Sat, Feb 19, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Hunting ban enters force in England


The hounds wait behind the master huntsman, center, of the Surrey Union Hunt before setting off near Okewood Hill, southwest of London on Thursday.


A controversial ban on fox hunting and other forms of hunting with dogs came into force in England and Wales yesterday, with enthusiasts saying they were determined to pursue blood sports regardless.

The Countryside Alliance, which failed on Wednesday to get the Court of Appeal to declare the Hunting Act invalid, said 150 hunts were in action Thursday involving perhaps hundreds of thousands of hunters and supporters.

"It's a nonsense, the whole thing," Alliance spokesman Tim Bonner told reporters. "We intend to show that hunting will continue, we intend to beat this law one way or the other, we're not going away."

The Alliance expected up to 500,000 supporters to turn out to immediately defy the ban this weekend, he added.

The Hunting Act, which took effect at midnight, was the result of years of campaigning by those who regard fox hunting and other forms of hunting with hounds -- a part of British country life for centuries -- as cruel and inhumane.

Proposed by Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, the ban was adopted by the House of Commons last November after a rarely-used law was pressed into service to override opposition in the unelected House of Lords.

Police forces have warned that the law, which follows a similar hunting ban in Scotland, could prove difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.

Hunt supporters say it will be unrealistic to expect police to distinguish between lawful drag hunts, those in which dogs merely chase the scent of a fox or other animal, and illegal hunts.

However, the League Against Cruel Sports, one of several groups that pushed hard for a ban, said its members would pursue hunting groups this weekend with video cameras to collect evidence that could be passed on to prosecutors.

The government also had stern words for would-be lawbreakers, with Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael telling hunters they "do not have the right to flout a law that has been passed lawfully by a large majority of democratically elected members of Parliament".

"The hunting community have always said they are law-abiding members of the community and I expect them to keep to their word," Michael said.

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