Landowner convicted of hare coursing

A Norfolk landowner and her colleague were convicted of hare coursing yesterday after a judge ruled that their “sincere” attempt to legally beat the hunting ban had failed.

A Norfolk landowner and her colleague were convicted of hare coursing last week after a judge ruled that their "sincere" attempt to legally beat the hunting ban had failed.

Mary Birkbeck, 77, and Les Anderson, 80, were found guilty of attending and facilitating two illegal coursing events in November 2007 and January this year.

Birkbeck was also convicted of allowing land on her Little Massingham estate in north-west Norfolk to be used for the meetings, where hares were pursued across fields by muzzled greyhounds.

The pair were given conditional discharges and ordered to pay £1,000 each in costs, but escaped further punishment as district judge Philip Browning said he was satisfied a genuine effort had been made to stay within the law.

Hare coursing was outlawed with the introduction of the Hunting Act in 2005, which prompted Anderson, the chairman of Kimberley and Wymondham Greyhound Club, to commission a rulebook for a new sport of greyhound field trialling in an attempt to comply with the legislation.

The regulations said the dogs would be judged on their ability to drive hares towards guns, rather than judging their skill in hunting and "turning" their quarry, which was the objective before the ban.

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King's Lynn Magistrates' Court was told that Anderson, of Lodge Road, Feltwell, had been involved with coursing for 62 years and sought legal advice and police permission before organising the events.

Mr Browning said: "In my judgment, the activities of both dogs and hares are indistinguishable from hare coursing. The dogs are supposed to be judged on different criteria but the activity is the same. That activity is hare coursing and the steps taken to create a different sport without breaking the law have not succeeded. Having made that judgment, I consider that sincere attempts have been made to conduct these activities within the law."

The judge gave Birkbeck and Anderson the discharges providing no further offences were committed within two years.

After the hearing, Anderson said: "I would very much like to have been found not guilty, but what we have got I am not dissatisfied with. At least we showed we tried, but we have not succeeded. As far as the club goes, I have a two-year order on me now so we will have to be very careful. We have got some very loyal members, so we shall still be a club and we will keep together."

The court heard that the differences between hare coursing and Anderson's field trialling were that dogs were to be muzzled, judges would no longer be on horseback and that guns would be present.

Anderson told the court there were mesh fences around the trialling field with an 11in gap at the bottom which would enable the hares to escape into an adjacent shooting field but prevent the dogs from following them. Four men with guns were positioned tothe hares as they escaped the trialling field.

Stephen Welford, defending, said: "Mr Anderson has taken on board the recommendations of others and set up an organisation to carry out field trial events which are not hare coursing. It is a free-standing, independent organisation where greyhounds are utilised in a legal manner for sporting assessment and for

pleasure. The dogs were not assessed for their skill in hunting but as to their usefulness in connection with shooting."