As we (and everyone else interested in the demise of fox hunting – and yes, we know it’s illegal already but hundreds of hunts go out thousands of times a ‘season’ using the smokescreen of so-called ‘trail hunting‘) reported last week, the so-called Hunting Office, which ‘runs’ fox hunting out of its HQ in Cirencester, was burnt badly when webinars discussing how to avoid being caught hunting were leaked by the Hunt Saboteurs Association (see our post Hunts on the Run).
As we wrote at the time, “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 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 Hunting Office has removed the webinars (which hardly speaks volumes about their confidence in what they contain) but they are still available via the HSA:
We also said that we would be very interested in seeing what the fallout would be from this expose. At the very least there needs to be a police investigation to determine whether these webinars constitute a conspiracy to break the law (the Hunting Act 2004) and whether, for example, there is any evidence of Misconduct in a Public Office.
There has now been an interesting development, according to a series of tweets started by a well-known activist with the Twitter handle @herbieharry. A well-aimed tweet asking why no police action seems to have been taken was responded to by Paul Netherton OBE, Deputy Chief Constable for Devon & Cornwall Police and picked up by Hunt Watch UK.
Paul Netherton OBE is the Deputy Chief Constable for Devon & Cornwall Police and the national lead for contingency planning & resilience (the CPS is of course the Crown Prosecution Service which prosecutes criminal cases that have been investigated by the police and other investigative organisations in England and Wales).
It’s a rather non-commital response in some ways, but DCC Netherton’s reassurance that “there are no serving police officers in the videos” is interesting. It’s perhaps understandable given how finding a serving officer taking part in what at best looks like training on how to get around the Hunting Act would have severely complicated any investigation, but then again from what we’ve seen on social media and the like no-one was suggesting that there were any serving officers involved. A slew of former police officers, yes, but not current ones.
It’s of course possible to read far too much into a few words at the end of a tweet sent out late at night, but why make such a point? Perhaps DCC Netherton was surprised to find ex-police working so closely with fox hunting (which seems unlikely: anyone who follows the issue at all knows full well that a number of former police officers now work in advisory roles of course), but perhaps the message was being sent to current officers that have closely aligned themselves with hunts? A sort of quiet warning that on the back of these webinars it would be wise for any serving officers to back away from the hunts – at least while investigations are ongoing? As sabs and monitors up and down the country will tell you, on occasions some serving police officers appear to actively protect hunts and appear to turn a blind eye to illegal hunting as well as to assault and criminal damage to vehicles.
If anything comes out of the investigations in to these webinars and it’s decided that some sort of collusion to pervert the law has indeed taken place, the backlash will extend far further than those filmed speaking on camera. Serving police officers who enable the smokescreen of ‘trail hunting’ may then get caught up in a further investigation. We can dream, but wouldn’t it be nice to think that Mr Netherton’s tweet is the first sign of ‘official’ advice to serving officers to distance themselves from any overt support of ‘trail hunting’…