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Police investigate fox cubs video filmed near hunt kennels

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Media captionClaire Marshall reports from North Yorkshire

Police are investigating after footage of 16 fox cubs held in a barn near to hunt kennels emerged.

The video was filmed in a barn near to the Middleton Hunt Kennels in Malton, North Yorkshire, by the League Against Cruel Sports, which alleges that the cubs were being raised to be hunted.

Fox hunting with dogs was made illegal in 2004.

The Middleton Hunt said it was confident that no-one connected with the hunt had committed any offence.

Police raid

The footage, given to the BBC, showed the dark interior of a barn, located some 200m (660ft) from the hunt kennels.

A number of fox cubs, aged six to eight weeks, were shying away from the light of the camera.

Several were hiding in a milk churn and others were crouching in a drainpipe.

The images were filmed over two consecutive nights.

Campaigners alerted North Yorkshire Police, who raided the barn on 31 May and took away the cubs.

Image copyright League Against Cruel Sports
Image caption For some wild animals, it is not an offence simply to hold them

The police said there were 16 cubs from at least four different vixens.

There is also daytime footage.

The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) claims it shows a man with connections to the local hunt at the barn where the cubs were kept.

Dr Toni Shephard, from the LACS, said: "This footage shows 16 fox cubs being kept in a barn without any sign of a vixen or parents.

"We believe that they're being kept to ensure that there are plenty of foxes to hunt this coming season when they go out.

"We think that this practice is widespread and this demonstrates that hunting is nothing to do with fox control or wildlife management, but that it's just a cruel sport that people take part in purely for pleasure."

The young cubs appeared to have access to food and water.

Image caption The fox cubs are now in a sanctuary in Liverpool

It is not against the law simply to hold some wild animals (if they are not a protected species), but the reason for keeping the cubs in the barn is unclear.

Hunting wild mammals - including foxes - with dogs was banned by the Hunting Act in 2004.

When hunts meet, riders follow fake scent trails, known as 'drag hunting.'

However, opponents claim that the law is regularly broken and foxes are still killed.

'Sensible discussion'

The masters from the Middleton Hunt referred the BBC to the Countryside Alliance, which said the barn entered by police was not owned by the Middleton Hunt and was not part of its lease.

"The Middleton Hunt has assisted the police with their inquiries, and is confident that no-one employed by or associated with the hunt has committed any offence," it said in a statement.

"The hunt would take any claim to the contrary extremely seriously.

"The Middleton Hunt has been advised against making any further statement."

The Birdsall Estate, which owns the land, said both areas - the barn and the kennels - are on a long-term lease and they do not have any day-to-day involvement in tenanted areas of the estate.

Image caption The video of the fox cubs was filmed in a barn in North Yorkshire

The allegations are likely to enrage those on both sides of the debate.

Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake, said: "We don't know exactly what has happened, but I have never heard of this kind of incident before, so we need to find out what has happened. Actions like this would not be supported by the hunting community."

And he added: "We want a sensible discussion.

"I respect views on both sides of the argument. This is about what's lawful.

"Everybody should abide by and obey the laws, so it should be framed in a sensible way, looking at all the different issues and all the different arguments."

The cubs are now in a sanctuary in Liverpool. They will eventually be released into the wild.

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