Two Borders huntsmen have been cleared of breaching Scotland’s fox-hunting laws following a five-day trial.
Buccleuch Hunt members Timothy Allen, 41, and Shaun Anderson, 28, were charged with deliberately hunting a fox with a pack of dogs.
Both were found not guilty at different stages of the trial of an offence alleged to have happened on land surrounding Whitton Farm, near Morebattle, on December 20 last year, however.
Their trial, at Jedburgh Sheriff Court, centred on video footage covertly filmed by investigators from the League Against Cruel Sports.
It was claimed the huntsmen breached the terms of the 2002 Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act.
An exemption in the act permits hounds to search for foxes and then flush them out for waiting gunmen to shoot them to avoid a chase.
Sheriff Peter Paterson was critical of the wording of the current legislation regarding searching and flushing out of foxes.
Following legal submissions, he found there was no case to answer against hunt master Mr Allen as there was no fox to be seen in the part of the video he featured in and therefore no need for waiting guns.
Accordingly, he found Mr Allen, of Eildon, near Melrose, not guilty of the charge and told him he was free to leave the dock.
The trial of whipper-in Mr Anderson, also of Eildon, continued, and during his evidence he said he made every attempt to control the dogs when a fox emerged.
Sheriff Paterson ruled that the word deliberately meant Anderson intended to commit the offence of flushing out the fox for dogs to chase, but he added that after considering the evidence, the crown had failed to prove that and there was reasonable doubt.
He told Mr Anderson: “It is an offence when you deliberately allow the chase. That is what the legislation is all about, but it was your intention to stop the chase.”
Sheriff Paterson added that for those reasons he found Anderson not guilty.
Following yesterday’s verdict, Jamie Stewart, director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance said: “Clearly we are pleased that both Mr Allen and Mr Anderson have been found not guilty of the charge against them.
“It is frustrating when cases end up in court with little or no evidence against them.
“We welcome Sheriff Paterson’s judgement and hope it is taken into account in the future.”
Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “This case highlights how the legislation needs to be strengthened and does not work at the moment.
“As has been the case on a number of occasions in the past, failings in the law which supposedly bans hunting in Scotland have made prosecution extremely difficult.
“Today’s outcome simply reinforces our view that the law is not fit for purpose and isn’t worth the paper it is written on.
“We hope today will act as a wake up call to the Scottish Government that it must act now to improve the law.”
He said the flushing to gun exemption needed to be removed from the act and the number of dogs that are present reduced to two.
In the 16 years since the act was introduced north of the border, there has been only one successful prosecution for mounted fox-hunting.