League Statement re Times allegations

Updated 10 October 2018

League Against Cruel Sports statement regarding The Times story

Today an article appeared in the Times newspaper making allegations against the League. We refute the allegations made in this article. Please read our full response below.

Update – a second story has appeared in the Times since this response was published. Please see our updated response below at the foot of this story.

These allegations are completely false. It is nonsense to say the League sought to hack the computer of the leader of the Countryside Alliance. It is also completely false to claim that the Charity Commission is investigating the League over this. We have had no such notification from them about his, and expect none. This story is motivated purely by ex-Trustees with a grudge against the League and who clearly felt it in the best interests of the anti-hunt movement to take their story to a pro-hunting newspaper.

Chris Williamson MP, who is named in the story, was not expelled from the League because ‘he was on holiday’ during a disciplinary hearing, as is alleged. Mr Williamson, who has rarely attended board meetings for the League for several years, was expelled after he supported someone who was abusing League members of staff. He was offered 12 opportunities to make his case to trustees – that he did not accept these offers suggests he had no case to make.

The ‘IT professional’ referred to in the story is in fact a trustee of the League who was elected to the board in July, but who has also been expelled after attending just one board meeting. The reasons for his expulsion are confidential, but, as with Chris Williamson MP, his views on how the League were run are at odds with those of the League Board, CEO, Directors and staff and considerable detriments were felt. This individual works in IT and told the League that he ‘has the knowledge to use technology to fight against hunts’. We came to the conclusion that it was actually our own IT security that we needed to protect.

League supporters understand that there has been a period of change at the League. Our former CEO Eduardo Goncalves stepped down after a prolonged period of illness, and was replaced by Andy Knott, a vastly experienced international manager who was previously one of our many volunteers. The League’s Chair has also changed, with Iain Blake-Lawson retiring after 25 years’ service. His replacement, Andrew Wood, unfortunately had to step down for personal reasons. A new Chair will be appointed in due course.

In spite of the changes, the League has gone from strength to strength. In the last year alone:

  • We played a major role in the dropping by the Government of its pledge to repeal the Hunting Act in the Parliament
  • We carried out the first successful prosecution ever of a registered hunt in Scotland in 2017 (Jedforest hunt)
  • We won the campaign along with Animal Aid to end shooting on public land in Wales – it will end by March 2019
  • We played a major role in ensuring hunting was one of the most talked about issues and most recalled manifesto commitments during the 2017 election
  • Our work was key in bringing about the adoption of strengthening the Hunting Act as official Labour Party policy
  • Four times as many League investigations have gone to the police so far in 2018 than in the entirety of last year
  • The League’s Boxing Day polling recorded the highest ever public support for the Hunting Act
  • We have achieved over 92,000 signatures to our Hunting Kills petition to date since March
  • We have created pressure on Yorkshire Water to end grouse shooting on its land, with 15,000 campaign postcards sent in recent months
  • A new poll we commissioned showed that 69% of people oppose game bird shooting, the result of several years campaigning along with other groups
  • We supported National Dis-Trust and achieved extensive media coverage of hunting on National Trust land and trail hunting over the summer, and came within 299 votes of winning a vote to ban hunting on National Trust land following a doubling of voter turn out
  • We rescued and helped the successful rehabilitation of a dog potentially involved in dog fighting in 2017
  • We played a big role, along with other organisations, in persuading the Government to commit to raise maximum sentences for animal welfare crimes

Under Andy Knott, we are half way through a two year change programme that will allow us to strengthen our financial position while increasing the amount of investigations and campaigns work we do. We have a large financial reserve (money in the bank); and are investing that money in operations and marketing to enable us to grow and become even more effective. A recent staff survey showed very high levels of confidence in our future. Supporters meeting Andy Knott have been inspired by his powerful, professional and no nonsense vision for the League, where we have firm financial foundations,  passionate and experienced staff members, all working towards the same goal.  All of this has been possible because we have a strong Board of Trustees who have stood up for us and have put the League’s interests ahead of any one individual’s agenda.

It has been disappointing that some supporters and former officials of the League cannot understand the direction the League is travelling. They like to ignore the evidence of our recent successes so they can claim that ‘it’s not like it used to be’. Some may not like the changes we are making, but perhaps that is because they don’t realise that to reach a goal, sometimes tactics need to change. Our goal is exactly the same as it ever was – to put an end to cruel sports in the UK. Our team now is a strong mix of long-term animal welfare campaigners, highly-trained investigators, vastly experienced law-enforcement professionals, and professional managers who will ensure that financially and legally we stay strong and secure. The input of everyone at the League is valued and vital. 

The League is becoming stronger than ever. That is why our opponents are running scared. That is why some will continue to attack us. That is why some are playing dirty tricks. But we know what the vast majority of our supporters want us to be doing. We know that the vast majority of the general public share our views. We know how to end cruel sports in the UK, and we are going to achieve that, whatever anyone says about us.

Update following second Times story

Yesterday (October 9th), a second Times story appeared, under the headline: Hackers tried to access Countryside Alliance’s emails.

The story alleges that the ‘pro-hunting group has reported to the Charity Commission a concerted attempt by an unknown hacker to get inside its systems. Allegations had been made to the regulator that the League Against Cruel Sports asked an IT expert to hack into the email account of Tim Bonner, the alliance’s chief executive.’

Once again we categorically refute these allegations. Many will share our view that the story is devoid of facts and has been published merely to try and put the League in a bad light.

The League is complaining to the Times about both stories. Significantly, we understand that the Charity Commission contacted the Times following the first story, pointing out that they do not investigate criminal matters – which ‘hacking’ would be – and thus the insinuation that they are investigating the League for hacking is completely incorrect. In spite of this, the Times then repeated the accusation in their second story. If we do not get an apology and a retraction of the story, we shall take the matter to the Press Complaints Commission.

The story also refers to Chris Williamson MP, who helped the Times with their story. Mr Williamson has since attempted to rally supporters to ‘save the League’. More briefly, we told the Times:

“Chris Williamson thinks the League is in crisis. Considering Chris barely attended a Trustee meeting for years, he probably isn’t the best judge. The League is doing well financially and our team is stronger than ever. We didn’t hack anyone, we don’t need to – we represent the majority of people in this country who abhor cruel sports and we’ll stop the animal abusers fair and square."

It seems obvious that what is occurring is being done out of revenge, using dirty tactics, and is aimed at destroying or reducing your capability at defending and protecting wildlife and bringing perpetrators of wildlife crime to justice. The best you can do is what you have said on your website: expose the truth for what it is and keep above board. You should be judged on your conduct, not on smears, lies, gossip, or hearsay.

- League Supporter

With very best wishes for your continued persistence in the face of all adversity.

- League Supporter

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