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Despite mounting a legal defence suspected to have cost tens of thousands of pounds, two members of an East Midlands hunt have today been convicted of animal cruelty offences.

Derek Hopkins, huntsman, and Kevin Allen, terrierman, both of the Fernie Hunt, were found guilty by a panel of lay magistrates after a seven day trial at Leicester Magistrates Court. The Court was shown video footage provided by the League Against Cruel Sports, whose investigators had been monitoring the Fernie Hunt in January 2010.

The video recordings showed hounds ‘marking’ the spot where a fox had escaped into an active badger sett. Several minutes later, Allen is seen arriving on a quad bike and then begins to dig down to the fox. A terrier is also recorded at the scene. A short time later a fox bolted from the badger and the hounds, that were waiting nearby, pursued the fox.

Dismissing the defence claim that the badger sett was not one in current use by badgers, and that the hunt were following a trail, the magistrates said they were clear that the fox was flushed in order for it to be hunted again by the hounds.

Hopkins and Allen were defended in court by Philip Mott QC, one of Britain’s leading criminal barristers. Mr Mott, whose fees in the case are likely to exceed £30,000, is thought to have been instructed by the Countryside Alliance.

Welcoming the verdict, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports Douglas Batchelor said: “These latest Hunting Act convictions demonstrate the arrogance of some hunts who continue to stick two fingers up at the law abiding public. They also show that it doesn’t matter how much money you throw at a case, guilt is guilt and the truth will out in court.”

“Leicestershire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service are to be commended for the way this case was handled,” Mr Batchelor added. “From start to finish, both the police and the CPS solicitor Diana Cottrell have grasped the nettle and helped to ensure that justice is done. We are indebted to them.”

Hopkins was fined a total of £850 with a £15 victim surcharge and £1,250 costs. Allen was fined a total of £650 with a £15 victim surcharge and £900 costs.

More than 150 people have been convicted under the Hunting Act since it came into force almost six years ago, an average of one every two weeks.