THREE leading members of the Sinnington Hunt were cleared by a judge this week of allegations made under the 2004 Hunting Act, at the end of a three-day hearing.

Anthony Graham Winter, 44, master of the Sinnington Hunt, of Sykehead Lane, Nawton, Helmsley, his partner, Caroline Scott, 37, whipper-in of the hounds, and hunt follower Wilfred Gamble, 65, of Beckett Close, Nawton, had each pleaded not guilty to hunting a fox with dogs in December last year, contrary to the Hunting Act.

District judge Simon Hickey had adjourned the case on Friday after submissions were made by Robert Woodcock, QC for the defendants, and the Countryside Alliance, that there were no cases to answer against the three.

On the resumption of the hearing on Monday, Judge Hickey agreed there was no case to answer against Ms Scott, but wanted further evidence from the defence regarding Mr Winter and Mr Gamble.

Mr Woodcock said they would not give evidence but he would present their case.

The evidence, produced by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) had been “weak” he said, adding that a fox seen on a video clip taken by one of four officials of the LACS showed it wandering across the former Wombleton Airfield near Kirkbymoorside, with the hounds going in the opposite direction.

“Clearly the fox was not being hunted,” he told the hearing at Scarborough Court.

At an earlier part of the hearing, John Paul Swoboda for the Crown Prosecution Service, claimed the three were not trail hunting, as had been claimed.

The LACS officials had kept watch on the hunt for two hours from a copse on the edge of the airfield.

Tim Bonner, spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said after the aquittals that the judge had taken the view that the hunt’s activities were consistent with trail hunting.

“The fox was just wandering across the airfield and the hounds were moving slowly in the opposite direction.”

He added: “The case will have cost tens of thousands of pounds – probably as much as £100,000. In these times of economic stringency you have to question why such a case was brought when the evidence was so weak. But the law is the law as it stands at present. We understand the Government has other priorities but we hope the Act will be repealed later in this Parliamentary session.”

Steve Taylor, of the LACS, said following the case: “We are very disappointed. We believe the members of the hunt were acting suspiciously, though we have to respect the outcome. There are still significant questions for the hunt to answer, especially why they were operating on land from which they were banned by the owner, and why there were three freshly-dug holes, a small pool of blood and fox fur found in the wood near the airfield.”

He added that LACS believed support for the Hunting Act was now strong in Parliament.