THOUSANDS of hunt supporters gathered in Lacock yesterday for the annual Boxing Day meet despite hunting with dogs being banned almost two years ago.

A cheering crowd lined the streets of the village and assembled for the traditional toast outside the Red Lion, before the Avon Vale Hunt rode out in search of its prey.

Hunt master Jonathan Seed said: "The police said there were over 6,000 supporters, and we have never had that number before.

"It gives a very clear message to the Government, that says don't try and fiddle and ban things because Tony Blair has ended up doing for foxhunting what prohibition did for alcohol.

"The support for hunting is phenomenal and the poorly drafted law (banning hunting) designed to destroy a way of life will be overturned."

Around 100 people joined the hunt on horseback and several hundred followed on foot.

The foxhunting ban, introduced in England and Wales in February 2004, made hunting with dogs a criminal offence, although exercising hounds, chasing a scent trail and flushing out foxes to be shot are still legal.

This means dogs can still be used to follow a scent, but cannot be used to kill the fox.

However, loopholes in the law are continually being exploited, such as the exemption which allows hunting with dogs and birds of prey, and it is estimated that around 320,000 people took part in traditional Boxing Day hunt meets nationwide.

The Countryside Alliance is continuing to campaign for the ban to be overturned, while the League Against Cruel Sports is encouraging stricter monitoring of hunts and the prosecution of those breaking the law.

Twelve police officers, plus a road policing unit, were on hand in Lacock to monitor the hunt to ensure nothing illegal was taking place and to control the crowd and traffic.

Police also filmed the entire event in case things got out of hand, but only six protestors turned up to show their opposition to foxhunting.