Hunter guilty of conducting Zoom seminars to promote illegal fox hunting

A prominent fisherman for speaking out about ‘creating a smokescreen’ has been convicted and ordered to pay £3,500 to advise on conducting illegal hunting, in what has been described as a landmark case on the subject.

The Anti-Sports Harsh League said the ruling was “without doubt the most important moment since the entry into force of the Hunting Act”.

The judge said Mark Hankinson, director of the Foxhound Teachers Association, intentionally encouraged hunters to use legal hunting as a “hoax and illusion” to illegally stalk and kill animals.

The case has been closely followed by both supporters and opponents of hunting, who have said it could have major repercussions for the future of hunting in the UK, and in particular, if large landowners continue to allow hunting on hiking trails.

The National Trust said it will “absorb” the court’s case before it decides whether fishing license applications can proceed.

Hankinson argued in court that Zoom webinars were trying to manage the presence of “aggressive spoilers”.

But Westminster Magistrates Court heard he told members of the hunting bureau at the two webinars in August last year to use the legal form of hunting as a “smoke screen” for criminal activity.

Videos of private webinars featuring fishing chiefs from across the country were leaked to activists, who said the discussions revealed how the “track search” claim was actually a cover for illegal fishing.

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Hankinson, 60, of Sherborne, Dorset, had denied intentionally encouraging or helping others to violate the Hunting Act 2004, which outlaws hunting wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales.

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It is legal for jockeys and dogs to follow the scent before hunting rather than chasing a fox. But Hankinson was accused of giving advice on how to hide the illegal stalking and slaughter of animals.

One online meeting was attended by more than 100 hunters, many of them game masters, who account for more than half of the country’s fox hunting operations.

Hankinson was recorded saying, “It’s much easier to create a smokescreen if you have more than one tracking layer working, and that’s it, trying to show people watching that you’re doing a project.”

He also said, “Some people say well what’s the point of putting lanes?” Well, I guess it’s pretty self-explanatory – if you don’t leave a trace on a daily basis, you won’t be covered by insurance.”

Some of the UK’s largest landowners, including the National Trust and United Utilities, have suspended trail search on their land after the videos were made public, and Trust members are due to vote this month on whether to continue allowing the practice. in the organisation. Earth.

After the verdict, a spokesperson for the secretariat said: “Since the case is over and the defendant is guilty, we will absorb all the information that emerged as a result of this investigation before making a decision on the resumption of the fishing license application process.”

The spokeswoman said she did not know what that would mean for discussion at the annual general meeting in two weeks.

The Hunting Office organizes more than 170 hunting packages in England and Wales.

“In the evidence, the accused was eloquent and expressive in his use of the English language,” Deputy Chief Justice Tan Ikram said.

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“I didn’t find it credible in any of the explanations he used.”

He tried to explain innocently but could not. I refuse that any of the words he uses in his webinars are clumsy.”

“There was a clear common thread permeating his speech in two webinars on two different dates.”

“In my opinion, he was clearly encouraging the tracking mirage to serve as a cover for old-fashioned poaching. Although he did not use open words, he alluded to it over and over…”

“Why should you try to present something as legitimate if you are in fact engaged in legitimate business?”

The judge added, “Perhaps the most incriminating thing is his guidance and advice that route planning should be ‘as reasonable as possible’.”

“The only reasonable interpretation of these words leads to the conclusion that the need to do something reasonable is necessary only if it is a hoax and an illusion.”

Richard Lissack QC, in mitigation, claimed that it was “completely out of character for this 60-year-old man” and was “shocking to him, his family and friends”.

Lissack said Hankinson will lose his job at the Foxhound Teachers Association as a result of the case.

Hankinson was fined 1,000 pounds and ordered to pay a contribution to the costs 2,500 pounds, with an additional cost to the victim of one hundred pounds.

Chris Lovington, deputy director of the Anti-Cruel Sports League, said he was pleased with the guilty verdict, but prison sentences should have been available and imposed instead of a fine, the maximum possible punishment for the crime.

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The association said the case showed the stalking had been “a sarcasm to the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and even the highest British judiciary for the past 16 years”.

The RSPCA welcomed the ruling, saying: “We are really concerned that some people are still bent on hunting foxes, regardless of the legislation. Many believe that since the hunting ban came into effect, legal hunting is being used to create a smokescreen that allows illegal hunting with dogs to continue, This makes law enforcement a huge challenge for the authorities.”

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