Two men convicted of animal cruelty offences after being filmed dragging a fox out of a tunnel and releasing it “into the path of a hunt” have been given suspended sentences.
Mark Vincent, 53, and Ian Parkinson, 65, members of the Kimblewick Hunt in Oxfordshire, had denied the charges but neither reportedly gave evidence.
In the video, the pair had appeared to use a rod to force a fox out from a drainage pipe – believed to have been built by hunt supporters to attract the animals – before reaching in and pulling one out by its tail.
A pack of hounds soon appeared and pursued the fox on New Year’s Day after the hunt had met at Moreton, a hamlet near Thame.
During the trial at Oxford magistrates court in October, before the sentencing on Tuesday, the prosecutor Peter Rymon said the men had “clearly placed” the fox “in the path of a hunt at the time the hunt was arriving”, according to the BBC.
He added: “The rodding caused it unnecessary suffering and pulling it out by the tail enhanced that.”
The district judge, Kamlesh Rana, said the fox was “trapped in the earth and was faced with drainage rods at one end and humans at the other” and that the defendants’ actions were “deliberate and premediated”. However, she recognised during their sentencing that they “were not the brains of the operation”.
In addition to the sentences for causing unnecessary suffering upon a protected animal, in breach of the Animal Welfare Act, they will also have to complete 120 hours of community service and 15 days of rehabilitation.
They were also ordered to pay full costs. The 12-week custodial sentences were suspended for one year.
Campaigners welcomed the sentences but said the case had demonstrated that hunting still took place despite the ban on pursuing foxes for sport.
Martin Sims, the director of investigations at the League Against Cruel Sports and former head of the police’s national wildlife crime unit, said the two men associated with the Kimblewick Hunt “were clearly flouting animal protection laws by dragging the fox out and then releasing it in front of a pack of hunting hounds which would then chase it and potentially tear it apart.
“Not only does it show hunting still takes place, 14 years after the ban came in, but with a general election in full swing and with law and order an important issue, it’s time political parties were united against hunting and pledge to strengthen the Hunting Act.”
Lee Moon, a spokesperson for the Hunt Saboteurs Association, called on the Masters of Foxhounds Association, which in effect regulates fox hunts in the UK, to suspend the hunt.
“We’re pleased that justice has been done and the two hunt employees have been punished for their part in this shocking incident,” he said.
“However let’s be perfectly clear, what’s shown in this footage is not an unusual act in the world of organised fox hunting but rather a commonplace, everyday action carried out by hunt terrier men week in, week out across the country.”
A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance said: “Every hunt should be open and accountable while operating to the highest standards at all times. There is no justification for this type of activity.”