A PROFESSIONAL huntsman has become the first in the country to be prosecuted by police for the alleged killing of a fox.

Julian Barnfield, 44, of the Heythrop Hunt, which covers Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, will appear in court this summer facing three charges of hunting a wild mammal with dogs.

Barry Hugill, of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), confirmed the case was the first brought by the state for hunting foxes, although the Devon and Somerset Staghounds are being prosecuted by police in connection with stag hunting. That case is currently the subject of a judicial review.

Earlier prosecutions have been brought at private expense by organisations like LACS and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Mr Hugill said today: "It is very, very encouraging that the police are actively working to stop illegal hunting.

"This is the first police prosecution for fox-hunting, although they have brought cases before under the Hunting Act.

"The legislation is very new and there's probably some truth in saying that the police weren't quite sure what they were looking for. They may have learned from cases brought by us."

Mr Hugill said David Cameron had ridden several times with the Heythrop.

It is understood the case against Mr Barnfield, of Chipping Norton, is based on video evidence gathered by hunt monitors in the neighbouring county.

Tim Bonner, Countryside Alliance spokesman, said: "We are convinced that the Heythrop have been acting within the law since the Act came into force in February 2005. We'll be lending our full support to Julian Barnfield and the hunt.

"Due to its profile, Heythrop is probably the most filmed hunt in the country. It has been followed around ever since the legislation came in and I suppose it was inevitable that the police and Crown Prosecution Service would look at something."

A description of Mr Barnfield's job, published on The Heythrop Hunt's website, reads: "It is Julian alone who hunts hounds - his job on a hunting day is to control, assist or monitor the pack.

"Not only can he name each hound but, if given the excuse, will regale the enquirer with details of each hound's breeding, going back numerous generations. There is much else that Julian does that remains unseen by most followers."

Heythrop was formed in 1835, and its followers are said to have canvassed for Mr Cameron's election as an MP in 2001.

A Gloucestershire police spokesman said: "I can confirm that a 44-year-old man from Chipping Norton will be appearing at Cheltenham Magistrates' Court on July 21 for hunting a wild mammal with dogs under the Hunting Act 2004."

Mr Barnfield faces three charges, covering November 17 2007, January 23 and February 7 this year.