THE Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to contest a High Court ruling in favour of an Exmoor huntsman has fatally weakened the Hunting Act, according to hunt supporters.

Tony Wright, 53, of the Exmoor Foxhounds, was the first person to be prosecuted under the Hunting Act 2004, which bans hunting with hounds, after being filmed apparently chasing a fox with dogs.

He successfully appealed against the decision, saying his two dogs were flushing out a fox to be shot by a marksman.

The CPS has warned it could still bring other prosecutions under the act.

Mr Wright, of Simonsbath, was fined £500 and ordered to pay £250 costs in August 2006 following a private prosecution brought by the League Against Cruel Sports. He appealed, claiming he was hunting legally under an ‘exemption’.

The High Court upheld Mr Wright’s appeal last month, ruling that the word ‘hunt’ did not include searching for the purposes of stalking or flushing. The court said it was up to the prosecution to prove the defendant was not covered by such an exemption, although it was necessary for the defendant to prove what he/she was doing.

Other trials, including one involving men from the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, have been put on hold while awaiting the ruling.

But the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, said: “The fact that the CPS has decided not to take this to the House of Lords does not mean that there will be no more prosecutions under the Hunting Act.”

He added: “We have considered the High Court judgement carefully and sought counsel’s advice and have decided that the rulings should be accepted and no further appeal be made.”

Mr Starmer said the CPS would be reviewing other cases currently pending.

Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart said: “The decision not to appeal is an admission that the law is in a mess. The only sensible option is to get rid of this badly drafted, unfair and illiberal piece of legislation.”