The former director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association did not break the law when he told other hunts how to avoid being beaten up by hunt sabs.
Mark Hankinson was found guilty in October 2021 of using two training webinars hosted by hunting’s governing body to explain how to stay away from antis.
Now he has had his appeal against his sentence upheld and his original conviction overturned by His Honour Judge Gregory Perrins at Southwark Crown Court.
Mark Hankinson going to his original trial
The story started on 13 November 2020, when hunt sabs claimed they had exposed “a nationwide conspiracy” by hunters they insist are flouting the 2004 Hunting Act. They leaked two videos of webinars held by leading figures in trailhunting.
ITV News featured the webinar on 24 November. The network said police are investigating but offering little other new information.
The next day, Forestry England said it would suspend trailhunting on its land. The National Trust and another of the UK’s biggest landowners, United Utilities, followed suit. ITV quoted Forestry England chief executive Mike Seddon as saying people given permission to use its land “must behave legally and responsibly or risk losing the right to carry on”, implying Forestry England thinks the Hunting Office is guilty before the police investigation has finished.
The issue was also discussed in parliament.
Unfortunately for the sabs, the videos reveal nothing more interesting than tactics hunts should employ to stop the sabs disrupting legal trailhunting.
“If we’re going to get any support from the police, particularly when dealing with saboteurs and the like, if we haven’t got any viable trail-laying evidence, how on earth are we going to refute these allegations?” Mark Hankinson, then director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, said in the video. “This has increasingly come to light that the police are not prepared to support us when we have problems with saboteurs if we can’t prove quite conclusively that we’re not taking the mickey and just using this as a shield.”
Read our report here.
What happened next sealed Hankinson’s fate. The body in charge of hound sports, the Hunting Office, decided to force the takedown of the videos due to copyright. Suddenly the story became relevant – obviously Hankinson had something to hide.
Antis persuaded ITV News in England to carry the item about the videos. It was a short step for them to obtain a conviction against Hankinson. Now that conviction has been overturned.
Speaking from the Festival of Hunting in Peterborough, Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner reacts to the news abut the appeal:
Mark Hankinson successful in appeal against conviction for encouraging illegal hunting. Big questions now about knee jerk reaction of some institutions and police to original conviction— Tim Bonner (@CA_TimB) July 20, 2022