TWO men who were convicted of animal cruelty after dragging a trapped fox from a tunnel during a hunt in Oxfordshire have been spared jail.

Ian James Kirby Parkinson, 65, of Lower Road, Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, and Mark Anthony Vincent, 53, of Kimblewick, Aylesbury, were both found guilty last month at Oxford Magistrates’ Court.

They were charged with one count each of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal, on New Year's Day of this year, which they denied.

The charges were in connection with illegal fox hunting near Moreton Field Farm in Moreton, near Thame, during the Kimblewick Hunt.

Vincent and Parkinson were filmed removing the slabs at the end of a hunting set, which had been used to trap a fox.

Parkinson tried to force the scared fox out of the pipe towards Vincent, who grabbed the animal by its tail and dropped it on the ground as the hunt approached.

Dogs and horses were then captured on the footage, being given commands by the hunt group to pursue the fox.

Despite denying any wrong-doing they were convicted before their sentencing hearing yesterday.

At the same court District Judge Kamlesh Rana said the offence was so serious a prison sentence was merited, albeit one she could suspend.

She said: "The activity was deliberate and planned.

"You put this fox at substantial risk of further suffering. being released in close proximity to an active hunt."

In mitigation Patrick Mason said that the men had no previous convictions and were both men of good standing in their communities.

Vincent and Parkinson were each handed a 12-week jail term, suspended for 12 months.

They must also complete 15 rehabilitation activity requirement days and carry out 120 hours of unpaid work.

Court costs of £960 was also ordered, as was a victim surcharge of £115.

Speaking after the hearing, the Hunt Saboteurs Association who covertly filmed the incident, welcomed the sentencing.

Group spokesperson Lee Moon said: "We're pleased that justice has been done and the two hunt employees have been punished for their part in this shocking incident."

Martin Sims, from the League Against Cruel Sports, said the case showed hunting still continues and called on a strengthening of the Hunting Act.

He said: “These two men [...] were clearly flouting animal protection laws by dragging the fox out and then releasing it in front of a pack of hunting hounds which would then chase it and potentially tear it apart."

Speaking of the convictions, Charlotte Webster, of the Crown Prosecution Service, welcomed the outcome.

She said: “The expert testimony we secured for this case and our commitment to showing that what they had done was against the law, has enabled us to secure a successful prosecution for hunting offences using the charge of causing unnecessary suffering.”