An investigation has been launched into allegations that fox cubs were placed in cages containing hunting hounds which were being trained how to kill.
Film footage has emerged appearing to show a man taking young foxes into a shed to be mauled by hounds. Animal rights activists have alleged it was an illegal bid to enourage the hounds to kill foxes. They claim the cubs' lifeless bodies were then put into a bin.
The footage was taken covertly at the South Herefordshire Hunt by the Hunt Investigation Team animal welfare group, which says it shows the "true face of hunting".
West Mercia Police are investigating the allegations. An independent inquiry led by Sir John Chadwick, a former Appeal Court judge, has also been set up by the Master of Fox Hounds Association following "conduct which suggests breaches of the association's rules at the South Herefordshire Hunt".
So far, three people - two men and one woman, not known to be those shown in the video - have been arrested. Post-mortems have been conducted on the foxes' bodies by the RSPCA.
Eduardo Goncalves, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said the footage was further evidence of "cubbing", in which young hunting hounds are made to kill fox cubs, as a practice still occuring in parts of the country.
“This is the ugly and vicious truth behind the glossy image portrayed by hunts," he said.
"What we believe this footage clearly shows is that cubs have been ripped away from their families, kept captive and then callously thrown alive to the hounds to rip apart.
"The horror and the suffering these cubs must have gone through is almost unbearable to think about."
The video appears to show a man take a fox cub out of a cage on a lead while the fox cub strains away. Footage then cuts to the man walking towards an open shed with the cub held by the scruff of the neck, after which dogs are heard baying and an apparently human voice "whooping", which may be to call the dogs onto the fox.
The man then apparently exits the shed holding the fox cub's lifeless body by one leg, before opening the lid of a bin and tossing it inside.
A second cub is then seen being allegedly taken in the same manner inside the shed before the video cuts out. South Herefordshire Hunt's kennels have since been closed.
The Master of Fox Hounds Association, which has launched the inquiry headed by Sir John Chadwick, said in a statement: “The hunt has suspended two members of staff and the kennels are currently closed.
“The South Herefordshire hounds are being looked after by other hunts which are members of the association.
“The inquiry will be chaired by the Rt Hon. Sir John Chadwick, a former Appeal Court judge, and will include Bill Andrewes, an experienced former Master and Hunt Chairman, and Pauline Tolhurst, a practising veterinary surgeon.”
The Countryside Alliance, which opposes the 2004 Hunting Act making intentional hunting of foxes with packs of hounds illegal, rejected the claim that the video showed hunting is inherently cruel at heart.
"The allegations have nothing to do with normal hunting activity, and there is no place such behaviour in registered hunts," a spokesperson told The Independent.
With regards the ban on hunting, the Countryside Alliance said it hoped the law would be overturned.
"The Countryside Alliance believes the hunting act is a poor law and should be repealed," they said.
"There is no evidence to suggest that hunting with hounds is less humane than any of the other methods of wildlife management that are legally available to farmers i.e. shooting, trapping and gassing, and we believe landowners should be able to call on the services of the hunt to control foxes.
"However, hunts need to comply with the law as it stands until it is overturned."
The League Against Cruel Sports has previously said that hunting is for the "sport" of humans and not to do with controlling fox numbers.
The ban on hunting was enforced in November 2004 after being "ping ponged" between the Commons and Lords, the latter House rejecting a ban on hunting foxes until the Commons overrode it and pushed the law through.
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