In a scoop worthy of a national news organisation, the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) have obtained a series of webinars given by the so-called Hunting Office, which reveal the efforts hunting is now having to go to ‘prove’ they are following a scent trail when they go out foxhunting (or hunting legally as they insist on labelling it).
Over three hours leading figures in hunting (including Lord Mancroft [Chair of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA)], key Countryside Alliance figures, and former police officers) offer advice to hunters on using exemptions in the Hunting Act 2004 to avoid being caught breaking the law. They are clearly taking the impact of sabbing very seriously indeed, and are recorded giving a LOT of advice about overt trail laying, filming everything, storing video and data long-term, and being very careful not to get into fights with what they typically call ‘antis’. The conversations are defensive and deeply cynical.
Now, we hopefully shouldn’t need to stress this but we loathe hunting, we think the exemptions in the Hunting Act which allows ‘trail hunting’ and ‘flushing to the gun’ should be closed, and we fully support the HSA as an organisation. However, personally-speaking we are wary of calling these webinars [EDIT: which have now been removed by the Hunting Office but are still available via the HSA website] evidence of ‘mass criminality’ as has been suggested by the HSA simply because it’s not clear that everyone involved has been caught in the act of promoting criminal acts.
The subtext, with its talk of ‘smokescreens’ and acknowledgement that terriermen are a clear weak spot for claims of ‘trail hunting’ (to quote Mark Hankinson, Director of the MFHA, “it does flag up a bit of a marker to everyone, you know why do you as trail hunting, do you need them there?”) is absolutely clear – and a former police officer goes slightly beyond subtext and says “You will find live quarry, you will hunt it” [Webinar 2, 01:11:10]. However, the participants know these webinars are being recorded and they are generally being careful about what they say. As much as we would like this to be conclusive evidence of an ‘on-the-record’ conspiracy to subvert the Hunting Act, we’d guess that the excuse will be proffered that the subjects discussed in these webinars are pretty much those that anti-hunting/pro-wildlife organisations and groups would cover with their own supporters while devising strategies (albeit coming from a polar opposite – and legal – direction): obtaining evidence, keeping data, sowing confusion, and being seen to stay within the law.
Of course, it’s entirely relevant to ask why – fifteen years after the Hunting Act came into force – hunting’s top tier still feel they need to explain ‘trail hunting’ to experienced hunters. Hunts claim to have been acting legally since the Act was passed, so they really shouldn’t need more guidance. Even they must realise that that’s highly suggestive of looking for ways to evade the law rather than showing an honest intent to – you know, actually go ‘trail hunting’ and not kill wildlife illegally…
We have little doubt that outside these chats, when the cameras are off and the ‘boys’ are talking amongst themselves, how to break the law will be discussed more openly and stories of foxes being killed will be shared – but (in our opinion anyway) this is an inch or so away from what’s been recorded here. We’re inclined to agree with the following commentary from Wild Mammal Persecution UK whose team have extensive legal experience and who say on their website:
Clearly there has to be a rigorous investigation into what HSA are suggesting is a nationwide conspiracy. Clearly it has to be a linked inquiry between the relevant forces and has to be undertaken by a suitably senior, qualified and resourced detective. Allegations of this sort cannot be left to lie. That is unfair to both the accusers and the accused, who may of course be perfectly innocent.WPMUK, ‘Trail’ Hunting?, 13 Nov 2020
While we are being cautious about whether these webinars amount to mass criminality (that would be up to a proper investigation to determine, assuming one can be set up), we absolutely agree with other commentators that this has to be the nail in the coffin for so-called ‘trail hunting’. That perhaps partially depends on how mainstream media picks up on this story, but the long tarnished veneer of respectability that hunts have tried to polish the turd of illegal hunting with is gone. Hunting also can’t escape the fact that it is being forced to comply with the Hunting Act 2004 (or at least are being forced to being seen to be complying with the law) because of pressure from sabs and monitors.
From what the hunts are saying on these webinars (and we recommend watching/reading them to understand how hunting is thinking right now) they do know that the days of just killing wildlife and automatically shrugging their way out of trouble is over. They know that the police or courts now expect them to provide quality evidence they are not law-breaking. That alone is a huge victory for the pro-wildlife side and a major irritation for the hunts. Pressure is working, and as we have said many times the sabs and monitors who have achieved this are heroes one and all.
It will be interesting to see the fallout from this expose (especially as they try and figure out just who leaked these ‘private’ conversations). Hunting was always likely to sink itself in the end – its members are too arrogant – and it has been caught out again. There were already mounds of evidence on a number of platforms that law-breaking routinely takes place out in the field, and this just reinforces that evidence. So-called ‘trail hunting’ is without any doubt at all used as a ‘smokescreen’ or cover for routine illegal hunting. Changes need to be made to the law, loopholes closed, ‘research’ exemptions closed, and lawbreaking taken far more seriously by the authorities because as we have repeatedly said there is more than enough evidence that ‘trail hunting’ is organised lawbreaking on a huge scale.
Our interpretation of the material in these webinars may differ to yours of course. The Hunting Office has removed the links to their webinars (which hardly speaks volumes about their confidence in what they contain) but there are links to two videos and their transcripts on the HSA website: