By Western Morning News | Posted: April 03, 2014
Two Somerset huntsmen have been cleared of illegal fox hunting after evidence provided by hunt saboteurs failed to persuade a judge.
Weston and Banwell Harriers joint hunt master George Milton, huntsman and whipper-In Toby Lee were both acquitted today (Thursday) after a four-day hearing at Taunton Magistrates Court.
It is the second time Mr Milton, has been cleared of an offence under the Hunting Act after being found not guilty last year.
The case hinged on 93 seconds of footage out of 20 hours of video captured by six supporters of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) when the hunt meet at the Old Piggery, in Axbridge, in October 2012.
District Judge Davison said that it was clear that Milton and Lee had stopped the hounds, adding he was “not persuaded at all that the defendants were not trail hunting".
He was also critical of the time the case had taken to reach trial saying that it "did not reflect well on the court".
The Countryside Alliance (CA) welcomed the judgement but said the actions of the Crown Prosecution Service and Avon and Somerset Police amounted to “a campaign of harassment” against the hunt and its master.
"Individuals working for a charity, the League Against Cruel Sports, have carried out dozens of sophisticated covert surveillance operations over several years targeting Mr Milton and made a series of allegations under the Hunting Act and other legislation,” spokesman Tim Bonner added.
“This is the second time he has been cleared of illegal hunting allegations in court, but he has also been charged with other offences which were dropped before they even got to trial.
Mr Bonner said the police and CPS had wasted "large amounts of taxpayers money and court time."
In contrast, the League expressed “shock” and “disappointment” at the acquittal.
Joe Duckworth, chief executive, added: “We believe the footage captured by our investigators clearly shows evidence of illegal fox hunting.
“Despite this result our team of investigators up and down the country remain committed to catching and bringing individuals who subject animals to the horrors of hunting and other cruel sports, to justice. “We have a proud 90 year history of campaigning to protect animals from cruel sports, and our enforcement work is a key part of that now that hunting a wild animal for sport is rightly banned.
“We are going to be releasing the footage to the public so they can make up their own mind.”
North West Hunt Saboteurs Association
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Direct Action Against All Forms of bloodsports