Huntsman Mark Hankinson has conviction for encouraging illegal hunting overturned on appeal

Prominent huntsman Mark Hankinson who has won his appeal against a conviction for encouraging illegal fox hunting in an online talk. Credit: PA

Leading huntsman Mark Hankinson has had his conviction for encouraging illegal hunting overturned on appeal. In a judgement at Southwark Crown Court today, it was decided that words used by Hankinson in an online training session for hunts in August 2020 were capable of being interpreted in different ways and the court could not be sure they met the “criminal standard intended to encourage the commission of a criminal offence”.

Mark Hankinson was a Director of the Hunting Office that runs the rural sport.

In the online webinar he was heard explaining to 103 hunt-masters how “to create a smokescreen” to enable them “to portray to the people watching that you’re going about legitimate business.”

During his appeal it was argued by the prosecution that this amounted to Hankinson explaining how they could hunt illegally but in his defence the court heard “evidence of a different interpretation…. namely [that] he was referring to different ways of deterring saboteurs”. Responding to the judgement, Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “Mark Hankinson’s successful appeal raises big questions about the knee-jerk reaction to the original conviction.

"Some institutional landowners banned legal trail hunts and the police and CPS have brought a spate of prosecutions against hunts, many of which have already failed. “Trail hunting is a legitimate activity carried out by hundreds of hunts across the country.

"As this successful appeal shows, the police, public and politicians need to be extremely careful about believing spurious allegations made by prejudiced anti-hunt activists.“

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Andy Knott, MBE, chief executive of the League, said: “The appeal result changes nothing in terms of our position, because only by strengthening the Hunting Act by closing its many loopholes and outlawing so-called trail hunting can illegal hunting be properly stopped and those determined to carry on persecuting wildlife brought to justice.”

British Hound Sports Association (BHSA), formerly known as The Hunting Office, said: “This successful appeal is hugely welcomed. We have always said, Mark was part of a series of training sessions designed to advise hunts on hunt management practices, compliance, and dealing with the disruption caused by professional saboteurs.”

Lee Moon from The Hunt Saboteurs Association said: “We're obviously disappointed by this outcome."