criminal.
"If people were confused about the Hunting Act before today they will be a lot more confused now. We believe that he was trying to comply with the law as he understood it and will be supporting his appeal.
"This is a piece of legislation which took seven years and 700 hours of parliamentary time to get onto the statute book yet still it is illogical and unclear.
"Any law which can put a man like Tony Wright through nine months of court action and tell him he is a criminal for doing something he believed was entirely legal clearly isn't working."
The prosecution followed video evidence gathered by the League which was shown to the court.
The Foxhounds claimed they were operating under "exempt hunting" provisions in the act which stipulated each of the two hounds should be kept under sufficiently close control for the fox to be shot as soon as possible after flushing.
The judge said the videos showed the hounds following the line of the fox at speed without immediately being called off.
There was a "substantial period" of chase for each of the two foxes seen on the videos.
Long after the foxes were flushed they were being followed by the hounds, which was hunting in the judge's view.
There was only one marksman, who was not going to be in the position to shoot the animal as soon as possible.
The judge said no reasonable steps were taken to shoot the fox as soon as possible and the dogs were not under close control as required by the hunting exemption.
During the case the League claimed the Foxhounds acted with "wilful disregard" of the Act, and what they did bore all the hallmarks of traditional hunting.
Mr Wright, who believed he had complied with the act told the court that five foxes were flushed that day, one of which was shot, the others got away.
The Countryside Alliance said Wright would launch an appeal against his conviction.Reuse content