The professional huntsman of the Heythrop Hunt has become the first in the country to be prosecuted by police for the alleged illegal killing of a fox, it was revealed today.

Julian Barnfield, 44, from Chipping Norton, where the hunt has its kennels, is facing three charges of hunting a wild mammal with dogs.

Barry Hugill, of the League Against Cruel Sports, 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.

Earlier prosecutions have been brought at private expense by animal welfare charities.

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 Heythrop hunts in west Oxfordshire and neighbouring areas of Gloucestershire. It is understood the case against Mr Barnfield is based on video evidence gathered by hunt monitors in Gloucestershire.

Countryside Alliance spokesman Tim Bonner 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 Gloucestershire Constabulary 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."

The charges relate to alleged incidents on November 17 last year and January 23 and February 7 this year.