THE solicitor for a huntsman who admitted illegally hunting a fox has criticised the RSPCA for “troubling the courts” with the case.

David Parker, 39, of Seavington St Mary, pleaded guilty to hunting a wild mammal with dogs under the Hunting Act at Yeovil Magistrates’ Court on Thursday (September 12).

The case related to an offence near Winsham where members of the International Fund for Animal Welfare were filming the Seavington Hunt in January.

District Judge Lynne Matthews fined Parker £500 with a £50 victim surcharge and awarded £500 costs – but rejected the RSPCA’s request for him to cover its total costs of £4,783.38.

The court heard how the huntsman was accused of blowing his horn, encouraging hounds to pursue a fox after it bolted from a scrub area .

The footage obtained by IFAW shows a fox running across the field, later followed by hounds, though they do not appear to reach it.

RSPCA inspector Jo Daniel said: “We can’t stand by while laws which are there to protect wild animals are broken, and if sufficient evidence is provided to us we have an obligation to act to prevent further such offences from occurring.”

But solicitor Jamie Foster, who represented Parker in court, condemned the RSPCA’s decision to prosecute.

He said: “The hounds got on the scent of the fox, but were never in sight of it – they were always about a minute behind it.

“The fox escaped and was not harmed.

“Instead of trying to stop the hounds from chasing the fox, in a moment of madness David Parker blew his horn and encouraged them on.

“In the moral pantheon of criminal law it falls somewhere between littering and not paying for your TV licence.

“If IFAW had provided the evidence to the police to investigate, the police could have issued a caution, which the RSPCA can also do, but it refused to.

“If it had been properly reported to the police it wouldn’t have troubled the court.

“The RSPCA asked the court for a bill of more than £4,700 to be paid – the court ruled £500 should be paid instead, so they have spent more than £4,200 on a prosecution which should never have been brought.

“That money could have been spent helping animals, which is why people donate to the charity, rather than on this unnecessary court case.”

An RSPCA spokesperson said: “Having reviewed the footage taken by IFAW in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, it was decided there was sufficient evidence and it was in the public interest to bring a prosecution.

“This is supported by the defendant’s admission of the offence.

“On a daily basis, our inspectors see unimaginable cruelty to animals across the country and, in a tiny minority of cases – less than 2% of the complaints of cruelty dealt with by them – legal action is taken as a last resort.

“Prosecutions are undertaken fairly, impartially and in the interests of justice, not for any other purpose, such as for fund-raising or political purposes, and are subject to close scrutiny by the Crown Prosecution Service, which would stop us if the prosecutions were not in the public interest.

“The RSPCA follows the Ministry of Justice Guidelines and on this occasion he did not meet the guidelines’ criteria for a caution.

“The RSPCA will continue to examine cases involving hunting in exactly the same way as other cases involving animal cruelty.”