Three Northumberland huntsmen have been found guilty of fox hunting.
Joint Master Timothy Wyndham Basil Smalley, Huntsman Ian McKie and Kennel Huntsman Andrew Proe, of College Valley and North Northumberland Hunt, were all convicted of hunting a wild mammal with dogs following a trial at Berwick Magistrates’ Court.
The trio were secretly filmed by two League Against Cruel Sports investigators as they led a meet in and around West Kyloe Farm near Lowick on Thursday, February 27.
They had claimed they were trying to follow a legal scent trail of fox urine and the foxes were disturbed unintentionally.
But District Judge Bernard Begley concluded that McKie, 56, of Wooler, Proe, 52, of Cornhill-on-Tweed, and Smalley, 53, of Lowick, intentionally hunted the animal instead of the scent on one occasion.
A not guilty verdict was reached on another count relating to a different fox.
During the trial, the court heard Smalley, who grew up in Kyloe and is one of five joint masters responsible for the conduct and finances of the hunt, signalled for the hunt to follow a fox which had bolted from gorse bushes by removing his hat and pointing in its direction.
McKie, who controls the hounds, and his assistant Proe, who looks after them in the kennels, encouraged the dogs to pick up the scent with shouts and blasts on the hunting horn.
Mr Begley, sentencing, said: “I accept that a trail was laid at the start of the day but as events unfolded the offence occurred and as very experienced members of the hunt you should have known better.
“The impact of these convictions on your good character and on the College Valley and North Northumberland Hunt is not lost on me, but all actions have consequences however dramatic.”
During his summing up, prosecutor Jonathan Moore said: “Going after the real thing accidentally is not an offence but going after the real thing intentionally is.”
He added: “They had every opportunity to gather the hounds together and stop them following a fox but they did not.
“The idea of trail hunting is either shambolic or a sham. You lay fox urine to make the hounds able to fox hunt and if you come across a fox on your way you can then hunt it.”
However, Steven Welford, mitigating, argued that there was no evidence any of his clients intended to hunt a fox. He said: “Accidents happen and wildlife is disturbed - that is what happened.”
McKie was fined £1,150 and must pay a £115 victim surcharge and £385 court costs, while Smalley’s fine was £2,075 with a victim surcharge of £120 and £385 court costs. Proe must pay a £480 fine with a £48 victim surcharge and £385 costs.
The Hunting Act came into force in February 2005 and outlawed fox hunting except for rare exemptions.
After the hearing, Adrian Simpson, of the Countryside Alliance, spoke on behalf of the defendants. He said: “We are obviously disappointed with the verdict.
“Now we have to consider our options given that the College Valley and North Northumberland Hunt was open and transparent on the day and believed its activities were totally legal.
“They did not breach any legislation and that is why the verdict is confusing.”
The College Valley and North Northumberland Hunt was formed in 1982 and extends to the Kale Water in the north-west taking in the Cheviot Hills to the Harthope Burn and Glendale Valley and on to the coastal strip by Holy Island and then north to Berwick and the Scottish Border.
On the day in question, half a dozen riders and about 30 hounds took part.