THOUSANDS of supporters turned out at hunt meets across the region on Saturday in a show of defiance against the new hunting ban.

On the first weekend since the ban came into force on Friday, the hunting lobby gathered to demonstrate their continued battle against the legislation outlawing hunting with dogs.

Supporters vowed to back a Countryside Alliance-led campaign to take the case for removal of the ban - which they say was pushed through parliament using an invalid law - to the European Courts.

Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "This legislation is based on prejudice and bigotry, rather than any logical attempt to improve animal welfare and, as such, was always going to be deeply flawed."

Despite the ban, it is estimated that almost as many foxes were killed as on previous hunt dates in what organisers say was a lawful way of continuing the sport.

Foxes were flushed out of hiding by up to two hounds or terriers, shot and the carcass dragged across the countryside, leaving a trail for hounds to follow.

Mark Shotton, master of the South Durham Hunt, based in Prime Minister Tony Blair's Sedgefield constituency, said: "During a traditional hunt, if a fox gets into earth, it has won. The tables have now turned.

"We could set a drag up to that earth, dig out the fox, kill it and feed it to the hounds. This is what will happen."

Police videoed meetings across County Durham, Northumberland and North Yorkshire to ensure no one - hunters or anti-hunt protestors, broke the law.

Inspector Phil Curtis, of Sedgefield police, said: "We had no information to suggest there would be any problem- either from hunts or saboteurs - and there wasn't.

"Durham police will not actively seek illegal hunts at this stage, but if anyone knows of anything untoward taking place and can present us with evidence, we will investigate."