WITH VIDEO: Three people yesterday became the first to be convicted of illegal fox hunting in Sussex.

Neill Millard, Rachel Holdsworth and Andrew Phillis, from the Crawley and Horsham Hunt, were yesterday found guilty of hunting a wild mammal with a dog in the first prosecution of its kind to be brought in the county.

Video footage of hounds “in full cry” chasing a fox at hunt meets at Marlpost Wood, Southwater, on January 18 2011 and Shermanbury Place on January 25, 2011 had been shown to the court during a seven-day trial.

The hunt said members were legitimately trail hunting but district judge Stephen Nicholls said he was “not satisfied” that was the case.

Trail layer and “whipper-in” Holdsworth, of Rock Road, Washington, near Storrington, and field master Millard, of Dragons Lane, Shipley, near Horsham, were each fined £1,000.

Both were ordered to pay £2,500 in costs. Phillis, from Devon, will be sentenced at a later date. The maximum penalty is a £5,000 fine.

It is the ninth prosecution under the Act involving a pack of hounds since the ban came into force in February 2005.

In one of the videos Holdsworth was seen holding a riding crop with a duster on the end as if laying an artificial scent, but Judge Nicholls said this was done “for the benefit of the cameras”.

The case against joint master of the hunt Henry James Hawksfield was dismissed at an earlier hearing.

Phillis was cleared yesterday of an offence at the meet at Shermanbury when a fox was seen dead.

Judge Nicholls told Haywards Heath Magistrates’ Court yesterday that “no effort” was made to call off the hounds at the January 25 hunt.

Yesterday hunt monitors said the verdict would put more pressure on local groups to abide by the law.

Simon Wild, who shot some of the footage of the meets that was used as evidence, told The Argus: “This has done our credibility a great deal of good with police.

“I am sure we will be able to build up the pressure on this hunt and other hunts in the area.”

‘Good day’ Animal activist Terry Hill, who also gave evidence at the trial, said: “It’s a good day today, not just for those monitors and observers who dedicate their time in helping to protect wildlife, but also for wild mammals across the UK.

“Somebody has to stand up for our wild animals.”

The Countryside Alliance said it was “very disappointed” at the result.

Tim Bonner, from the alliance, said: “This was a long and complicated trial. |We never believed there was the evidence to sustain a conviction and we still don’t believe so.”

A Sussex Police spokesman said: “The introduction of the 2004 Hunting Act was extremely emotive on both sides of the hunting spectrum and continues to be strongly debated.

“Evidence was provided that the accused had committed offences under the Act and following early consultation with the CPS an investigation commenced and subsequently charges were made.

“It is the duty of the police to uphold the law and wherever offences such as this come to light, we will seek to bring them to justice.”