THE chairman of the Lunesdale Hunt and its huntsman have been cleared of fox hunting after an all-day trial at York Magistrates' Court.

The League Against Cruel Sports claimed it had filmed huntsman Paul Whitehead, 53, directing the hunt's hounds as they pursued one or two foxes on farmland at Ingleton on February 18 last year.

But after viewing the League's video and hearing from witnesses who took part in its covert surveillance of the hunt, the magistrates decided there was no evidence that either Mr Whitehead, or Terence Potter, chairman of Lunesdale Foxhounds Ltd, were present on the farmland on the day when fox hunting was alleged to have taken place and there was insufficient evidence that hunting was being carried out.

They threw out charges of fox hunting against both men at the end of the prosecution case.

Mr Potter, 63, of Orton, and Mr Whitehead, 53, of Sedbergh, denied one charge each.

Mr Potter was prosecuted in his capacity as a director of the hunt and the prosecution alleged that he had consented to or connived at fox hunting.

After the case, Adrian Simpson, of the Countryside Alliance, said the two men had had to wait 12 months for the case to be heard and urged the Crown Prosecution Service to look hard at cases where the League provided evidence.

"We were extremely surprised, given the evidence and the innocence of the two defendants, that the prosecution even came to court.," he said.

The CPS prosecuted the case after the League sent its evidence to North Yorkshire Police, who interviewed the two men under caution.

Two days before the case was due to be heard and at the start of the trial, the CPS applied for the trial to be postponed so that one of the league's witnesses could attend. But the defence successfully opposed both applications on the grounds that the CPS had known that the witness was not able to attend in early November and should have applied then for a different date.

Mr Simpson said the defence believed both defendants would have been acquitted even if the missing witness had been able to attend.

The magistrates said the video footage was not good evidence against the two men because of the distance between those filming it and the activities they were filming.