A huntsman and a whipper in have been cleared of illegal hunting after a Judge ruled they had been following a trail rather than trying to kill foxes.
David Lewis and Gareth Frain were found not guilty at Exeter Magistrates after giving evidence that they had no intended their hounds to pursue any foxes.
They were prosecuted after anti-hunting campaigners who were monitoring the Lamerton Hunt on December 14, 2014, claimed to have seen the pack chasing at least one fox near Bridestowe on Dartmoor.
Lewis, aged 50, of the Lamerton Hunt based at Lewdown, Devon, and Frain, aged 25, of Egloskerry, Cornwall, both denied breaching the 2004 Hunting Act.
A district judge acquitted both men of hunting a wild mammal with dogs and said the case against Frain had been ’entirely misconceived’.
The judge said Lewis would not have risked upsetting local farmers by allowing the hounds into restricted areas where ewes were lambing.
During two hearing days earlier this year, the prosecution alleged the two men, who were both paid employees of the Lamerton Hunt, encouraged the hounds to chase the fox, which eventually escaped unhurt.
Lewis was the huntsman and Frain was his assistant who had full or partial control of the hounds.
The prosecution have played video clips of the hunt and witnesses have testified to hearing Lewis calling ’on, on, on’ to the hounds while they were chasing the fox.
It is alleged that no trail had been laid and the hunt were out looking for foxes.
Lewis and Frain both told the court they were following pre-laid trail while coordinating the hunt with two-way radios.
Lewis said they were trail hunting and he did not see the pack of 20 to 30 hounds if and when they left the pre-laid trail and followed a real fox.
He said he did not blow his horn to recall the hounds because they were out of sight and he doubted if they would hear it.
Whipper-in Frain denied letting the hounds hunt the fox. He said he rode to the bottom of a hill to stop the hounds getting on to a road.
Their accounts were supported by the chairman of the Lamerton Hunt, Roger Jennings, who said he did not see a fox and described the incident as ‘’accidental not deliberate’.
Mandy Herd, who was acting as master of the hunt on the day, said Lewis and Frain ’did everything they could to stop the hounds’.
She did see the fox on the day but said in 30 years before she had not seen a fox in that particular area of the moor.
Another hunt master, Mark Prout, told the court he had never heard Lewis use the words ’on, on, on’.