ONE of the North-East's leading gamekeepers has protested his innocence after he was accused of breaking the law by using a dog to hunt and catch stoats.

Lindsay Waddell has been cited by the League Against Cruel Sports for using his dog, Bully, for hunting on the moors of Upper Teesdale, County Durham, where he is head gamekeeper for Lord Barnard.

The league's complaint to Durham Police claims that Mr Waddell, who is chairman of the National Gamekeepers Organisation, "should clearly know that this activity is illegal".

But Mr Waddell said yesterday that what he does is within the law because the dog simply finds and flushes out the stoats, which he then shoots.

He said: "This is only illegal if you deliberately allow a dog to kill a stoat, and I don't do that.

"As long as you don't use dogs to kill things you are not doing anything wrong.

"We will have to wait and see what the police make of this. But it is quite clear that you are allowed to use a dog as a finding and flushing agent."

Bully, a trained German wirehaired pointer, lives in Mr Waddell's house with his family, and walks the moors with him every day.

The complaint, sent by Mike Hobday, head of the league's prosecution unit, is headed Claims of breach of the Hunting Act in Durham.

It follows an article in the Shooting Times in which Mr Waddell described his methods of dealing with stoats.

Mr Waddell said yesterday: "Stoats have to be put down because they are noted predators of black grouse.

"These birds are on the Government's Biodiversity Action Plan, which means action is needed to help their population recover. A lot of gamekeepers use terriers and other dogs to find and flush out stoats - along with other vermin, such as weasels, minx and rats - so that they can be shot. This is perfectly legal under the Hunting Act."

Mr Waddell checked the exact wording of the Act, then pointed out that it states a dog can be used for flushing out wild mammals, as long as they are then killed as quickly as possible by a responsible person. He said he has shot large numbers of stoats and other vermin over the years.

A police spokesman said they had not received a complaint about Mr Waddell, but would investigate if it is received.