More Trouble at Hunts as Blair Sidelines Issue; FIELD SPORTS: 'Woman Injured' in Scuffles

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Byline: TONY TRAINOR

ANIMAL-RIGHTS campaigners disrupted hunt meetings across the country yesterday as pressure mounted on the Government to ban fox-hunting.

Scuffles broke out when 60 protesters demonstrated at a gathering of Tredegar Hunt at Bassaleg, near Newport.

Members of the South Wales branch of Fauna, Friends of Animals Under Abuse, alleged that an elderly woman protester was hurt in one of two confrontations. She was said to be shaken but no one was arrested.

Hunts had gathered for traditional Boxing Day meets across Britain, including the Davies Davies at Llanidloes and the South Pembrokeshire at Creswell Quay, and some decided to gather in isolated countryside spots after facing angry demonstrations in recent years.

The protests came as a host of celebrities led by Sir Paul McCartney wrote to Prime Minister Tony Blair urging a ban.

Baroness Mallalieu, president of the field-sports lobby group Countryside Alliance, said there was no likelihood of Parliament banning hunting. The issue was a long way down its agenda, she said.

However, the chairman of the allparty animal-welfare group in the House of Commons, Ian Cawsey, Labour MP for Brigg and Goole, said he believed Labour would stick to its manifesto promise of giving MPs a free vote on the issue.

Up to 1,000 people gathered just over the border in Malpas, Cheshire, yesterday and 1,000 gathered at Denbigh for the Flint and Denbigh Hunt, which coincided with the town's World Barrel Rolling Championship.

At Haverfordwest 20 protesters assembled for the start of the Pembrokeshire Hunt.

At Abergavenny, an area hit hard by foot-and-mouth this year, more than 300 people turned out to support the local hunt, the biggest turnout for several years.

Darren Hughes, of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, said the number of hunt supporters outnumbered protesters by at least 100-1.

The director of the alliance's campaign for hunting, Simon Hart, said about 50 Welsh hunts had gone ahead, with the exception of rural areas in Cheshire and Powys. …