Hunting ban legal confusion

POLICE officers have called for more guidance on how to enforce the ban on fox-hunting and fear they are being put in an "invidious" position by the new legislation.

POLICE officers have called for more guidance on how to enforce the ban on fox-hunting and fear they are being put in an "invidious" position by the new legislation.

They voiced their concerns as one police federation chairman said she felt the ban – which comes into effect on Friday – was "unenforceable".

Sue Kelly, chairman of the Essex Police Federation, added: "I haven't seen any guidelines at all and it will be very difficult to police. I've hunted myself years ago and I know a lot of people who hunt now.

"But if I knew that they were going out to hunt and defy the law, I wouldn't do anything. I know of people who speed every day, but we can't be expected to nick all those."

Suffolk Police Federation called for clear definitions of how officers should tackle the ban and feared valuable police time could be wasted trying to catch illegal hunters.

Phil Smith, secretary of the Suffolk Police Federation, said: "It's the interpretation of the law that could prove a problem. People could go out exercising their dogs and it will waste a lot of time establishing whether they are actually hunting. Some will say that those resources could be better deployed elsewhere.

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"Certainly the last thing we want is our officers getting themselves into trouble because of ignorance of the legislation and the ambiguity of what can and what can't be done. We need clear definitions of what we can and can't do."

He added: "We can't go on to somebody's land to arrest them – and that puts police officers in an invidious position.

"If a law is there to be enforced, we will do what we can, but I wish there had been a bit more thought to the legislation change. It is going to have its difficulties."

The warning came as hunts across the region prepared to meet on Saturday – the day after the Hunting Bill becomes law – to show the strength of feeling against the ban, although they have pledged to hunt within the law.

Liz Mort, eastern region director of the Countryside Alliance, said the ban was "unworkable, unenforceable and unpoliceable".

She claimed hunts had received "mixed messages" from police about enforcing the legislation and added: "They are going to find it enormously difficult to police.

"How will they know what sort of hunt it is? Even the huntsman doesn't know if the hounds are chasing a fox or a trail, so how will the police know?"

Ms Mort said thousands of people were expected to attend Saturday's hunts, making it the most popular day of the season, and hunts would be either drag or trail hunting.

"The important thing is that until we've got this wretched Bill repealed – which we will, sooner or later – the infrastructure of hunts is kept together," she added.

Lawrie Payne, regional spokesman of the League Against Cruel Sports, said he expected the new legislation to be enforced.

"It's quite simple – if the hunts are chasing a trail, that's fine. If they are chasing a wild animal, it's illegal. I don't believe the police are stupid and, if the hunts do, they will soon find out otherwise. The law is pretty clear," he added.

Suffolk Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter, who is rural affairs spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "We will obviously work on the basis some people will still break the law.

"I'm sure we'll get a lot of demonstrations as the legislation comes in, but we will be enforcing the legislation."

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