Not much good will in Christmas cards from hunt lobby

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AT FIRST glance, it appears as if an extraordinary spirit of Christmas rapprochement has broken out between those traditional foes, the Countryside Alliance and the League Against Cruel Sports.

Why else would thousands of hunt supporters be sending out cards with seasonal good wishes to the headquarters of the anti-hunt brigade?

However, as with most interactions between these two bodies, there is more to this festive largesse than first appears.

The reason for the Christmas mail-shot is that the Countryside Alliance spotted what it believed was a loophole in the league's fundraising drive which could cost the anti-hunt organisation a considerable amount of money - and all the hunt supporters had to do was send Christmas cards.

The League Against Cruel Sports is currently running a money-raising drive for its Hunt Crimewatch Programme. The money will be used "to buy video cameras, hand-held global-positioning systems and walkie-talkies to monitor hunting activity".

The anti-hunt group purchased a Freepost address to make it easier for donors to send in the money.

But, as with all Freepost addresses, the host organisation has to pick up the postage charges for all mail sent to that address, with every envelope costing the recipient more than a first-class stamp. It costs 210 to set up a standard Freepost address, and the recipient then has to pay 39p for each piece of mail received.

So some figures in the Countryside Alliance sent out a message to hunt supporters suggesting they send a Christmas card in an envelope, minus a stamp, to the League Against Cruel Sports Freepost address - leaving the league to pick up the postage.

So far, 14 sack-loads of unsolicited mail have arrived at the League's London headquarters, a deluge which has forced the organisation, in desperation, to contact the police and the Royal Mail.

A spokeswoman for the league said last night that the police were investigating and the anti-hunt body was confident that it would not have to pick up the bill for the mischief caused by the Countryside Alliance.

She said: "The hunters are doing this. They are trying to deprive us of money to protect animals. A lot of our supporters are elderly and if the result of their actions is that the fiver sent by an old lady from her pension does not go where it is intended, they are stealing from us."

The league spokeswoman said it was an offence to abuse the Freepost system and an offence to incite abuse of the system, both of which were being investigated.

In the meantime, the League Against Cruel Sports now has thousands of extra, and unexpected, Christmas cards with which to decorate its office.