The fall out from the leaked Hunting Office webinars (an online meeting discussing how to avoid being caught foxhunting leaked by the Hunt Saboteurs Association) continues with some remarkable news that broke today: Mark Hankinson, the Director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA – the Governing Body of
sticking two fingers up to the law whoops, we mean of course “for registered packs of Foxhounds”) will be charged in court in March with intentionally encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence under the Hunting Act 2004, contrary to Section 44 of the Serious Crimes Act 2007.
This is commendably quick action by the police. The webinars were only leaked in November, and it was just a week or so later that we wrote a post noting that Devon and Cornwall Police would be investigating them. Whilst we felt we needed to be cautious before proclaiming that laws had been broken (and Mr Hankinson hasn’t been in court yet so is technically still innocent), we wondered aloud (like many others) whether this would lead to charges of conspiracy to break the law. After all, as we wrote in our original post, 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?”)” was absolutely clear – and even that a former police officer went slightly beyond subtext saying “You will find live quarry, you will hunt it”.
If the Police feel they have enough evidence to charge Mark Hankinson, then there will be others present that day who will be feeling a tad uncomfortable this evening. Everyone who spoke at the meeting was explaining how to use claims of so-called ‘trail hunting’ to get around the Hunting Act, so surely other charges must be being prepared? As the League Against Cruel Sports puts it in a press-release today, “Given the content of the webinars, we are astonished that more people were not charged. As the official complainant in this case we will be asking for a meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service to discuss this with them further.”
This couldn’t have come at a worse time for fox hunting. As yet more leaked documents showed just this week, hunts are struggling financially as income from meetings, point to points, and even working as stewards at Glastonbury Festival has dried up during lockdown. They are being excluded from land up and down the country. And whether Mr Hankinson is convicted or not, this court case will be all over the media in the next few days. Foxhunting has relied on remaining in the shadows from where it streams propaganda to tame newspapers and websites – under scrutiny the scam of so-called ‘trail hunting’ falls apart.
This should go far beyond an individual being charged in court as well. Major landowners like Forestry England and the National Trust – who both suspended trail hunting licencing as they waited to see the outcome of the police investigation into the webinars – are under huge pressure to ban licencing permanently: any decision to reinstate licences now that a leading figure is heading to court will risk even more reputational damage. Councils that were already thinking about banning trail hunting on their land will use this news today to support their discussions. And every single time the pro-hunt lobbyists lie about how they ‘hunt within the law’ we will be able to remind them that one of their own senior figures is being charged with “intentionally encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence under the Hunting Act 2004“.
Foxhunting is a stubborn little virus, but this is, without doubt, a massive blow to a group of people who have routinely and deliberately broken the law every week since the Hunting Act came into force. It’s too early to say hunting won’t recover, of course, but kudos to the police for charging Mr Hankinson, kudos to the League Against Cruel Sports for making the complaint, and – of course – kudos again to the Hunt Sabs for getting these highly-incriminating video files online in the first place.
If you’d like to support this growing movement towards a better countryside, please let your own council know that you want hunts banned. And why not consider joining LACS or the Hunt Sabs as a ‘feel-good’ Christmas present to our wildlife – or at the very least please let the Hunt Sabs know when you see hunts out and about breaking the law: