A former master of the Jedforest Hunt in the Borders has been found not guilty of illegal fox hunting.
The court’s verdict was welcomed by an organisation that supports fox hunting but an animal rights group said the ruling was unsurprising because the law is “woefully inadequate”.
David Lee Peters denied deliberately hunting a wild mammal in the Scottish Borders in December 2019. He was found not guilty last week.
The crux of the Crown case centred on a video taken by an investigator for the League Against Cruel Sports, Scotland. It was an incident reported by The Ferret.
Police Scotland and the Crown Office felt there was enough evidence to press ahead with the prosecution of Peters, 42, who at the time was master of the Jedforest Hunt. But a sheriff ruled he was innocent.
On delivering his verdict at Jedburgh Sheriff Court, Sheriff Peter Paterson criticised the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 saying it was “difficult to interpret”. He added: “There are many other difficulties of the Act which are not relevant for today’s consideration”.
A spokesperson for the Countryside Alliance, which supports fox hunting, said: “After almost 20 years of Scottish packs carrying out fox control very effectively for farmers, we are disappointed the case even reached court because there was clear evidence of legal fox control.
“Allegations of illegal activity comes exclusively from politically motivated campaign groups so we would urge the police and the prosecuting authorities to consider very carefully any evidence provided by paid activists in the future.”
The League Against Cruel Sports, Scotland, pointed out that in the 19 years since the Act was introduced there has only been one successful prosecution for mounted fox hunting.
It has called on the Scottish Government to ensure the law is strengthened and close loopholes in order to “prevent hunts evading prosecution”.
Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports, Scotland, said: “Another not guilty verdict under this flawed piece of legislation, and yet again Sheriff Paterson recognising how difficult it is to prosecute under it, emphatically endorses our view that the law which supposedly bans hunting in Scotland needs strengthening.
He added: “It is in no one’s interests to waste endless hours of court time debating whether or not hounds were deliberately allowed to chase a fox – the law needs to be far clearer than it is currently to allow effective and time efficient prosecutions of those who continue to ride roughshod over the law.”
Marlsand urged the Scottish Government to make this a priority in the new parliament.
Photo thanks to iStock and I_Longworth