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Two members of the Oxfordshire based Heythrop Hunt former huntsman Julian Barnfield and recently retired joint master Richard Sumner pleaded guilty at Oxford Magistrates Court to four charges of illegally hunting foxes with dogs. The Heythrop Hunt Ltd also pleaded guilty to the same four charges. The case was prosecuted by the RSPCA and is the first case where a hunt has faced corporate charges. District Judge Tim Pattinson fined the hunt £4000, Sumner £1,800 and Barnfield £1000. The hunt was ordered to pay £15,000 towards RSPCA legal costs, Sumner £2,500 and Barnfield £2000. Each defendant was also ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge.

The case was based on extensive footage supplied to the RSPCA by volunteer hunt monitors many of whom are associates of Protect Our Wild Animals (POWA) and originally comprised of fifty two charges against the hunt and four of its members. Shortly before the case was to be heard the hunt and two of its members offered to plead guilty to twelve charges which the RSPCA accepted. Jeremy Carter-Manning QC, prosecuting for the RSPCA said it was not in the public interest to continue proceedings against hunt master Vanessa Lambert, a director of the hunt and whipper-in Duncan Hume following guilty pleas from the other three defendants. Mr Carter-Manning told the court: “The court has before it, as far as the RSPCA is aware, the first prosecution of a hunt itself under the legislation which abolished the hunting of foxes with hounds in almost all circumstances and, in particular, traditional fox hunting. On the basis of the video evidence and the expert conclusions, it is the case for the prosecution that this hunt was on the four occasions spread throughout the 2011/12 season deliberately hunting in a manner which does not comply with the law. The guilty pleas thus carry with them the express acceptance that the fox hunting on the four occasions involved was deliberate and intentional. The prosecution maintain specifically that in very simple terms on each occasion on the summonses the defendants sought out and then chased live foxes and that pursuit of the fox can by no means at any stage be properly characterised as accidental or an unwelcome consequence of otherwise legitimate activity. The evidence, we suggest, points to no other reasonable activity”.

Philip Mott QC, representing the three defendants, said the hunt was involved in legal trail hunting – that of laying a trail for the hounds to chase – and had pursued foxes in the course of that legal activity. In 500 hours of recorded footage we have unlawful hunting totalling no more then fifteen minutes. Mott went on to say that the defendants, who were all of good character should be given credit for their early guilty pleas.