A HUNT master has had his conviction for illegal fox hunting overturned after a judge raised “significant concerns” over the Crown’s case.

Mark Pearson, 63, appeared before Bournemouth Crown Court for a two day appeal against a conviction for  illegally hunting a wild mammal with dogs  The conviction related to an incident on December 13, 2021 when it was found that Pearson had actively ‘encouraged’ a pack of dogs to hunt and kill a fox.

Mr Pearson, of Child Okeford, was leading the South Dorset Hunt through the countryside in Bere Regis when the incident occurred.

In overturning the decision, His Honour Judge Stephen Climie said the Crown has ‘failed to prove’ it was Mr Pearson’s intention for the dogs to kill the animal but did say Pearson ‘could have done more’ to prevent the death.

The court heard evidence from a witness - Charlotte Stockdale - who told the court Mr Pearson had attempted to recall the dogs once he realised the pack was ‘showing interest’.

She said: “I understood that Mark needed to get the hounds back to him as he was unhappy with what was occurring. I could hear that the hounds were interested in something. He was blowing on his horn - long repetitive notes.”

Patrick Gibbs KC, representing Mr Pearson, said the court needed to be sure that the huntsman made an ‘intentional decision’ to hunt the animal and wasn’t simply slow in his response to the dog’s aggression.

He added: “You can imagine a 20-something year old would get over the barbed wire quite a lot quicker than a 60-something year old. If he had a bit more puff he could have blown the horn a little harder perhaps.”

Olivia McGonigle, representing the CPS, said it was “not in dispute” that the 63 year old was the master of the hunt and was ‘supposed to be in control of the hounds’.

Ms McGonigle said Mr Pearson, as a self-confessed experienced hunter, “should have recognised the behaviour and should have stopped the hounds”.

Judge Climie said it was ‘of significant concern’ that the CPS did not call an expert witness in the case and there was ‘not sufficient evidence’ to find that Mr Pearson was seeking to encourage the pack to hunt a mammal.

He did, however, say that the huntsman could have done more to prevent the fox's death. It was claimed by prosecution that Mr Pearson said “carry on” on at least two occasions - something that was disputed - and, whilst the phrase could be heard in the video, the court could not ascertain with certainty who had said it.

Judge Climie said even if they could be certain who had said it then that alone would not be enough to uphold the conviction.

He said: “The most crucial part is that passage (of video) where (Pearson) reaches the gorseland and draws his whip in an effort to move the hounds away. That is clear and obvious in our judgement. 

“We are sure (Pearson) realised there was a problem and he was required to take appropriate action to minimse the risk. He took some action. That action included horn calls which, in our judgement, may well have been intending to have the hounds be recalled. Having dismounted he was then on foot for some time before he reached the location of the marking.

“In our judgement, we are critical of the appellant as to what more he could have done. It seems to us that there was more he could have done and he seemed relatively fit for a 61 year old, as he was at the time. We’re also concerned there was no further attempt to use the horn to recall the hounds.

"For those reasons we find that the Crown has fallen short of the standard of proof albeit, as we say, it is a case where it doesn’t amount to culpable behaviour leading to conviction of a criminal offence (but) there are failures in the conduct of the appellant.”