One of Britain’s oldest hunts is being investigated by police after its annual New Year’s Day meeting resulted in the death of a fox.
Cambridgeshire Constabulary is trying to establish whether the fox killing during the 250-year-old Fitzwilliam Hunt meet in Wansford was lawful or not.
Fox hunting became illegal in 2005 but meetings involving dogs and horses have been allowed to continue so long as they are chasing a scent rather than a fox.
If the police determine that the fox killed in the New Year’s Day hunt was inadvertently caught up in the chase of the scent, it would be regarded as an accident. However, if they find that the fox was deliberately placed in the hunt’s path – with the scent just acting as legal cover for a real chase – the death would be deemed unlawful and could result in a fine of up to £20,000.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association said it had filmed the hunt and passed the footage to Cambridgeshire Police, claiming that it showed the fox had been disembowelled.
The Fitzwilliam hunts take place over 600 square miles of land in the Cambridgeshire area between Stamford in Lincolnshire and Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire.
Sergeant Dave Walker, of Cambridgeshire Police, said: “An investigation has been launched to establish whether the killing was lawful or not.”
Opponents of hunting argue that hunts frequently use fox scents such as urine – as well as smells such as aniseed – as cover to conduct illegal activities. Hunting clubs strongly deny this. There have been 378 convictions under the Hunting Act 2004, though the Countryside Alliance has consistently said its members hunt within the law and that most of those sentenced have no connection with registered hunts. The vast majority of those convictions do not involve dead foxes.
A spokesman for the Fitzwilliam Hunt said: “The Hunt is aware of the press and other interest in an incident alleged to have occurred on 1 January 2016. It is not considered appropriate for the Hunt to comment further given that Cambridgeshire Police has stated its intention to conduct an investigation.”
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