Rise of the countryside militants shows despair at failure of lobbying

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Indy Politics

The violence and disruption that erupted both inside the House of Commons and on the surrounding streets yesterday reflects the growing militancy among small sections of the pro-hunting lobby.

It emerged last night that one of the five protesters who broke into the chamber of the House was Otis Ferry, the 21-year-old son of the musician Bryan Ferry. Mr Ferry, who has led the South Shropshire Hunt since May, has acquired a reputation as a high-profile, and at times radical, campaigner against the hunting ban. His mother, Lucy, Bryan Ferry's former wife, is also a supporter of the cause.

The former Etonian who abandoned his education to pursue his love of hunting, Mr Ferry has made no secret of the fact that he claims to be prepared to go to jail to defend the right to hunt. In an outspoken critique of the tactics used by the pro-hunting lobby, he has also said: "Its tactics have been too soft. We have to get the Government to notice us."

His own tactics have resulted in him getting increasingly noticed by the authorities. Mr Ferry was one of a delegation of five allowed to discuss the hunting issue with Tony Blair last week at his house in Trimdon, near Sedgefield, County Durham, after hundreds of protesters arrived at his doorstep.

Last year, Mr Ferry was arrested while attempting to place pro-hunting Countryside Alliance posters on the walls of the same building in Sedgefield in the early hours of the morning. He was released without charge.

Last night, one senior Countryside Alliance official who wished to remain anonymous, distanced the organisation from his actions and described how Mr Ferry represented a more radical wing of the pro-hunting movement.

"We're certain that Otis Ferry was one of the protesters arrested inthe chamber," he said. "It wouldn't come as much surprise to anyone. We do not approve of what they did. They were clearly very well prepared and they had builders' gear and maybe even builders' passes."

The number of radical protesters breaking away from the mainstream Countryside Alliance has increased in the past three years, many forming splinter groups.

The most militant is the Real Countryside Alliance, or Real CA. The leader of the group, which has a small but growing number of supporters, is Edward Duke, a member of the Middleton Hunt in Yorkshire, who was, briefly, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance.

In an interview last year he warned: "When it comes to it, we will want to set fire to motorways and [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] offices. We can do naughty things."

Another more radical organisation is the Countryside Action Network (CAN), led by Janet George, a former press officer for the Countryside Alliance and the British Field Sports Society. She left the alliance six years ago after a clash with Mr Duke, who was the chief executive at the time. In the past, CAN has organised go-slow protests using tractors and farm vehicles on motorways across England and Wales.

The use of blockades reflects the growing crossover between countryside campaigners and those involved in the fuel protests in 2000.