1st fox-hunting conviction under English ban

LONDON — A fox hunter was convicted Friday in the first successful prosecution under a contentious English ban on the sport.

A judge in Devon, southwestern England, ordered Tony Wright, 52, to pay a $950 fine and $470 in court costs.

One person had been convicted for illegally hunting rabbits, but Wright's fox-hunting conviction was the first since the ban took effect in England and Wales last year.

The anti-hunting League Against Cruel Sports filed the suit against Wright, who pleaded innocent.

Simon Hart, head of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, said Wright believed he complied with the law by keeping his two hunt dogs under control. The alliance said the Exmoor hunter planned to appeal.

The ban is "illogical and unclear," Hart said.

Under the Hunting Act, which took effect on Feb. 18, 2005, dogs can be used to chase a fox into open ground but not to harm the animal, which is shot instead.

In Wright's case, the Barnstaple Magistrates' Court judge said video of the hunt proved the dogs had followed foxes long after they were flushed from hiding.

The ban was approved after a bitter fight in Parliament and raucous streets demonstrations. Supporters say fox hunting is a vital rural tradition, but opponents consider it a cruel and unnecessary preserve of the upper classes.