The director-general of the RSPCA was yesterday accused of applying undue pressure on police to prosecute senior huntsmen under the law banning hunting with dogs.

A packed public meeting on Exmoor heard claims that Jackie Ballard had sought "revenge" on huntsmen after losing her Commons seat.

Lady Mallalieu, president of the Countryside Alliance and a Labour peer, told the meeting: "I understand there is in existence correspondence between Mrs Ballard and Avon and Somerset police which I hope will be made public under the Freedom of Information Act."

The meeting in Exford heard that the alleged offences took place in the former Taunton constituency of Mrs Ballard, a Liberal Democrat. Her opposition to hunting was seen as a significant factor in her defeat in 2001.

Maurice Scott, 63, joint master of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds for 25 years, and his whipper-in, Peter Heard, 23, are on bail charged with hunting a wild mammal with dogs.

Supt Gary Davies said enforcing the hunting law was not a top priority but if evidence of apparent law-breaking was presented, the police had to act.

The RSPCA said they had called for a hunting ban decades before Jackie Ballard's appointment and it was absurd to suggest that vindictive reasons lay behind attempts to get animal welfare law upheld.

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