THREE hunt members have been cleared of unlawfully pursuing a fox after a three-day court hearing.

The case, at Scarborough Magistrates' Court, centred around allegations that members of Sinnington Foxhounds hunt had pursued the fox near Wombleton Airfield, near Pickering, in December last year.

The case was heard last week, with the judgement given today.

The court ruled that whipper-in Caroline Scott had no case to answer, with not guilty verdicts returned on huntsman Tony Winter and hunt supporter Wilf Gamble.

Employees of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) covertly filmed the hunt and gathered evidence upon which the prosecution was based.

The court ruled, however, that hunt was not pursuing a fox seen crossing the airfield in the video, and that their activity was consistent with legal trail hunting.

This was the first prosecution in North Yorkshire under the Hunting Act, which came into force in 2005.

Alice Barnard, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "We are very pleased for Tony, Caroline, Wilf and all supporters of the Sinnington Hunt.

"But there have to be questions surrounding why this case ever got to court.

"The case has taken up police and CPS time and three days in a Magistrates Court at taxpayers' expense, all over a video of a fox that was not being hunted.

"Hunts must be able to carry out legal hunting and trail hunting without being dragged through the courts as a result of allegations made by animal rights groups.

"While trying to operate within the Hunting Act, innocent hunt staff and supporters are being subjected to the intense stress of investigation and prosecution.

"This result has demonstrated yet again why the Hunting Act has failed and should be repealed."

A spokeswoman for LACS described the ruling as "disappointing".