Trail hunting 'potent excuse' for fox hunting, trial of UK's leading huntsmen hears

Trail hunting is being used as a “potent excuse” for fox hunting and it allows people to “hunt illegally”, the trial of one of Britain’s leading huntsmen has heard.

Mark Hankinson is accused of “intentionally encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence under the Hunting Act 2004” due to his participation in a series of webinars chaired by Lord Benjamin Mancroft for the Hunting Office in 2020.

The prosecution says Mr Hankinson was a Director of the Hunting Office and “thought he could speak freely without consequence” when he told the online meeting of 103 hunt masters about a “smokecreen” that it’s alleged would enable them to carry out illegal hunting.

“The meaning of his words were clear and obvious” said Gregory Gordon as he outlined the case against Mr Hankinson.

Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) for Devon & Cornwall Police Gary Bunn confirmed to the court that the webinars came to light due to a “leak” of the recordings and that although the Hunt Saboteurs Association brought them to the public’s attention, they were not original source.

Mr Hankinson’s defence lawyer Richard Lissack QC asked the police officer if it was his understanding that the Countryside Alliance and the Hunting Office were organisations committed to lawful hunting. Gary Bunn said yes.

Mark Hankinson (right) arrives at the courthouse, where protesters chant "end hunting now"

Richard Lissack QC pressed the officer on whether he had had enough time to carry out his investigation. The SIO told the court that it was not a “slap dash investigation” and that he was “wholly satisfied that all reasonable lines of inquiry were followed”.

The court also heard that some hunt members were “afraid for their safety” following the publication of the webinars as “media articles have reignited a difficult subject”.

It was also claimed that there was “a large economic impact on a number of hunts” when the webinars came to light with numerous organisations suspending hunting on their land.

The court was told that the Hunting Act was “challenging” when it came into being as there were strong feelings on both sides.

The case continues into a second day tomorrow and although originally listed for two days, plans are being put in place for a potential 3rd day on Wednesday.