'I followed every bit of legislation', trial of UK's leading huntsman hears

Huntmaster Mark Hankinson appearing previously outside court. Credit: ITV News

One of Britain’s leading huntsmen has told his trial that: “Looking back in hindsight… If I knew I was going to be hauled over this [in court] I would have written a completely different speech.

"My intention was not to mislead.”

“What you are saying now is a lie,” suggested the prosecution during his evidence, to which the accused replied: “No, it’s not”.

Mark Hankinson is on trial for encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence under the Hunting Act, which he denies.

In the witness box at Westminster Magistrates' Court, he broke down when asked about the impact the allegation has had on him.

When questioned by his lawyer Richard Lissack QC about laying a trail for hounds to follow and keeping within the law, the wildlife artist said “it [the law] must be adhered to, no question about it” and that during his seven years as hunt master he followed “every bit” of the legislation.

Much of this case rests on the context of language used by Hankinson during a series of online webinars for hunt masters in 2020.

The prosecution asked why in the webinars he said a legal exemption was “a good wheeze for holding up”.

Hankinson said that by saying "good wheeze" he meant "a useful thing to do".

“Really?”, asked the prosecution lawyer

"Yup," said Hankinson.

Gregory Gordon, prosecuting, put it to the defendant that a hunt that was intent on breaking the law could potentially use trail hunting as a disguise for their intentions.

“That is a possibility," said Hankinson.

Hankinson was questioned over the use of the word “smokescreen” in relation to his online speech on trail laying.

The Director of the Masters of Fox Hounds Association said: “The people we are trying to deceive with a smokescreen are the saboteurs who are trying to destroy a day’s hunting... it’s all to do with trying to solve the problem we have with aggressive saboteurs.”

Hankinson told the court there may have been a million days hunting since the Hunting Act came into force in 2005 and that he thought barely a dozen huntsmen have been found guilty of breaching the hunting act.

He suspects many of those “were not guilty but the evidence was stacked against them”.

Hankinson was asked if he was denigrating the law by suggesting wrongful convictions. He disagreed.

He was asked about Lord Benjamin Mancroft, who chaired the webinars telling those on the call: “Please, those of you who are filming and recording [out hunting], don’t stand there recording the opposition blowing their, firing their gizmos, blowing horns and saying, 'isn’t it marvellous they haven’t seen us because we’ve just caught a fox'."

Hankinson says "Lord Mancroft was making a rather poor joke and I did take him to task afterwards". 

With all the evidence heard proceedings were adjourned.

The judge will deliver his verdict at 2pm on the October 15. Hankinson has been told he must attend in person.