THE RSPCA has defended its decision to prosecute a Cotswold hunt which admitted illegally hunting foxes yesterday.

Video footage shot around the North Cotswolds, including Bourton-on-the-Water, was recorded by hunt monitors and passed on to the RSPCA which then launhed its own undercover operation.

That results in yesterday's successful prosecution of the Oxfordshire-based Heythrop Hunt, retired huntsman Julian Barnfield 49, of Hunstmans House, Heythrop Hunt Kennels, Chipping Norton, and retired huntmaster Richard Sumner, 68, of Penhill Farm, Salperton.

The RSPCA prosecution is estimated to have cost in excess of £250,000.

Following the hearing, RSPCA chief inspector Mike Butcher said: "The evidence in this case was incontrovertible - it clearly showed hounds being encouraged to pursue a fox."

The charity's chief executive, Gavin Grant, added: "These defendants were well aware that they were breaking the law in that their actions would lead to a fox being torn apart by dogs.

"No doubt the hunt will say that those involved have now left and they had no knowledge of this crime.

"But the evidence of the deliberate hunting of foxes with dogs on many occasions is crystal clear.

"The truth is this hunt believed that they were above the law - they were wrong.

"This law protects our beautiful wild animals.

"We will ensure that it is enforced as Parliament intended.

"The RSPCA is also clear that we welcome people enjoying their horses in the countryside.

"We will work with those that do so and act within the law."

A statement on behalf of the independent monitors who filmed the footage which led to the prosecution, praised the RSPCA for taking action and urged greater action from authorities saying it "must not be left to private individuals and charities" to enforce the law.

"This prosecution should teach hunts that they can no longer ride roughshod over the law of the land," it continued. "The hunts should be aware that they are being watched.

"We will not rest until we see this illegal animal abuse stamped out once and for all."