TWO men have been found not guilty of animal welfare and hunting offences after a fox was dug out of a hole and stabbed to death.

Northallerton Magistrates’ Court heard on Friday that Andrew Lee of Peterlee and Mark Baxter of Horden both had permission to hunt vermin on land at Sandhutton near Thirsk last December.

The trial heard that the pair were hunting with dogs and a shotgun but the police were called after a witness saw them digging for around an hour before throwing a dead fox up out of the hole.

Mr Lee, 39, of Barsloan Grove, and Mr Baxter, 40, of Morpeth Street were charged with causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal, hunting a wild mammal with dogs and inflicting unnecessary suffering to a wild animal.

They denied all charges.

Mr Lee said that they had been hunting rabbits with two young boys and only began digging because one of the dachshunds had disappeared underground.

He said that two lurchers were being held on leads by the boys but the dogs broke free and went for the fox when it emerged from the hole.

Mr Lee then stabbed the fox, saying his intention was to prevent its suffering.

He said: “As far as I am concerned I dealt with a bad situation as best as I could.”

A postmortem report showed the fox died instantly from the stab wound and not from injuries inflicted by the dogs, which included a broken jaw.

One of the lurchers had a cut nose and face but it was not established whether the injuries were caused by the other lurcher or by the fox.

After retiring for around an hour, magistrate Scott Handley said the bench could not be sure beyond reasonable doubt that the criminal standard for hunting a fox with dogs had been met.

The men were cleared of all charges.