Senior huntsman faces fox cub cruelty claims
A hunt's master of hounds was caught by a covert camera as he prepared to feed live fox cubs to his dogs, a court has heard.
Birmingham Magistrates' Court was told Paul Oliver, from near Spalding, who worked for the South Herefordshire Hunt, claimed to have used an axe to kill foxes but denied throwing the animals to his hounds at their kennels.
A terrierman linked to the hunt and a woman accused of cruelty pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to fox cubs as Oliver's trial began on Thursday.
Julie Elmore, aged 55, of Brynarw estate near Abergavenny, and Paul Reece, aged 48, from Itton, near Chepstow in south Wales, will be sentenced
later after admitting two counts of causing unnecessary suffering on dates in May 2016.
Opening the case against Oliver, kennel maid Hannah Rose and terrierman Nathan Parry, who are accused of the same offence, prosecutor Simon Davis said: "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.
"Oliver and Rose were employed by the South Herefordshire Hunt, based at Wormelow, as master of hounds, and a kennel maid or groom.
"Mr Parry was not employed there but was known locally as a terrierman.
"Reece was a terrierman and an associate of Parry."
The court was told a hidden camera was 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 inquiries established that gamekeepers had given permission for the animals to be destroyed on the land.
But prosecutors claim fox cubs were killed by hounds at the kennels, where hidden cameras caught them being moved around, before two were found dead in a wheelie bin.
Mr Davis alleged that the camera provided "significant" evidence against Oliver, including footage which he claimed showed him lifting fox cubs out of a cage and entering the kennels.
A stick with a noose attached, known as a grasper, is also said to have been used during the alleged cruelty.
Parry (40) also of Brynarw estate, denies four charges of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal.
Oliver (40) and Rose (30) both of Sutton Crosses, near Spalding, also deny four counts of animal cruelty.
At the start of the hearing, lawyers acting for the defendants standing trial made brief submissions to the district judge trying the case.
Sara-Lise Howe, for Rose, said: "She was not involved in any hunting activity.
"She was not involved and did not cause the death of the foxes.
"She simply didn't know about it."
Clive Rees, representing Oliver, submitted that there was no evidence whatsoever to show that he killed two of the foxes which are the subject of the charges.
The court heard that Oliver claimed he had relocated fox cubs ahead of a Defra inspection, killing them with an axe blow to the head, and had never fed any animals to his hounds.
Veterinary surgeon David Martin was the first witness in the case, telling the court one cub had no sign of any head injury, while another had a "blunt trauma" injury to its head.