RURAL affairs minister Alun Michael ran the gauntlet of furious hunt supporters last night as he arrived for a meeting in the New Forest.

More than 100 people angry at the ban on hunting gathered outside the district council offices in Lyndhurst an hour before Mr Michael was due.

The minister was smuggled into the council's car park in the back of a police van. Demonstrators surged forward, banging on the side of the vehicle and pelting it with eggs.

Police managed to keep the narrow road clear and closed the gates as soon as the van entered the car park.

Protesters ran up to the railings and blew hunting horns in a deafening display of anger at the ban on hunting with hounds, which came into force last month.

The crowd included Mike Squibb, chairman of the New Forest Hounds, who accused the government of persecuting a minority.

He said: "We've got to take every opportunity to make our feelings known when Mr Michael shows his face. He instigated the Hunting Bill and ignored the arguments we put forward."

Mr Michael was attending a meeting of the New Forest Consultative Panel to discuss the area's new National Park status.

He told the Daily Echo: "It's very sad that people felt it necessary effectively to waste police time. Individuals who feel strongly on any issue have a right to make their views known, but the decision to pass the Hunting Act was taken by Parliament, not by me personally, and should be respected."

After the meeting, uniformed police officers escorted Mr Michael back to the van.

Some of the demonstrators were still lining the road that leads from the car park to the B3056 and staged another protest as the vehicle drove out.

Mr Michael is due in Southampton today.