Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has been accused of “throwing a veil of secrecy” over hunting activities on Salisbury Plain.
It follows a letter Mr Wallace personally sent to the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) in which he terminated a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and LACS.
The defence secretary cited “security concerns as well the behaviour of protesters and their attire which is intimidating to other users”.
LACS told ITV News the letter came out of the blue. Mr Wallace gave no examples of his claims, which they describe as a “personally-issued, vague and unevidenced, summary sanction”.
The long-standing memorandum between the MOD and LACS is designed to inform the anti-hunting organisation where on the publicly-owned Salisbury Plain fox hunts are operating. Monitors are then able to observe them.
Chris Luffingham, deputy CEO at the League, said: “We do not recognise the behaviours he has accused us of while monitoring the hunts. We have always complied fully and diligently with the MOU and have received no prior communication of any apparent concerns from the MOD or Mr Wallace’s office.”
In his response to Ben Wallace’s letter, seen by ITV News, the Chief Executive of the League Against Cruel Sports Andy Knott said: “Our reasonable belief is that illegal hunting takes place on the MOD estate".
He highlights a case in which “a Royal Artillery huntsman was recently charged with a hunting offence, the case only not proceeding to court due to a basic administrative error made by the MOD police”.
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ITV News put a list of questions to the defence secretary.
These included asking him for evidence of who he had consulted before terminating the MOU and evidence to support the claims he had made.
An MOD spokesperson said: “We take our duty of care for all users of the Defence estate seriously, to ensure that those who choose to frequent our land for recognised legal pursuits do not encounter intimidation or have their safety compromised. Trail and drag hunting are legal activities and all organisations wishing to trail or drag hunt on Defence land must hold an MOD registered licence and comply with the law.”
ITV News asked whether the Royal Artillery hunt had been sanctioned over the legal case that did not make it to court. We are awaiting a response.