It’s time to strengthen the Hunting Act, says charity following landmark court case

There can be no reason to delay strengthening the Hunting Act, says a national wildlife charity, as one of hunting’s top people is accused of telling hunts how to break the law.

The evidence has concluded in a case involving Mark Hankinson, director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, who was accused of assisting hunts to break the law. National animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports was the official complainant in the case, which was investigated by Devon and Cornwall Police.

The hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court was adjourned after closing statements by both counsel, and the judge, deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram, will issue a reserved judgment at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on October 15.

The charity, which was instrumental in the Hunting Act 2004 passing the statute books, is now demanding the Act be amended to remove the loopholes that have allowed hunts to keep chasing and killing wildlife such as foxes, stag and hare with dogs.

Andy Knott, MBE, who is the League’s chief executive, said: “There can be no more excuses. The court heard expert testimony of how exemptions and ‘trail’ hunting can be used as a smokescreen to get around the law and make it almost impossible to prosecute hunts.

“I will be seeking assurances from those who enable the hunts to go out will now take action: that politicians will amend the Hunting Act to close its many loopholes; that landowners like Defra, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice will stop hunts from accessing their land; and that those who have essentially been financing hunts breaking the law, such as Axa insurance, will remove their support.”

The court heard evidence for the defence from Nicholas Leeming, Joint Master of the Cottesmore Hunt, who said he found the webinars “gave us good guidance” and were “extremely instructive”. While huntsman of that hunt, in 2015 his terrier man pleaded guilty to badger sett interference after League investigators recorded footage of the crime, which is linked to illegal fox hunting.

The court also heard defence evidence from Major Tim Easby (retd), who was Mark Hankinson’s predecessor at the Masters of Foxhounds Association and a former director of the Hunting Office. He gave evidence about the webinars but later admitted he’d not watched them. He also gave evidence he would “absolutely not” countenance breaking the law. However, in 2004 it emerged he chaired a private meeting of huntsmen where it was agreed there would be “mass civil disobedience” against the Hunting Act by hunts.

Mr Knott has personally written to Defra, the MoJ and the MoD among others to urge their swift removal of licences from hunts in the wake of the evidence heard in court. He has also written to the Prime Minister.

Hankinson was one of the speakers from the Hunting Office, Masters of Foxhounds Association and the Countryside Alliance who gave “advice” on a series of training webinars on how to create a “smokescreen” around hunting – to try and convince those watching that an artificial trail had been laid when in fact the hunts hounds would be free to chase and kill foxes.

Another of the speakers on the webinar, Phil Davies, is the CA’s police liaison officer and a former chief inspector with Dyfed Powys Police in Carmarthen. He was shown on camera talking about creating an “element of doubt”, presumably in any ensuing court case, that the hounds had been following a trail when in actual fact the opposite was true.

Lord Benjamin Mancroft, the former chairman of the MFHA and member of the House of Lords, chaired the webinars and talked about the need for the information within them to be kept within the confines of the hunting community.

Mr Knott said: “That a British peer can chair a meeting in which the members were shown how to break the law shows how these people believe that laws don’t apply to them. No longer can they get away with it.”

Ends

Notes to editors

See here to find out more about trail hunting.

  • The court heard evidence for the defence from Nicholas Leeming, Joint Master of the Cottesmore Hunt, who said he found the webinars “gave us good guidance” and was “extremely instructive”. While huntsman of that hunt. In 2015 his terrier man pleaded guilty to badger sett interference after League investigators recorded footage of the crime, which is linked to illegal fox hunting. See more here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEUMh1ZuH8w
  • The court also heard defence evidence from Major Tim Easby (retd), who was Mark Hankinson’s predecessor at the Masters of Foxhounds Association and a former director of the Hunting Office. He gave evidence about the webinars but later admitted he’d not watched them. He also gave evidence he would “absolutely not” countenance breaking the law. However, in 2004 it emerged he chaired a private meeting of huntsmen where it was agreed there would be “mass civil disobedience” against the Hunting Act by hunts https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/7873934.determined-group-to-disobey-hunt-ban/

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