Fox hunting law 'needs strengthening', Cheshire campaigners agree
Pro and anti-fox hunting campaigners in Cheshire have told a public meeting that the law needs strengthening.
It follows calls for changes to the Hunting Act amid claims that Cheshire Police was failing to crack down on illegal hunting.
There has only been one prosecution for hunting in Cheshire since 2004.
Cheshire Hunt Saboteurs say loopholes make prosecutions "almost impossible" while the Countryside Alliance wants more protection for landowners.
However, both sides told the meeting they were "broadly happy" with Cheshire Police's approach to the issue.
Police are investigating whether any laws were broken following the death of a fox during a trail hunt in Huxley last month.
In January 2018, Chester MP Chris Matheson said "at least four foxes" had been "killed by trail hunts". These were described as "accidental", by a hunt organiser.
The meeting held by Cheshire Police followed an independent review commissioned by Cheshire police crime commissioner David Keane which concluded it was difficult to "secure sufficient evidence" for convictions.
Mr Keane said: "There's a clear view there needs to be changes in the law."
Cheshire Chief Constable Darren Martland said better training would be given to officers as the issue was a "priority" which it took "very seriously".
A spokesperson for Cheshire Hunt Saboteurs said over the last year the police force had worked with anti-fox hunting groups to deter illegal fox hunting.
"We feel the only way forward is for the Hunting Act to be strengthened... to close said loopholes."
She added they were pleased by steps taken by the force to improve policing of the Hunting Act and "to discourage illegal hunting".
A member of an anti-hunt group, who identified herself only as Karen, said that having two officers dedicated to wildlife crime was not sufficient in a county that had three regular hunts.
Legal hunts - hounds and riders riding an agreed route rather than chasing foxes - have complained of inadequate policing of protests.
Polly Portwin of the Countryside Alliance which campaigns in favour of hunting, said the law needs to grant more protection to landowners against criminal damage and trespass.
Fox hunting: What is the law?
- In 2004, it was made a criminal offence in England and Wales to hunt down and kill a wild mammal with dogs
- In order to prosecute, a person must be shown to be intentionally hunting the animal
- Pursuit of live animals has been replaced by trail hunting, which sees hounds and riders follow a pre-laid scent along an agreed route