THE Hunting Act cannot be repealed soon enough, according to the chief executive of the Countryside Alliance following another unsuccessful prosecution attempt.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has dropped charges brought against three members of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds.

In 2006, Maurice Scott, joint huntmaster, from Watchet, huntsman Donald Summersgill and Peter Heard, a whipper-in, of Exford, were charged with illegal stag hunting.

The breach was said to have taken place at Higher Brodford, near Dulverton, on April 25.

The three pleaded not guilty, claiming their hunting was “exempt” – using two dogs to hunt red deer for “research and observation”, including the testing of deer for diseases – and therefore legal.

Their case was put on hold while a High Court appeal involving Tony Wright, of Exmoor Foxhounds, took place.

Mr Wright also claimed he was “exempt hunting”, saying his two dogs were flushing out a fox to be shot by a marksman.

Last month the court upheld Mr Wright’s appeal, ruling that the word “hunt” did not include searching for the purposes of stalking or flushing and that it was up to the prosecution to prove the defendant was not covered by such an exemption.

And now the CPS has admitted there was “no longer a realistic prospect of a conviction” in the latest case.

A spokesman added: “We have decided that there is now insufficient evidence to prove that the defendants’ actions fell outside the exemptions stated in the Hunting Act.”

Mr Scott said: “This is a huge relief, not just for myself and the others facing charges, but for hunting as a whole. We were always convinced that what we were doing was legal.”

Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, added: “There are no reasonable arguments left for retaining the Hunting Act and it’s repeal cannot come soon enough.”

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said he felt the High Court’s decision would clarify the law and clear up any confusion around what is and is not illegal hunting.