POLICE are investigating claims that a pack of hounds chased a fox through village streets in an alleged “flagrant” breach of the controversial law against hunting.
Frightened residents reported the incident after hounds belonging to the Essex and Suffolk Hunt are said to have pursued their quarry through gardens and past a primary school at Bildeston, near Hadleigh.
One villager said: “There were hounds all over the village – I also saw two people on quad bikes leading a pack of huntsmen down the narrow streets. The dogs were racing through gardens.
“Several people saw the fox. The hounds ran past the school and children in the playground were quickly ordered by staff to go inside.
“A number of residents were worried – one woman grabbed her pet dog because she was scared it would be attacked.”
Another resident, writer Judy Rumbold, said: “We saw the fox being chased and the next minute our garden was full of hounds.
“I managed to grab our Jack Russell and brought him indoors while the hounds ran around the garden which was damaged.
“We often see foxes in fields around the village and I am against hunting and this is one of the reasons why. Hunts must not use dogs to catch and kill foxes, but it nearly happened on this occasion.”
Another eyewitness said: “The noise was really frightening – there were dogs everywhere and at one stage they were running towards the school where youngsters were out in the playground.”
Some in the village were asking yesterday whether the hunt had broken the law.
But the Essex and Suffolk, like many hunts across the country, use an exemption that allows them to chase and kill foxes using birds of prey.
The hunt takes an eagle owl with it whose role is to attack and kill the prey – hares or foxes – that have been flushed out by dogs.
The incident in the picturesque village is now being investigated by Suffolk police’s specialist wildlife unit which regularly monitors hunts across the county. But officers were not present on this occasion.
Wildlife expert Pc Mark Bryant said: “We are aware of an incident involving the Essex and Suffolk Hunt which has been reported to us and we are now in the process of speaking to the parties involved.”
Police will have to decide if any offence has been committed, but it is not against the law to ride through streets on horseback with dogs.
Joint master of the hunt, local landowner James Buckle, said: “The hounds did pick up the scent and were chasing a fox and we tried very hard to stop them.
“But once they got into the village it was safer to let them carry on as attempting to halt would only have caused more aggro.
“It was all over in a few minutes and we apologise if anyone was concerned or upset by what happened.”