A huntsman and a whipper-in actively encouraged hounds to look for a fox after a trail hunt was set up as a charade, a court has heard.
Prosecutors allege that huntsman John Oliver Finnegan, 36, and 30-year-old whipper-in Rhys Matcham breached the 2004 Hunting Act in Leicestershire on February 4 last year.
Both men, who deny any wrongdoing, were captured on camera by the League Against Cruel Sports from an observation point near Breedon-on-the-Hill, Leicester Magistrates’ Court was told.
Opening the case on Tuesday, prosecutor Mark Fielding alleged that footage shown to the court had captured terriermen trying to dig out a fox.
Addressing a bench of three magistrates, Mr Fielding said of Finnegan and Matcham: “I think they accept they both worked for the Quorn Hunt.
“They both accept that identification is not an issue and that they were the gentlemen on the grey and the bay horse in the red coats.”
Disputing the men’s claims that they were taking part in a legitimate hunt following a pre-laid scent, the prosecutor said: “The Crown will say there is a charade going on.
“The Crown’s position is, as you have seen, that the hounds were taken to the covert (den) where the Crown say they knew there was a fox.
“They were there for 10 or more minutes, we say encouraging the hounds in their endeavours.
“They made no attempt whatsoever to lift them (the hounds) and take them elsewhere.
“They were at least supine in their efforts. The Crown say they actively encouraged the hounds to look for that particular fox.”
Claiming the footage showed terriermen arriving on a quad bike to dig up the fox, Mr Fielding asked: “If this is a genuine drag hunt, why have you even got terriermen in the field? You don’t need them.
“The terriermen were there because this was a proper fox hunt going back to the olden days.”
League Against Cruel Sports staff member Roger Swaine was asked to describe what he had seen on footage filmed on the afternoon of February 4.
He told the court a fox could be seen on the video at 12.37pm, a minute after Matcham appeared to see something in a covert.
The prosecution witness told magistrates: “The hounds were barking excitedly.
“Then after the fox broke cover and then went back into the covert again, Mr Matcham rode into the clearing.
“He stood with his horse in that clearing and was waving his whip – I believe he was trying to prevent the fox from going into the thicker, denser part of the covert.”
Mr Swaine said the footage showed the hounds were not taken away until 12.52pm, and he had then seen a “shadowy figure” digging at the edge of the den.
Hounds then took off down the side of a golf course and were “introduced” to a second covert, Mr Swaine said.
The former hunt saboteur, who campaigned against fox hunting before the ban was introduced in 2005, told the court: “After they went into the larger, arrow-shaped covert, the hounds caught another scent and ran through the golf course directly towards the church we were filming from, and some hounds ended up in the graveyard.
“For completeness, Mr Finnegan was blowing his horn at that point to call them back.”
Finnegan later encouraged the hounds with voice calls, Mr Swaine said.
Under cross-examination by defence solicitor Stephen Welford, Mr Swaine conceded he could not see where Matcham was looking when a fox was seen to emerge from the covert.
Mr Welford asked Mr Swaine: “It’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that hounds were in that bit of covert, they had found an artificial trail… and a fox popped out. That is one possibility, is it not?”
Mr Swaine answered: “Yes.”
Finnegan, who lives at the premises of the Quorn Hunt in Kirby Bellars, near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, and Matcham, of Kennel Drive, Badminton, south Gloucestershire, deny illegally hunting a wild mammal with dogs.
The trial continues.