Charge over leaked webinars ‘will fail’, hunting bosses believe *H&H Plus*

  • The director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association has been charged under the Hunting Act in relation to leaked webinars on trail-hunting. H&H finds out why leading industry figures believe he will be cleared, or the case dropped before it gets to court

    Lord Mancroft, the chairman of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA), has said that the prosecution of MFHA director Mark Hankinson for encouraging or assisting illegal hunting “will fail because Mark has done nothing wrong.”

    Mr Hankinson has been charged with one count under the Hunting Act 2004 after Hunting Office webinars were leaked to ITV news by anti-hunt protesters. 

    This follows an investigation by Devon and Cornwall Police into what was said by Hunting Office personnel during two trail-laying online webinars in August 2020.

    Mr Hankinson, former master and huntsman of the Wilton, is due to appear before Plymouth Magistrates’ Court on 4 March.

    A Hunting Office spokesman said: “The Hunting Office is very disappointed at the decision, and does not believe it is justified by the evidence. Hunts operate legally within the confines of the Hunting Act as has been evidenced by hundreds of thousands of days of legal hunting since it came into force. The notion that anybody is encouraging them to do otherwise is entirely unsustainable and we look forward to those who have been charged being cleared of any wrongdoing.”

    Tim Bonner, CEO of the Countryside Alliance, said: “The Alliance works with the hunting associations to promote legal trail-hunting and exempt hunting under the Hunting Act. We have always been clear that however unjustified the legislation hunts must work within it. That remains the clear position of the hunting community and we are therefore confident that Mr Hankinson will be cleared in court.”

    Lord Mancroft said the charge is part of a “political attack on us by the anti-hunting movement”.

    He said: “We all need to be clear that this prosecution will fail because Mark has done nothing wrong, and that this is part of a political attack on us by the anti-hunting movement.

    “It is clear that neither the police nor the Crown Prosecution Service could identify any substantive offences, that this charge has been cooked up and Mark is being used as a scapegoat, because they were unwilling to admit that we have done nothing wrong.

    “The MFHA committee has quite rightly given its unqualified support to the director at what is a difficult time for him. He needs and deserves our full support, in exactly the same way that we support masters, huntsmen and others when they are the object of spurious allegations from anti-hunt activists. Everyone in our community must now rally round and give their support to Mark.

    “As we know, the legal process is a long one, and the pandemic is causing even more delays, so this case is unlikely to come to court for some time. In the meantime, while there is no evidence beyond the webinars that can be used against Mark, our lawyers will be assembling further evidence and witnesses to support Mark’s case, which will be deployed to persuade the CPS either to drop their case, or to defeat it if it ever comes to court.”

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