TWO men found guilty of hunting with dogs have had an appeal against the judgement dismissed.

Huntsman Richard Down, 44, from West Bagborough, and whipper-in Adrian Pillivant, 36 from Willand in Devon were found guilty of breaching hunting laws while out with the Quantock Staghounds and fined by magistrates back in June.

They always said they were acting within the remits of "Exempt Hunting" and appealed against the verdict earlier this month, backed by the Countryside Alliance.

But on Friday, a High Court Judge sitting at Taunton Crown Court handed out a judgement dismissing their appeal.

In the first appeal of its kind The Honourable Mr Justice Wyn Williams ruled that although both men did not set out to break the law, their activities did not constitute "Exempt Hunting", where the practice of finding, flushing and shooting at the first available opportunity must be adhered to.

The case was brought after two representatives from the League Against Cruel Sports filmed members of the Quantock Staghounds during a hunt in February.

Prosecution barrister Richard Furlong claimed the men were hunting for sport, chasing the deer and not shooting at the first available opportunity.

Defence barrister Neil Ford QC had said that given the complexity of the provision with regard to hunting deer, it was reasonable for the appellants to believe they were taking part in Exempt Hunting.

In conclusion the judgment states: "We consider that the appellants have failed to discharge the burden upon them to prove that they were actually engaged in exempt hunting."

Outside court the League Against Cruel Sports prosecutions manager Mike Hobday said: "We are delighted with the verdict. This is not just about two individuals - it affects hunts across the country."

Solicitor Tim Hayden, speaking on behalf of Mr Pillivant and Mr Down said: "There are a number of things in this judgement that do encourage the hunt.

"The Quantock Staghounds will be ensuring that it continues lawful hunting."

Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart added: "We remain convinced that Richard Down and Adrian Pillivant believed what they were doing on that day in February 2006 was legal hunting. Surely it cannot be reasonable to have expected these men to have interpreted a law, which even its supporters describe as ambiguous, in exactly the same way as a High Court Judge."