The director of the panel representing foxhound packs encouraged members to use trail hunting, in which riders with dogs follow scented trails in advance, as “smoke protection” for illegal fox hunting, a court heard.
Mark Hankinson, the director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association and a staff member at the Hunting Bureau, appeared in Westminster District Court on Monday and was charged with encouraging or assisting others based on his comments about a crime.
The 60-year-old from Frampton Farm, Sherborne, Dorset, was charged after hunting saboteurs received footage from an MFHA member training webinar broadcast in August 2020, which it passed on to the media and police.
Hankinson appeared in Westminster Magistrates Court on the first day of his trial in a navy blue pinstripe suit and polka dot tie.
“His intentions are very clear,” Prosecutor Gregory Gordon told the court.
“Prosecutors say the defendant has given advice on how to make it more difficult to prove illegal hunting. He gave advice on how, in his own words, the search for clues can be used as a “wall of smoke” behind which the illegal hunt could continue.
“The prosecution only has to prove that what he did was appropriate to encourage a crime, not whether someone was encouraged to do so or acted accordingly.
Gordon said it could be deduced that Hankinson intended to use his advice to hide illegal hunts. “With the hunt in mind, the meaning of his words to his audience was clear and obvious, as he must have intended,” said Gordon.
In track hunting, which was developed after the hunting law had banned the hunt for foxes with dogs, a “track layer” precedes the hunt and carries along a rag covered with animal odor, according to the court. Hunters throw the dogs at this scent so that they follow it to the end of the trail.
To the casual observer, traditional fox hunting and trail hunting look practically the same, Gordon said. “That makes it a potentially useful smoke screen, because if a hunt can pretend it’s laying tracks and the dogs smell the scent of a fox, then a hunter can say, ‘I thought they were chasing a track and I have did not call the hounds until it was too late. ‘
“That’s what the prosecution says that Mr. Hankinson was encouraging.”
A motion by Hankinson’s defense to have the video evidence removed on the grounds that it was obtained through fraud was denied by Assistant District Judge Tan Ikram. Hankinson’s attorney, Richard Lissack QC, then attempted to slander the hunting saboteurs who received the video.
Lissack claimed that the Hunting Saboteurs Association comprised “violent, threatening individuals” and that the police took the threat posed by their “extreme wing” “very seriously”.
“For example, the Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism division often publishes a table of flags and emblems or organizations that literally begin with Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and for domestic extremism, the HSA is one of the four organizations mentioned,” said Lissack.
The case came after a complaint from the League Against Cruel Sports, whose members held a theatrical performance in front of the court on Monday with a smoke machine and a man in a red fox hunter’s coat. They booed Hankinson when he arrived.