Hare coursers gather for what might be final Waterloo Cup

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The Independent Online

For those who had come to roar the greyhounds on to a kill, the Bank was the place to stand at what may be hare coursing's last Waterloo Cup.

For those who had come to roar the greyhounds on to a kill, the Bank was the place to stand at what may be hare coursing's last Waterloo Cup.

The thin strip of elevated land – the Lancashire event's equivalent to football terraces – erupted in screams of delight as its 2,000 occupants, who had paid £15 a head, greeted the capitulation of a brown hare to two pursuing hounds, Henrietta and Marchintobattle.

"Got him," they shouted as the creature was brought to ground in its last dash for adjacent scrubland and freedom.

In the £25-a-head "posh" enclosure, there was a collective "oooh" before stewards pulled the hare from the two hounds and put it out of its misery by breaking its neck. This was the second kill of the expected 20 or so before the three-day meet concludes tomorrow.

The event in Great Altcar, which attracted about 10,000 supporters yesterday, is the blue-riband hare-coursing event because of the unrivalled test of stamina it presents to 64 competing greyhounds, who must race six times, head-to-head, if they are to win. On the receiving end is any unfortunate hare that happens to stray onto these west Lancashire flatlands, helped on its way by a line of "beaters" – stewards who flank the course and make noises that tempt the quarry on to the field of contact.

The prospect of a ban on hare coursing, should the Government's Hunting Bill become law, has prompted as fierce a battle off the course as on.

The Countryside Alliance, which claims only one hare in eight is killed, saidthe hares had a good chance of escaping the hounds. But the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) insisted the death rate was nearer to one in five and revealed that one of its undercover investigators had witnessed event organisers shipping in at least 70 hares for combat on Monday night.

The RSPCA released an undercover video showing two greyhounds chasing a hare, pulling it apart in front of a crowd of cheering spectators. It also declared that its scientists had made post-mortem examinations of five hares killed in the chase and found they had suffered severe internal injuries.

Claire Wallerstein, of the IFAW, said: "A lot of the females are pregnant at this time of year. Hares are massively on the decline."

But John Haigh, of the Countryside Alliance, said: "It's not brutal. People are certainly not here to enjoy a killing." Near the course, about 150 protesters traded insults with spectators. "You all look the same. You're all ugly," screamed one protester.

The Hunting Bill has yet to pass through the Commons and then it must go to the Lords. Darren Hughes, of the Countryside Alliance's Campaign for Hunting, said: "The way things are looking, the Lords will do the same as they have the last few times – turn it down as a piece of legislation that does nothing for animal welfare."

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