Time to review Countryside Alliance’s position on raptor group after hunting webinar conviction?

Last year the Hunt Saboteurs Association published two secretly-recorded Zoom webinars showing some of the UK’s leading hunting personnel, including high-ranking former police officers, providing a training seminar to over 100 hunt masters across the UK about so-called ‘trail hunting’ (where hunts supposedly follow a laid scent to imitate a fox hunt, since actual fox hunting is now illegal).

Campaigners have long argued, with strong supportive evidence in many cases, that trail hunting is being used as a cover for the continuation of illegal fox hunting. Hunting organisations have denied this, of course, and have always claimed that any fox they’ve killed was caught ‘accidentally’ and not deliberately.

Campaigners claimed that the content of the two leaked webinars (see here) showed that there was now evidence to demonstrate a ‘nationwide conspiracy’ to commit perjury and flout the 2005 ban on hunting with hounds after some of the webinar trainers were caught discussing how to create a smokescreen, presumably to avoid prosecution for illegal fox hunting.

I was interested in these webinars because one of the contributors, former Police Inspector Phil Davies, serves on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) as a representative of the Countryside Alliance (see here). The RPPDG is supposed to help prevent raptor persecution crimes in England & Wales, although to date it has achieved naff all other than to create an impression of tackling raptor persecution.

The hunting webinars were brought to the attention of the police and an investigation was launched. This led to the prosecution of Mark Hankinson from The Hunting Office, whose trial took place in September and who last week was convicted at Westminster Magistrates Court of encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence (to illegally fox hunt).

[Convicted hunstman Mark Hankinson leaving court, accompanied by Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance and protesters from the League Against Cruel Sports]

This prosecution and conviction is a huge blow to the reputation of the hunting community and the subsequent widespread publicity will have been damaging (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here), with large landowners now considering whether to ban trail hunting on their land.

For those interested in the legal arguments I’d thoroughly recommend reading the following documents: the closing submissions of the defence and prosecution, and the court’s judgement.

In the blog I wrote last year about these webinars (here), I argued that it’d be interesting to see whether there were grounds for Phil Davies and/or the Countryside Alliance to be suspended from the RPPDG as the police investigation in to the webinar content got underway, in the same way that Forestry England, National Trust, United Utilities, Lake District National Park Authority and Natural Resources Wales had initiated a suspension of trail hunt licences. I also wondered whether Mr Davies’ position, and/or that of the Countryside Alliance, on the RPPDG would be reviewed after the findings of the police investigation were known.

Well, here we are a year and a bit later. Mr Davies was NOT prosecuted for his role in the webinar, only Mark Hankinson was charged and prosecuted. However, if you read the judgement document it seems quite clear to me that Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram had cause to question the intention behind the comments made by other webinar participants, including Mr Davies, and that the judge wasn’t overly impressed with Davies’ comments about ‘creating smokescreens’ and ‘creating elements of doubt’, in the judge’s view presumably made to help hunt masters avoid prosecutions for illegal fox hunting. Here is the relevant excerpt from the judgement:

As far as I’m aware, Phil Davies was not suspended from serving on the RPPDG while the trial went ahead. So what about now, with the judge’s damning remarks ringing in everyone’s ears?

UPDATE 20th October 2021: Further evidence to support a review of Countryside Alliance’s position on raptor group (here)

UPDATE 25th October 2021: Police boot off Countryside Alliance rep from all wildlife crime priority delivery groups after hunting webinar trial (here)

13 thoughts on “Time to review Countryside Alliance’s position on raptor group after hunting webinar conviction?”

  1. Phil Davies xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx His position on the RPPDG is untenable. This is obvious to everyone but as we know the land owners, the hunters and the shooters have the ear of the powerful white men in suits.
    I have no doubt that the recent conviction of Hankinson will trigger a backlash, which will be sickening to those of us who cherish wildlife and go about our work in a peaceful manner. The pugnacious will of course, again, be driving another nail into their coffin.

  2. As per normal, big money, alliances within the legal system have stopped a full and proper prosecution of all involved.

    XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

    This happens too many times, landowners who are fully aware of illegal activities will invariably offer up the grounds keeper for prosecution to avoid themselves being charged.

    We should treat these landowners as culpable, they are aware, and will probably encourage the killing of birds of prey, along with foxes, and anything else that can earn them money,. we need to take the licences away from them, and stop all hunting, these people need to go earn a living doing something useful, helpful, and even make a difference with climate change, they could invest the money into making the land they are custodians of into wildlife havens, and even consider using the land to benefit the world, by using the elements to add electricity to the grid.

    After all a lot of the land could have wind turbines, or hydro plants, obviously making sure it does not interfere with nature.

    As for hunting from horse back, chasing foxes, and allowing the dogs to rip them apart is barbaric, and was banned, it has been going on too long now, and foxes are still being chased and killed under an illusion of chasing a scent.

    Typically it is wealthy people who pay to chase and murder wildlife, at what point do we finally step up and stop this nonsense, and ban all hunting, including chasing scents, it’s not humane, its certainly not good for the environment, and even worse for wildlife.

    They have proved that they can not be trusted to follow the laws, and don’t abide by the law, and are happy to pretend that they are catching foxes by accident, and are very keen to hide their activities.

    Aristocratic people, with archaic ideas, and absolutely no morals regarding what they are doing.

    When the law states its illegal to drive above the speed limits, and people do so, they are fined, and prosecuted, and have consequences, ie points, or banned from driving etc, but when someone murders a fox illegally, or kills birds of prey, they mostly get told off, and allowed to continue, or perhaps one person may get a slap on the wrist, a small fine, or a short prison stay, but in all these cases where wildlife is killed illegally there is a person in charge, the one who collects the money, they are the ones who get away Scott free, they have enabled the incident to happen, they are aware of what goes on, and are fully aware that gamekeepers will kill birds of prey to protect the grouse, and the hunt masters are fully aware that foxes are present, and will be chased and killed by packs of dogs, but it still goes on.

    Enough is enough, I’m not an activist, I’m not a protester, but a simple person who is fed up with the rich people getting away with murder, literally, killing birds, foxes, and anything else that could have a small impact on their income from predation, or in the case of foxes, a small increase in income because they are actually hunting foxes, with the pretence of chasing a scent.

    I am glad this chap was charged, and found guilty, but it is not enough, there needs to be more done, and the entire chain of command should be brought to bare, if they didn’t enable people to hunt, the animals, and birds would not be being killed.

    The only benefit from fox hunting, or grouse shooting is for the organisers, and those who’s land is being used, they are earning massive amounts of money in return for allowing people to murder our animals, and birds, the birds are not shot for food, but for fun, and the same can be said for foxes, the birds are bread purely to be murdered for fun.

    Sadly along with all the birds and animals killed this way, there are other problems caused by the way they mess with the land to enable grouse shooting, massive areas of land are burned to make it easier to kill the birds, so the birds have less places to hide, and this has an impact on the other animals, and birds who call the moores home, rodents, rabbits, hares, foxes, deer, birds, bees, and many many more, not to mention this also has a big effect on humans, and the planet, the carbon dioxide stored and collected by the Heather, bracken, and other plants is then released into the atmosphere, and all so rich people can kill foxes, and birds…

    1. “a lot of the land could have wind turbines, or hydro plants”

      Many of us dislike the prospect of yet more wind farms. Have you driven along the M74 lately? Windmills on the ridges, and pylons above to road to carry more power south is what I notice, except on the most dreich of days. Scotland is now self-sufficient.

        1. I’d like a say in where it comes from, and I note that in the current supply chaos smaller companies are having difficulties, some have failed. I currently use the minimum in a house where off-grid would be impossible. I’m not going to impose a windmill on my neighbours. I believe I’m still allowed an opinion.

  3. I look forward to the CPS starting the prosecution of the co-conspirators: it should be a slam-dunk given this verdict.

    1. Unfortunately, the time limit for the commencement of proceedings has passed. The question that must be answered by the CPS is why, following the investigation by Devon & Cornwall Police, they did not authorise charges against Davies and the other speakers at those webinars. It seems clear to me, on the evidence I heard throughout the trial, that they were complicit.

  4. The involvement of “high-ranking former police officers”, none of whom remonstrated with Mark Hankinson’s over his advice on how to circumvent the law, is particularly worrying. It would certainly explain why some wildlife criminals and their associates appear to believe that they enjoy a level of immunity from prosecution. This attitude is not unique to senior policemen with one backbench MP writing in 2005 that hunts ought to to “defy the police and the magistrates and the government” and break the law. That MP is now our Prime Minister.

  5. If Mr Davies has friends or associates in the various game shooting organisations, I wonder what advice he gives them?

    Creating “smokescreens” for illegal activity is hardly in keeping with the values of openness, honesty and integrity one expects from a police officer or former police officer.

    It makes me wonder if Mr Davies has misinterpreted the meaning of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, and delivering raptor persecution is a priority for him???

  6. The zero tolerance approach mooted by the shooting organisations is quite simply a zero tolerance of anybody getting convicted.

    I see that they are considering appealing this verdict and the write up in the Telegraph suggests that the video could have been illegally obtained. Fair enough but the court of public opinion has already given its verdict. Hopefully now all the public landowners, charities etc will ban trail hunting due to the FACT that senior huntsmen in this country have been advised how use it as a smokescreen for illegal hunting.

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