What is the Hankinson trial?
In November 2020 a series of training webinars were leaked that showed senior figures from the Masters of Fox Hounds Association and the Countryside Alliance caught on camera, seeming to admit that ‘trail’ hunting is a “smokescreen” for the chasing and killing of foxes.
Following the leak, which was covered exclusively by ITV News, a participant in the webinars, Mark Hankinson, was charged with intentionally encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence under the Hunting Act 2004, contrary to Section 44 of the Serious Crimes Act 2007 and was found GUILTY following a trial at Westminster Magistrates' Court.
The League is the official complainant in the case, having complained directly to Devon and Cornwall Police.
Here are two quotes from those webinars:
Mark Hankinson, MFHA director, said:
“It’s a lot easier to create a smokescreen if you’ve got more than one trail layer operating, and that is what it’s all about, trying to portray to the people watching that you’re going about your legitimate business.”
Phil Davies, the Countryside Alliance police liaison officer, said:
“Now you know more about hunting than the saboteurs or courts will know but what it [laying a trail] will do is create that smokescreen or that element of doubt that we haven’t deliberately hunted a fox, so if nothing else you need to record that and it will help us provide a defence to huntsman.”
Who is Hankinson?
Mark Hankinson is director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, which is the governing body for more than 170 registered packs of fox hounds. Following the guilty verdict his defence counsel told the court he would be losing his job as a result.
The Hunting Office, which is hunting’s administrative arm for those governing bodies such as the MFHA, states on its website that ‘Mark has worked for the Hunting Office since 2012, initially as Hunt Support Officer carrying out Kennel inspections and ensuring hunt compliance and high standards.’
What is a smokescreen?
Smokescreen: a ruse designed to disguise someone's real intentions or activities.
What did the judge say?
Judge Tan Ikram, deputy chief magistrate for England and Wales, heard the case.
Before handing down the sentence he made some damning comments about Hankinson, as well as the others, such as Lord Mancroft and former Ch Insp Phil Davies.
"...all the words of the others are relevant because it tells me something about the events he was speaking at and the ‘overall agenda’ in which he was also speaking. I do make clear that the Defendant is to be judged wholly on what he said but others’ words , in my view, provide context to what he said."
"In my judgment, he was clearly encouraging the mirage of trail laying to act as cover for old fashioned illegal hunting. Whilst he didn’t use overt words, he implied it again and again."
"Perhaps most incriminating is his direction and advice that trail laying has to be ‘as plausible as possible.’ The only reasonable interpretation of those words leads to the conclusion that a need to make something plausible is only necessary if it is a sham and a fiction."
He concluded: "It was clearly advice and encouragement to commit the offence of hunting a wild mammal with a dog. I am sure he intended to encourage the commission of that offence."
The full judgement is here.
How can you help?
We are urging organisations that enable trail hunting to take place to rethink their position and deny the hunts access to land and finances that mean animals still get chased and killed every day.
A number of organisations, such as the National Trust, Forestry England, United Utilities, Lake District National Park and Natural Resources Wales suspended trail hunting on their land in the wake of the webinars being leaked, and we are asking them to make those suspensions permanent. You can email them, and other organisations, using our form here.
Additionally, this October National Trust members can vote in favour of banning trail hunting and other hunting related activities on trust land.
The National Trust issues trail hunting licences because of the hunts’ assertion that what they do is legal. However, years of evidence has shown that foxes are still being chased and killed by hunts, in direct opposition to the Hunting Act.
It is for this reason that the League Against Cruel Sports supports the resolution, submitted by Dr Denise Taylor, to ask the National Trust to ban trail hunting, exempt hunting and hound exercise on its land. If you are a National Trust member, find out how you can vote to end hunting.
If you are not a National Trust member, please contact the Director General of the National Trust.
Please join us outside the National Trust AGM at the Harrogate Convention Centre on October 30th for a peaceful demonstration to encourage Trust members to vote to ban hunting for good.