Huntsman Tony Wright yesterday denied breaking the law by chasing foxes across Exmoor.

The Exmoor Foxhounds rider (52), is accused of acting in "wilful disregard" of the Hunting Act in a private prosecution brought by the League Against Cruel Sports.

Wright, of Exmoor Kennels, Simonsbath, Exmoor, pleaded not guilty at an earlier hearing to a charge of hunting a fox on April 29 last year contrary to the Hunting Act 2004.

But yesterday he insisted that what he was doing complied with an exemption contained in the Act.

As far as he was concerned, permission had been obtained to hunt over the land and they were only using two hounds as the Act stipulated.

He told defence counsel David Williams QC that he was aware the hounds had to be kept under close enough control for the fox to be shot as soon as possible.

Prosecuting for the League, Richard Furlong claimed Wright hunted two foxes with hounds in circumstances which were in "clear breach" of the Act.

Save for the fact that only two hounds were used, his activities bore all the hallmarks of "traditional hunting", said Mr Furlong.

Wright, who became huntsman at the Exmoor Foxhounds in 1982, said they were aware they were in the public eye.

He said that when the first fox was found that day, he stopped the hounds, because they had turned away from the direction where the hunt marksman was waiting.

Wright did the same thing with a second fox, denying that he had been sounding his horn to encourage the hounds to chase.

Later in the day he heard the hounds "speaking" when they got scent of a fox, and told the court "there was a shot in the valley".

He said marksman Ian Marfleet, who was on a quad bike, radioed to tell him: "I have shot a fox."

Wright told the court the hunt flushed a total of five foxes that day, one of which was shot and killed.

What happened was a "prolonged period of pursuit" of the foxes by hounds in Wright's charge which the League said was hunting within the Act and not covered by the exemption.

The case, which continues, is the first prosecution to be brought under the Act.