Police and crime commissioner David Keane is to review whether Cheshire Constabulary is meeting its obligations when it comes to upholding the laws around fox hunting.
Hunting with hounds became illegal under the Hunting Act 2004 but many hunts lay a scent for the hounds to follow pursued by riders on horseback and others on foot.
Such practices are perfectly legal but opponents suspect so-called trail hunting can be a cover for actual hunting as it is difficult to prove otherwise when there are claims a fox was killed accidentally.
Mr Keane has agreed to take action after being contacted by concerned politicians and residents.
He said: “The issue of illegal fox hunting has been raised directly with my office by a number of Cheshire MPs and by members of the public.
“I am currently drawing up terms of reference for an in-depth review which will culminate in public scrutiny of how Cheshire Constabulary is meeting its obligations to uphold the laws around fox hunting.”
Weaver Vale MP Mike Amesbury raised the issue in Parliament after receiving several reports of alleged illegal foxhunting in and around the Cheshire area.
He asked Home Secretary Amber Rudd: “What assessment has she made of the extent of illegal foxhunting in Cheshire; and what steps are her department taking to prevent illegal foxhunting in that county?”
In a response, Home Office minister Nick Hurd said it was ‘an operational matter for the police’.
The MP has since followed up the allegations with the RSPCA and Cheshire Constabulary.
Police told him legal trail hunting – where hounds hunt a ‘scent’ rather than a fox – ‘occasionally’ meant the hounds tracked and killed a fox even if this was not the original intent, and that legislation was currently strongly geared towards ‘determining intent’ rather than outcome.
Mr Amesbury said: “I want to see a robust review of the policing response to this and I’ll be speaking with the police and crime commissioner and asking him to look at how these allegations are handled and investigated.”
He added: “The government response also gives the view that it’s not their problem, but that’s not the view of people in my constituency.”
Peter Jones, secretary of the Cheshire Hunt, told the BBC said fox kills were ‘very rare’ and that the hunts ‘didn’t go out with the intention of killing foxes’. He added that the kills had ‘just happened, it was just an accident’.
Cheshire Against the Hunt, who held a protest against the Cheshire Forest Hunt’s meet at Arley Hall at the weekend, welcomed the review.
A spokesperson said: “We were pleased to hear this week that Cheshire Police are going to be reviewing their handling of illegal fox hunting. We believe it’s badly needed, as despite an embarrassment of evidence gathered here in Cheshire, illegal fox hunting is rarely investigated or prosecuted, and we urgently need to see that change.
“The police have a duty to implement the laws of the land, and one of those laws says very clearly that hunting foxes with dogs is a criminal activity.”