Debate over Britain's hunting ban flared up yesterday after a celebrity chef and a leading horse trainer admitted attending two illegal hare coursing events – and were let off by a judge.
Clarissa Dickson-Wright, who found fame through the BBC cookery series Two Fat Ladies, and Sir Mark Prescott pleaded guilty to hunting offences at Scarborough magistrates' court.
The pair attended two events in North Yorkshire in March 2007, organised by the Yorkshire Greyhound Field Trialling Club and which involved two muzzled dogs. Hare coursing, in which hares are chased by greyhounds, was made illegal by the Hunting Act 2004.
John Cooper, who led the private prosecution brought by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said the events were "significant and concerted".
However, the court heard that the trialling club had not known it was acting illegally and had sought advice from a firm of solicitors before going ahead with the event, which had even been attended by a police officer.
In granting Sir Mark and Ms Dickson-Wright full discharges, the district judge Kristina Harrison said that there were "complexities within the Hunting Act which made the administration of it a little difficult". She added: "I hope that this case makes it perfectly clear to anybody who wants to undertake this type of event: forget about what an expert says is hare coursing, forget about what hare coursing was before.
"If what's happening fits within the definition set down by Parliament within the Hunting Act, it's hare coursing. It's unlawful, people will be prosecuted and will be dealt with severely."
Ms Dickson-Wright told The Independent that the case against her had highlighted the ill-defined nature of Britain's hunting legislation.
"We all thought what we were doing was perfectly legal and I still think that it was," she said. "But under the technicalities of the Act, it seemed more prudent to plead guilty."
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