Three members of the Sussex based Crawley and Horsham Hunt were found guilty at Haywards Heath Magistrates Court of Hunting Act offences which took place in January of last year. Andrew Phillis, former huntsman (currently huntsman and master of the Dart Vale and South Pool Harriers in Devon) was convicted of two offences one of which took place on the 18th January and the other on the 25th January; Rachel Holdsworth, the hunt secretary was convicted of two offences one of which took place on the 18th January and the other on the 25th January; and Neill Millard, joint master was convicted of an offence which took place on the 25th January while he was acting as field master. Charges against a fourth member of the hunt were dropped during the trial.
Video footage of hounds in full cry while chasing a fox at Marlpost Wood, Southwater on 18th January and at Shermonbury Place on 25th January taken by anti-hunt monitors were shown to the court during a seven day trial. The defendants claimed that they were legitimately trail hunting and that any pursuits and killing of foxes by hounds were accidental. However, District Judge Stephen Nicholls said that he was "not satisfied" that this was the case. The footage also showed Holdsworth, who was acting as "trail-layer" on one of the days, holding a riding crop with a duster on the end as if laying an artificial scent, but the Judge did not believe that this was a serious attempt to lay a trail and was in fact carried out for the "benefit of the cameras".
Phillis was fined £900 plus £2500 costs; Holdsworth was fined £500 for each offence and had to pay £2500 in costs and Millard was fined £1000 and had to pay £2500 in costs.
A spokesperson for Sussex police said: "The introduction of the 2004 Hunting Act was extremely emotive on both sides of the hunting spectrum and continues to be strongly debated. Evidence was provided that the accused had committed offences under the Act and following early consultation with the CPS an investigation commenced and subsequently charges were made. As we have seen, District Judge Stephen Nicholls has ruled that they are guilty of these offences and we are satisfied with his decision. It is the duty of the police to uphold the law and whenever offences such as this come to light, we will seek to bring them to justice". See footage via the Youtube link below.