Exactly one year ago, on Tuesday 24th November 2020, ITV News at Ten featured a story about the leaked Hunting Office webinars. Fox hunting in the UK would never look the same again.
Their coverage was a week and a half after the Hunt Saboteurs Association – who were supplied the video by a third party – self-published the webinars as mainstream media had shied away from coverage. The London Economic were the first media outlet to publish a story about the webinars and this paved the way for others. Once media interest in the story was raised the dam broke and the webinars featured on ITV News for the next three nights.
The year since the story broke has been one of the worst in hunting’s history and certainly their lowest point since 2005 when the Hunting Act came into law.
On the same day that ITV first covered the story, Devon & Cornwall Police announced they were investigating the webinars. Following the announcement of a police investigation major landowners including the National Trust, Forestry England, United Utilities and Natural Resources Wales suspended hunting on their land, denying the hunts access to millions of acres.
Hunts across the country limped through a season severely curtailed by Covid, many of them fraudulently claiming furlough grants from local councils. The prestigious Quorn Hunt, however, felt they were too important to obey the rules and did their bit to drag hunting’s reputation further into the gutter by hunting during lockdown to celebrate master Joss Hanbury’s birthday. Their sheer arrogance led them to film this and unfortunately for them this footage made its way to ITV an appeared on the evening news. The Masters of Foxhounds Association subsequently suspended a hunt master pending their investigation.
The entire hunting community was dealt a suckerpunch in April this year when Mark Hankinson, MFHA director, was charged with “encouraging or assisting others to commit offences under the Hunting Act”. He was found guilty at the subsequent trial, a result that sent shockwaves through a community that saw itself as above the law. His conviction was timed perfectly, just a few weeks before the National Trust AGM, where the membership voted to permanently ban “trail hunting” on National Trust land. A move that still has to be ratified by the charity’s board but in the current climate it’s impossible to see them defying the membership. Natural Resources Wales followed suit and it is surely only a matter of time before most corporate landowners distance themselves from the illegal countryside gangs and ban hunting from their land.
Hunt saboteurs have continued to kick the hunting community while its down. We shut down the secretive Northumberland Beagling Festival on its first day when over 60 sabs located the illegal hare hunters in a remote northern location and stopped the festival before it had even started.
Most recently, Herts Hunt Sabs captured evidence of a member of the Cottesmore Hunt, primary school teacher Sarah Moulds, brutally punching her horse in the face. The ensuing media coverage went global and once again showed the world the cruelty endemic amongst fox hunters.
A Hunt Saboteurs Association spokesperson stated:
“This was the year that the smokescreen was blown away and the British public have seen the true face of fox hunting, a 15-year conspiracy to circumvent the ban on hunting with hounds. Media scrutiny has never been greater, and the hunting community appear unwilling or unable to not shoot themselves in the foot when the eyes of the world are on them. As hunts continue to close and saboteur numbers increase this might be their low point… but we’re confident that worse is sure to come.”