A HUNT master has been cleared of assaulting two campaigners who were trying to film his activities from bushes.

Gary Watchman, joint master of the South Durham Hunt, demanded that two camouflage-clad women “get off private land” when they attracted the attention of hounds in Sedgefield on February 28.

Bishop Auckland Magistrates’ Court yesterday found the 44-year-old not guilty of hitting League Against Cruel Sports protestors Lyn Edwards and Hazel Greaves with a riding crop.

They hid near the Castle Eden Walkway to film the hunt.

The court was told that when Mr Watchman discovered the pair, he became angry and said they were trespassing.

He admitted his anger with campaigners who repeatedly “crop up” at his farm, in Bradbury, and while he is out hunting.

He said: “I did not use foul language. I was annoyed because of the length of time these people have been pursuing us.”

Derek Walton, prosecuting, said there was “no love lost”

between the trio, but that the women were on public land.

Both women said he hit them with a riding crop and barged into Mrs Edwards.

They also said he tried to take equipment.

Mrs Edwards said: “He was shouting loudly, I did not know what he would do.”

Mrs Greaves said: “He was coming through the trees like a raging bull.”

Stephen Welford, defending, said Mrs Edwards had “walked into Mr Watchman”.

He said the pair pushed for an assault prosecution after failing to uncover illegal activities, and added: “They dislike what they (hunters) stand for. They dislike what they do.

“These are two people who cannot get what they want, so they have manufactured something.”

The bench acquitted Mr Watchman of both charges.

Chairman Glynn Wales said: “If you had known where the land boundaries were, this whole thing would never have arisen.”

Speaking after the trial, South Durham Hunt chairman John Littlefair said: “It is a shame an innocent person has had to wait nine months to be found not guilty of these allegations.”