A senior fox hunter has been found guilty of encouraging and assisting people to evade the ban on fox hunting.
Mark Hankinson, Director of the Master of Foxhounds Association was on trial following a series of webinars hosted by the Hunting Office were leaked last year. In the zoom calls Hankinson was seen explaining to around 100 senior hunters and officials the best way to get around the 2004 Hunting Act. He described how trail laying could be used as a “smokescreen”to continue hunting and killing foxes. In the landmark ruling Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram stated that trail laying “is a sham and a fiction” and confirmed in his guilty verdict that he was sure that “the defendant through his words was giving advice on how to illegally hunt with dogs."
Mr Hankinson was fined a measly £1,000 along with a contribution of £2,500 towards legal costs.
The Masters of Foxhounds Association said it was considering an appeal of the verdict.
"We will be setting up a review which will be conducted to ensure that hunts are in a position to offer reassurances to all landowners and other stakeholders that hunts are operating within the law," said Chairman of the Masters of Foxhounds Association Andrew Osborne.
The trial at Westminster Magistrates Court was the first of its kind in the sense that it directly brought into question the real intentions of what it meant to lay a trail and “trail hunt”.The three day trial which was held in September focused on the analysis of words spoken by one of Britain’s leading hunting figures in a setting where he didn’t realise he was being recorded. The prosecution replayed several segments of the recordings and perhaps the most damning of all was the following lines – “"if you've got saboteurs out with you in any shape or form we need to have clear, visible, plausible trail laying being done throughout the day."
"It's a lot easier to create a smokescreen if you've got more than one trail layer operating."
Prosecuting barrister Gregory Gordon said in his closing submission that Mr Hankinson was offering advice on how to hunt illegally "behind a smoke screen of trail hunting".
"His words were clear, his advice was capable of encouraging hunts to commit illegal hunting, and his intention was to encourage illegal hunting," Mr Gordon said.
As reported by BBC News, Mr Hankinson's barrister Richard Lissack QC asked him what message he sought to send. Mr Hankinson replied that the law "must be adhered to, there's no question of it."
Mr Lissack QC argued in his closing submission that Mr Hankinson had carried out his role "strictly, properly and unapologetically."
Ultimately Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram was left unconvinced by the arguments put forward by Mr Hankinson’s defence and Mark Hankinson was found guilty in a case that could prove to have monumental consequences for the future of hunting in this country. Indeed even before the verdict was read some of the nation’s largest landowners has already suspended “trail hunting” on their land and it is highly likely that these temporary suspensions will now become permanent ones. Organisations such as the National Trust and Forestry England have been under pressure from Keep The Ban and anti-hunt campaigners for several years and now more than ever we have further proof that “trail hunting” is nothing but a charade, a cover-up and a sham for the continuation of illegal fox hunting. It is time that landowners stoop up for wildlife by standing up to the hunts and banned all hunting on their land with immediate effect.
Main image credit: Doug Peters - League Against Cruel Sports
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