How blood on the box may save the old fox: A hi-tech squad called the Hunt Monitors is out to capture the fox killers on film, writes Nicholas Roe

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FORGET the toot of horns and the howl of baying dogs - a new sound is about to permeate the traditional atmosphere of British hunting. It goes something like this: gadump, gadump, gadump . . . whirr. And it is likely to bring a chill to the spines of hunt supporters all over the country once they understand what it is.

What we have here is the sound of horses galloping and camcorders whirring. Those who believe that killing for fun is sad, bad and just plain silly have decided to bring their fight out of the field and into our living-rooms. On video.

The League Against Cruel Sports, which has long campaigned against 'Establishment' huntin' values, is to train up a kind of ethical police force, called Hunt Monitors, who will chase the chasers and record what they do. The Hunt Monitors will not be dressed in rumpled jumpers or hand-woven New Age togs. They will be in uniform, wearing identical yellow tabards with the league's name plastered over the front and back.

They will carry identity cards and will be trained in legal matters, so they will know exactly what they can and cannot do in the countryside (a complex matter these days). The squad also plans to remain stoical in the face of taunts; they will be instructed neither to get in the way of, nor even hurl abuse at, the hunting fraternity.

The question is, could the humble camcorder possibly do the trick when other methods (from politics to violence) have failed? Well, yes, possibly.

Take the broad view. The league wants us to discard cold logic for feeling. It is a tactic that has worked before. The animal rights movement has produced video scoops that have shocked the nation. Remember Terry Hill? He was the man who sneaked into the Shamrock laboratories near Brighton in 1991, emerging with film of captive monkeys that formed the basis for a World In Action programme on animal cruelty.

Before that, there was Mike Huskisson who in 1990 secretly filmed the late Professor Wilhelm Feldberg subjecting rabbits to painful experiments at the National Institute for Medical Research. Television lapped it up. Feldberg lost his licence to experiment on animals.

The Quorn Hunt also suffered memorably from video shots in 1991 of a fox being dug out and released in front of the hounds. The hunt was found to be in breach of the Masters' of Foxhounds Association rules and was censured - following massive TV coverage of the incident.

Britain's couch potatoes love to watch wildlife on television and, although they hate animal cruelty, appear horribly fascinated by blood and guts in full colour. Any campaign that provides a regular diet of all three elements - as hunting should - is likely to appeal to local and national television stations. 'If we can show people what really happens at a hunt there will be a national outcry,' argues James Barrington, the league's chief executive. 'If hunts put a foot wrong in the morning (by infringing their own code of conduct or wildlife law), it will be on television in the afternoon,' he says.

Look at it this way. How many of us have seen a fox die in agony? Few, probably. For some, the hunt is a still, sweet shot of red riding jackets and stirrup cups on a cold Boxing Day morning. Human instinct, the league logic runs, will be touched by simple reality. So that's hunting, we may cry as we reach for our pen and paper.

Last winter the league deployed Hunt Monitors in the West Country with some success. But the scale of the current initiative is quite new. The plan is to cover every area of the country - probably every one of Britain's 321 hunting hound packs. And some of that footage has just got to end up on television.

The irony is that the Hunt Monitors scheme is a consequence of recent official efforts to curb the anti-hunting lobby once and for all. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill creates an offence of aggravated trespass designed to stymie hunt saboteurs whose activities have become less effective and more controversial in recent years.

What will happen to all that pent-up fury when the Bill becomes law? There have been two deaths caused by hunting disputes in the past five years and the increasing employment of 'security firms' in the countryside seems certain to produce more violence next season.

The league's initiative is a cunning ploy; it is redrawing its front line on its own terms. It is saying: forget the law, it isn't enough. Forget logic, it is too dry. Even forget the satisfaction of simple sabotage - it is inefficient, and it hurts too much. Look instead, the league will insist, at all this blood.

Who can possibly complain? Certainly not the British Field Sports Society which recently ran a pounds 5-a-head 'hunt experience' scheme to encourage children to enter the field on its side. It has lifted the top off a sport it wishes to preserve. Now the league is pushing further. We will all have to decide for ourselves whether we like what we see when that happens.

(Photograph omitted)

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