Four men denied charges of illegal hunting with dogs during a private prosecution brought by the League Against Cruel Sports.

The defendants are expected to use the defence that they were legally hunting with an eagle owl ? the first time that the falconry exemption would be tested in the courts since the Hunting Act came into force in February 2005.

The animal rights group has brought the prosecution at Isle of Wight Magistrates? Court after the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to proceed with the case against the four from the island.

Jamie Butcher, of Ryde, Liam Thom, of Rookley, and Stuart Trousdale, of Gatcombe, are all charged with hunting a fox with dogs. Malcolm Purcell, of Blackwater, is charged with hunting with dogs.

The charges relate to an alleged incident on November 29 last year.

The case was adjourned yesterday for a pretrial review at the Newport court on September 17.

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