A Norfolk landowner and her colleague were convicted of hare coursing today after a judge ruled their “sincere” attempt to legally beat the hunting ban had failed.
Mary Birkbeck, 77, and Les Anderson, 80, were found guilty of attending and facilitating two illegal coursing events in November 2007 and January 2008.
Birkbeck was also convicted of permitting land on her Little Massingham estate to be used for the meetings, where hares were pursued across fields by muzzled greyhounds.
The pair were ordered to pay £1,000 each in costs, but escaped further punishment as district judge Philip Browning said he was satisfied a genuine effort had been made to stay within the law.
Hare coursing was outlawed with the introduction of the Hunting Act in 2005, which prompted Anderson – the chairman of Kimberly and Wymondham Greyhound Club – to commission a rulebook for a new sport of greyhound field trialling in a bid to comply with the legislation.
The regulations said the dogs would be judged on their ability to drive hares towards guns – rather than judging their skill in hunting and “turning” their quarry, which was the objective before the ban.
King’s Lynn Magistrates’ Court heard Anderson, of Lodge Road, Feltwell, had been involved with coursing for 62 years and had sought legal advice and police permission before organising the events.
Mr Browning said: “In my judgement the activities of both dogs and hares are indistinguishable from hare coursing. The dogs are supposed to be judged on different criteria but the activity is the same.
“That activity is hare coursing and the steps taken to create a different sport without breaking the law have not succeeded.
“Having made that judgement, I consider that sincere attempts have been made to conduct these activities within the law.”
The judge gave both Birkbeck and Anderson conditional discharges on the provision that no further offences were committed within two years.
After the hearing, Anderson said: “I would very much like to have been found not guilty, but what we have got I am not dissatisfied with. At least we showed we tried, but we have not succeeded.
“As far as the club goes, I have a two-year order on me now so we will have to be very careful. We have got some very loyal members, so we shall still be a club and we will keep together.”