Julian Barnfield, Heythrop Hunt
Julian Barnfield, Heythrop Hunt

Julian Barnfield huntsman with the Heythrop hunt, will appear before magistrates on two counts of unlawfully hunting a fox

David Cameron was facing political embarrassment last night after a leading member of the local hunt he has ridden with was charged with illegal foxhunting.

Julian Barnfield, 47, the professional huntsman with the Heythrop hunt, will appear before magistrates next month on two counts of unlawfully hunting a fox.

The prosecution, which is being brought by the RSPCA, will reopen political divisions over hunting and increase pressure on Ministers to overturn the ban introduced by the Labour Government in 2004.

The Prime Minister has ridden with the Heythrop six times and the hunt is popular with fellow members of the Chipping Norton Set – an influential group of MPs and media professionals who live close to the Oxfordshire market town.

Prominent supporters include Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, and her husband Charlie. Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has allowed the hunt to ride on his land.

Several leading members of the local Conservative party are also members of the hunt and in the past Mr Cameron has been keen to declare his support.

In 2003, he described the then proposed ban on hunting as ‘illiberal and bossy’.

He also recalled a day out with the Heythrop, saying: ‘Nothing had prepared me for the sheer terror of a day’s hunting. I battled in vain to control my powerful steed and careered through trees and bushes ¬completely out of control.

‘Trying to hover at the back of the field, I ended up at the front as a fox broke cover from behind.

‘A 15-minute gallop along narrow paths in a forest followed, during which I thought death (for me at least) would be a release. The fox escaped. Having survived two-and-a-half hours without being unseated, I dismounted and collapsed in a heap on the ground. My horse had hardly broken a sweat.’

In their 2010 manifesto, the Conservatives promised a free vote in the House of Commons on whether to overturn the ban, but many political insiders doubt it will happen. They say the Liberal Democrats are opposed to the proposal, and earlier this month. The Mail on Sunday revealed that a growing number of younger female Tory MPs, called the ‘Blue Foxes’ are also against any plans to lift the ban.

Barnfield, who is a fulltime employee of the hunt and a friend of Mr Cameron, is a fierce opponent of the hunting ban. Before its introduction, he said: ‘I will not stop. I am proud of what I do.’ In a subsequent edition of the Heythrop Hunt magazine, he listed ‘hounds in full cry’ as his favourite music and said his preferred hobbies were stalking in Scotland and hunting mink in Ireland.

This is not the first time the huntsman has been charged with offences under the controversial legislation. In 2008, he became the first person in the country to be prosecuted by police for allegedly killing a fox. But the CPS withdrew the charges following a High Court ruling which made a distinction between searching for a mammal and actively hunting it. The RSPCA’s case is based on video footage of the Heythrop hunt gathered by anti-hunt monitors.

Barnfield in particular and the Heythrop in general have become regular targets for monitors since the hunting ban was introduced.

In 2009, he said: ‘To be frank, I am plagued by them. It’s not just that they film me and the hunt, openly and covertly. Some are verbally vile, too.’

Barnfield said the hunt had raised concerns about the filming directly with Mr Cameron, adding: ‘He [Mr Cameron] doesn’t hunt with us any more but he supports us.’
In their 2010 manifesto, the conservatives promised a free vote in the House of Commons on the ban

In their 2010 manifesto, the conservatives promised a free vote in the House of Commons on the ban

Penny Little, an anti-hunt monitor who gathered the footage, said: ‘We are delighted that the RSPCA has decided to mount a prosecution.’

An RSPCA spokesman said last night: ‘Julian Barnfield is scheduled to appear at Banbury Magistrates’ Court on September 16. He is charged with two offences of unlawfully hunting a wild mammal, namely a fox, with dogs, contrary to section 1 of the Hunting Act 2004, on two occasions in Oxfordshire in February and March. As proceedings are ongoing we are unable to make further comment.’

Simon Lawrance, the joint master of the Heythrop hunt, which operates in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, last night said Barnfield was uncontactable because he was on holiday in the Scottish Highlands. He added: ‘The hunt is fully supporting Mr Barnfield and the main message we want to get across is that the Heythrop hunts within the law.’

Barnfield’s solicitor Tim Hayden confirmed his client was due before magistrates. But he said he was unable to comment further until the RSPCA had disclosed full details of the case to his client.

Source: Daily Mail

Hunt Details: Heythrop Hunt

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