Hankinson Trial Information

What is the Hankinson trial?

The brutal world of fox hunting was rocked by a landmark court case in October 2021 in which a senior judge dismissed ‘trail’ hunting as a cover for old fashioned illegal hunting.

The case stemmed from the leak in November 2020 of a series of training webinars which 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, 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 was the official complainant in the case, which was investigated by Devon and Cornwall Police.

In July 2022, however, Hankinson's conviction was overturned on appeal.

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?

At the time of the webinars, Mark Hankinson was a 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 judges in both cases 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 appeal judge, His Honour Judge Gregory Perrins, heard much the same evidence over two days at Southwark Crown Court. He also watched the webinars, read the transcripts, and had to hand the slide pack that was presented to those watching. 

While he agreed that Hankinson's words could be construed to mean he was teaching hunts to break the law, the judge disagreed that there was enough evidence to say that Hankinson intended that meaning, and so therefore overturned his conviction.

How did the League respond?

Andy Knott, MBE, chief executive of the League, said: “The appeal result changes nothing in terms of our position, because only by strengthening the Hunting Act by closing its many loopholes and outlawing so-called trail hunting can illegal hunting be properly stopped and those determined to carry on persecuting wildlife brought to justice.”

As well as campaigning for the Hunting Act to be strengthened, the League is urging landowners that either suspended permission for trail hunting on their land as a result of the original trial, or those who still allow it to continue, to prohibit the practice for good.

Andy added: “While we wait for those in power to do the right thing and strengthen the Hunting Act we urge those who give licences for potential criminal activity to take place on their land to remove those permissions and help us bring an end to this so-called sport.”

The reaction

In the aftermath of the leaked revelations, major landowners across the country suspended hunts from over 2.3million acres of land.

That turned into a permanent ban on trail hunting on more than one million acres.

The organisations to ban trial hunting include the National Trust, Natural Resources Wales and the Malvern Hills Trust.

Cheshire West and Chester Council has also voted to ban trail hunting on its land.

In another crushing blow the Countryside Alliance involvement with groups overseen by the police’s National Wildlife Crime Unit is under review following Phil Davies’ comments on the webinars.

How can you help?

You may be shocked to learn that fox hunting is still taking place on land owned by the Government including the Ministry of Defence.

Please contact your MPcalling for an immediate end to trail hunting on government land and to commit to strengthening the Hunting Act to end the smokescreen of trail hunting.

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