A senior huntsman caught on camera preparing to feed live fox cubs to his hounds has avoided jail despite causing their "painful, terrifying" deaths, a judge has ruled.
Paul Oliver has also avoided a ban on keeping animals because he would lose his job at a stud yard.
Passing sentence at Birmingham Magistrates' Court, District Judge Joanna Dickens handed Oliver - who was master of hounds with the now disbanded South Herefordshire Hunt - a 16-week suspended jail sentence. His partner and the hunt's kennel maid, Hannah Rose, was also given a 12-week suspended sentence.
Oliver and Rose, both of Sutton Crosses, near Spalding, Lincolnshire, were also ordered to pay £300 in costs and a £115 victim surcharge after being convicted of causing unnecessary suffering.
Oliver, 40, and Rose, 30, were convicted after a seven-day trial was told live fox cubs were used to "blood" hunting hounds at the hunt's kennels in Wormelow.
The pair were charged with animal cruelty offences after covert footage of them was captured by cameras placed at the hunt's premises by anti-bloodsport activists in May 2016.
Footage showed Oliver handling foxes at the kennels and putting the bodies of two cubs in a wheelie bin, the court was told.
Cameras also captured Oliver using a stick with a noose attached, known as a grasper.
“The unnecessary suffering involved the killing of fox cubs, effectively feeding the animals... throwing the fox cubs into the kennels of the fox hounds, thereby killing them,” Simon Davis, the prosecutor, told Birmingham Magistrate’s Court during the trial.
Suspending the sentences for a year, District Judge Dickens said: "Four fox cubs were killed by hounds whilst in the kennels.
"They did not have the chance of escape. It is not clear if this was a single lead hound in a pack or just one hound on its own.
"Thankfully, the veterinary evidence shows that they died quickly. I consider that Mr Oliver took the lead role in this and it is clear that Ms Rose was acting on his direction.
"This was a very serious offence of its type. The fox cubs suffered a painful, terrifying death."
Explaining her reasons for not banning the couple from keeping animals, the judge added: "I think the chance of any reoccurrence is minimal.
"I also take into account that to disqualify them from being in control of animals would cause them to lose their current employment and any hope of future work, as this is their livelihood."
The court was told hidden cameras were placed at the kennels by the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT) after they received information that animal welfare legislation had been breached.
As part of the HIT inquiry, two sites were identified where foxes were thought to have been "dug out" and police enquiries established gamekeepers had given permission for the animals to be destroyed on the land.
Julie Elmore, 55, of Brynarw estate near Abergavenny, and Paul Reece, 48, formerly of Itton, near Chepstow in South Wales, admitted two counts of causing unnecessary suffering to cubs which were distressed by being transported to the kennels.
Accepting that neither Elmore nor Reece had any idea that foxes would be killed, the judge said the pair had been "motivated by consideration" for the cubs while trying to stop them being shot.
A fifth defendant, Nathan Parry, 40, also of Brynarw estate, was cleared of four animal cruelty charges after the judge accepted that he believed foxes taken to the hunt's kennels would be relocated in the wild.
Additional reporting by PA