Wiltshire | Hunting Office seeking to influence Police and Crime Commissioner elections?

According to a new website called ‘Hunting Leaks‘ (which was set up to help instigate multiple GDPR claims against the so-called Countryside Alliance (CA), a fascinating story in itself and well worth reading), the Hunting Office (the infamous ‘leaking like a sieve’ hunting coordinators that developed a series of seminars designed to help fox hunts make themselves appear legitimate – fifteen years after the Hunting Act came into force) are apparently raising funds to influence outcomes in the forthcoming Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections on the 6th of May.

We know this because ‘Hunting Leaks’ has provided a link to the minutes of a Hunting Office meeting where this was discussed last year, and has put online the screenshot below (to which we’ve added the highlight).

 

Hunting Office April 2020

 

Firstly, what are PCCs and why might this matter?

PCCs are a recent creation, replacing police authorities in 2012. Current holders of the role were elected on the 5th of May 2016 in 40 force areas across England and Wales and will be replaced in elections in May this year (delayed a year because of last year’s lockdown). Every force area is represented by a PCC, except Greater Manchester and London where PCC responsibilities lie with the Mayor, and they are intended to “bring a public voice to policing“.

While a PCC can not (or should not) be telling the police how to do their job (the enforcement of laws passed by Parliament).they do have responsibilities that include setting out a force’s strategy and policing priorities through the Police and Crime Plan. and they can appoint chief constables and dismiss them when necessary. That can give them a huge amount of influence over ‘direction of travel’. PCCs are required to swear an oath of impartiality when they are elected to office, incidentally, but that is largely political impartiality – and while we try to be of supportive of policing as possible (it’s a tough, stressful job and most forces are under-resourced) that is the same ‘oath’ that is taken by forces attending fox hunts up and down the country…

 

So what to make of the Hunting Office raising funds to help get people like, for example, Jonathon Seed into office? Mr Seed was until relatively recently the only candidate standing for the role of PCC in Wiltshire, a largely rural county with a large number of active fox hunts. Including the Avon Vale Hunt (which often hunt around Lacock in Wiltshire) – of which Mr Seed is a former huntmaster…

Lobbying is of course not illegal. We’re doing it in this post and the pro-wildlife side lobby as much as do the pro-hunters. But in cases like this – where a pro-hunt organisation is planning to use a pro-hunt lobby group (Vote UK, a group fixated on overturning the Hunting Act) help put a pro-hunt candidate into a position of influence) – shouldn’t candidates at least be upfront about who is funding them and what their agendas might be? Because oddly enough while Mr Seed is proud to talk on his About page about his military career and his work in the Conservative Party, his pro-hunting views (which let’s not forget are NOT shared by getting on for 80% of the entire country according to a 2017 Mori poll) are not mentioned (though perhaps were on his now deleted ‘My Views’ page?).

There hasn’t been a follow-up from the Hunting office (which isn’t surprising given the flak they took after the previous leaks) but Mr Seed has been responding to questions on his rather sparsely followed Twitter feed. For example…

…which, it has to be said, is parroting a classic distraction technique used by pro-hunters – by stressing that they are against ‘illegal hunting’ they leave the door open to ‘legal’ so-called ‘trail hunting’. Which of course is nothing more than illegal hunting half-hidden behind a smokescreen. And what could he mean by ‘policing…illegal interference with lawful activities in the countryside‘? That is typical Countryside Alliance double-speak for using the police to stop what are actually the legal actions of sabs and hunt monitors who are in turn trying to stop wildlife crime from taking place…

 

We hasten to add here that we are not suggesting that Mr Seed is lying or planning to help hunts evade monitors (we have no evidence of that and couldn’t defend such a claim if we made it), but anyone living in Wiltshire who is already fed up with having a Conservative MP whose office manager has links with the Countryside Alliance and who would prefer not have policing overseen by a former fox hunter who has said in the past that he would like to see the Hunting Act repealed, might want to look at an alternative independent candidate like Mike Rees.

Mr Rees recognises that he has only an outside chance of winning, but he does have policing experience having retired as a detective inspector in 2014 three decades after he joined Wiltshire Police aged just 18. He is also involved in community and charity work. In a response to the ‘hunting question’ on Twitter he replied that “It’s a very emotive subject but my view is very clear. It is illegal and should be properly policed” – which to be fair isn’t vastly different from Mr Seed’s answer, but then again Mr Rees doesn’t appear to have dressed up and rampaged across the countryside hunting foxes in the past…

As a final thought, PCCs are often elected on very small turnouts indeed. In 2016 the current Wiltshire PCC was elected on a 25% turnout of the electorate (nationwide turnout was just 27.3%, higher than in 2012 – when total turnout was just 15.1% – but clearly influenced by combining the PCC contests with other elections in both England and Wales). It seems that the majority of voters aren’t interested in an election that could actually determine how they’re policed for four years, meaning that every vote will count – which is why Vote UK and their door-knocking pro-hunt supporters are potentially so important to the Hunting Office and their ilk.

Equally important therefore will be the vote of every single pro-wildlife constituent who wants to see our wildlife protected from the very people paid to stop wildlife crimes like fox hunting from taking place.