£2,065 court bill for gamekeeper who put pregnant fox in tiny barrel

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TWO men using terriers to flush foxes from underground dens put a live pregnant vixen in a tiny barrel because the gamekeeper “didn’t have the heart” to shoot her as the law required.

Police were called by children’s home staff to investigate a report that shooting was taking place and men were in their field on April 25 last year, Spalding magistrates heard.

Officers went to Fen Road, Holbeach, and found gamekeeper John Bycroft (67), who is the terrier man to the Fitzwilliam Hunt, and Jamie Round (24) nearby with an open horsebox with a plastic barrel inside.

The barrel measured just 75cms high and 30cms across and contained a live fox.

The court heard Bycroft intended to release the fox elsewhere, but police ordered her to be freed on the spot.

Bycroft, of Weston Hills Road, Low Fulney, denied one offence under the Hunting Act 2004 and one under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but both were proved at the end of a two day RSPCA prosecution.

He was ordered to pay a total of £2,065 – comprising fines of £525 for each offence, £1,000 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

Jobless Round, of Penny Hill, Holbeach, denied identical offences.

He was acquitted of the Hunting Act charge but found guilty of the Welfare Act charge which involved confining the fox in a barrel with insufficient light, space, ventilation and a suitable environment to exhibit normal behaviour.

Round was fined £165 and must pay £100 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

Beris Brickles, prosecuting, said Bycroft asked for and was denied consent to be on the children’s home land.

The court heard the fox was caught on a dyke bank outside the home’s boundary fence and Bycroft had written consent to be on the neighbouring land.

Bycroft and Round said all that happened on the children’s home land was digging to free a terrier that was trapped underground.

Magistrates found neither man breached the trespass element of Hunting Act law, but Bycroft alone breached the provision requiring him to shoot the fox as soon as reasonably practical.

Solicitor Daven Naghen said Round did not have a gun and expected Bycroft to shoot the animal.

Mr Naghen warned against ascribing human feelings to the fox as its ten minutes in the barrel could have been the happiest of its life.

Solicitor Rachel Stevens said Bycroft is held in high regard as a gamekeeper and felt shooting the fox would have caused unnecessary suffering to her cubs. There were ground nesting birds on the site where she was captured and he wanted to release her elsewhere.