THE THREE joint masters of the Sinnington Hunt yesterday flatly denied having anything to do with captured fox cubs found in a cage on their land.
Adam Waugh, Andrew Osborne and John Shaw, the leading figures in the North Yorkshire-based hunt, protested their innocence at a hastily-convened committee meeting of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) at the Cavalry and Guards Club in London.
The hunt’s terrierman, Lee Cobb, also denied involvement in what animal welfare groups last week claimed was a hunt rearing its own foxes to be hunted – which is strictly against hunting’s own rules.
As revealed in The Independent, the three-month-old cubs were found by an activist from the League Against Cruel Sports. They were in a muddy cage at a place called Muscoates Whin owned by the Sinnington, one of Britain’s oldest hunts, founded in 1680.
The league alerted the RSPCA, which in turn called in the police: both are now carrying out inquiries.
Yesterday, the MFHA accepted the denials of the masters and terrierman at face value, saying it had “found no evidence of any involvement” by them. But it adjourned the meeting while it carried out its own inquiries, which are likely to take about two weeks and will involve more members of the hunt staff being interviewed.
“We’re going to look into the allegations in more detail,” said MFHA director Alastair Jackson. “We will be asking the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA to submit evidence to us. We are taking this very seriously.”
The MFHA said in a statement after the meeting: “Fox-hunting as a sport is the hunting of the fox in his wild and natural state with a pack of hounds.
“The capturing and rearing of foxes for hunting is completely unacceptable and the MFHA is determined to find out how these foxes were captured and placed in a cage.”
Besides the risk of prosecution, any member of the Sinnington found to have been involved with the cubs would face dismissal or enforced resignation from the hunt.
Hunting sources yesterday were comparing the Sinnington case with that of the Quorn, perhaps Britain’s most celebrated hunt, which in 1991 was severely censured by the MFHA, and its masters required to resign, after a fox was dug from its earth and released to the hounds instead of being shot.
The hunting establishment is more than ever conscious of its image after the large parliamentary vote against hunting last year on the Private Member’s Bill sponsored by the Labour MP Michael Foster.
The Bill comes before the House of Commons on Friday for its third reading but is certain to fail to become law because of lack of parliamentary time.