A HUNTER who put a picture of a fox head on the internet in a controversial attempt to "spark debate" has lost a court bid to have his gun licences back.

Mark Lowery caused worldwide fury with the image of the decapitated animal and claims he had death threats and menacing messages about his wife being harmed.

Despite a previous warning from police over an incident when he "intimidated" a former tenant with a gun, Mr Lowery again acted "irresponsibly", a judge said.

The Northern Echo: A campaign to get Mark Lowery removed from Facebook was launched after he posted pictures of a fox head

The 45-year-old said he expected a backlash from anti-hunting campaigners, but not on the scale it occurred - although he said it "was just all talk".

He told Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, sitting with magistrates at Teesside Crown Court: "I wanted to show people how vile and nasty the antis and saboteurs are."

Yesterday's hearing was given details of a number of "provocative" postings keen shooter Mr Lowery had made on Facebook and a countryside debate forum.

Above the picture of the fox - which he says he cut up but did not kill - stuck on a spike, he wrote: "Dear anti c***s. You are warned, love Mark."

He also posted "one Facebook ban = one fox" and later wrote: "F*** you antis. You have cost a fox which was not near a farm or any livestock its life."

Mr Lowery, who lives near Hartlepool, and now claims he has never shot a fox in his life, also told opponents: "Just for you, any more bans and another fox dies."

Sergeant Gary Hatton told the court: "He brought the threats upon himself through his own irresponsibility. He probably got more than he bargained for."

Cleveland Police deputy chief constable Iain Spittal said: "He is the type of individual to behave in an irresponsible manner and this gave me concern for the safety of the public.

"It is the duty of the police to protect people from harm, and on this basis it is not appropriate for him to continue to have ready access to firearms."

Mr Lowery told the court that the account given to police by his former tenant - who he described as a criminal and drug-addict - was "mostly a work of fiction".

He said a Christmas Eve Facebook photo of a shotgun up his chimney with a mince pie on the end and a note "bring it on you fat f***ing burglar" was "just a joke".

There were more than 600 comments on the fox head picture, and Mr Lowery said some said they would would throw acid in his face and they wished he had cancer.

His lawyer, Lewis Perry, told the judge and magistrates: "This has been a witch-hunt and it should not prevent him from taking part in an activity that he enjoys."

The tribunal refused the appeal and Judge Bourne-Arton said police were right to revoke Mr Lowery's shotgun, firearms and explosives licences earlier this year.

He described as "the height of irresponsible conduct" Mr Lowery's telling police his gun was "the ultimate deterrent" during his dispute with his tenant.

The judge ruled that the picture of the decapitated fox was posted in January to give the impression he had killed the animal whether he had or not.

"It was suggested by Mr Perry to the officer that Mr Lowery could not have expected the degree and extent of the reaction, but he did nothing to dispel it.

"Indeed, he made things worse by subsequent postings," said Judge Bourne-Arton. "That is not Mr Lowery acting in anything like a responsible fashion."

Outside of court, Mr Lowery, who was ordered to pay costs of £2,500, said he was disappointed, and said: "I would appeal again if I had any money."

At the time of the furore, Mr Lowery admitted the image of the fox head was "grotesque" but added: "Yes, it was a living thing but would there have been such an uproar if it had been a rat’s head on a pencil?"

Today, he claimed it was no different to the kind of pictures he regularly put on social media sites such as a row of pheasants he has killed, lying next to his gun.