A TRAIL hunt group has defended itself against claims made by an animal welfare charity, which has called on a council to ban its traditional Boxing Day meetings.

The League Against Cruel Sports (LEAGUE) wrote to the leader of North Yorkshire County Council asking him to enforce a ban on annual Boxing Day meetings held by Middleton Hunt in Malton’s market place.

In the letter, the charity alleged members from the Malton-based Middleton Hunt had chased a fox to exhaustion during a trail hunt in December.

However, the hunt has rejected what is says are "spurious" claims.

A spokesperson for the Middleton Hunt said: “The Middleton Hunt operates within the law to comply with the Hunting Act 2004.

"However, it is one of many hunts that are regularly subjected to spurious allegations regarding their legal hunting activities.

“Health and safety is of the upmost importance to the hunt and arrangements are always put in place to enable our activities to be conducted in a safe, legal and sensible way.

“The Boxing Day meet is such a special day for the rural community that it would be a travesty if North Yorkshire County Council was pressurised to cancel this popular festive event.”

Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales in 2004, but trail hunting, where a scent is laid for a pack of dogs to follow instead, is seen as a legal alternative.

But LEAGUE said it believes trail hunting allows hunt dogs to detect the wrong scent, resulting in the death of foxes and hares.

Chris Luffingham director of campaigns at LEAGUE said: “A fox has been chased and killed by hounds under the control of the Middleton Hunt, which is permitted by North Yorkshire County Council to hold one of its most prestigious meets in Malton market place.

“This brutal incident, in which a wild animal has lost its life after being torn apart by a pack of dogs, not only reflects on the hunt itself – but anybody who allows them to continue operating.”

Police said they have not received any reports which matched the date of the alleged incident.

Council leader Carl Les said: “Hunts have been part of rural life and the rural economy for many years. There is legislation in place to regulate how hunts operate. As long as hunts are carried out in strict accordance with the law, and with due regard to public safety, I do not believe we should seek to ban them on public land, and indeed we have no powers to act over private land such as Malton Market Place.”