Police force bars officers with fox hunting links from joining rural crime team after officer posts pictures of herself riding with a hunt as Chris Packham backs decision
- New regulations ensure officers, staff, volunteers no ‘personal links to hunts’
- Chris Packham welcomed Wiltshire Police decision, urged others to follow suit
- But Countryside Alliance blasted decision to ban as ‘blatant discrimination’
A police force has banned officers with links to fox hunting from joining its rural crime team after an officer posted photos of herself riding with a hunt sparked protests.
PC Cheryl Knight’s appointment to Wiltshire Police’s rural crime team prompted uproar when anti-hunt protesters spotted photos on her Facebook page of her at both the Avon Vale and Beaufort Fox hunts.
Scores gathered outside the police headquarters to protest at her new role.
The police force initially defended the appointment saying it is ‘not illegal for someone working for a Police Force to be affiliated with a hunt organisation’.
But following an internal review, Wiltshire Police has now introduced new regulations to ensure all officers, civilian staff and volunteers within the unit have no ‘personal links to hunts past or present’.
The force also said those with links to anti-hunt groups will be scrutinised.
The police force initially defended the appointment saying it is ‘not illegal for someone working for a Police Force to be affiliated with a hunt organisation’. But following an internal review, Wiltshire Police has now introduced new regulations to ensure all officers, civilian staff and volunteers within the unit have no ‘personal links to hunts past or present’ Pictured: Riding at the Beaufort Hunt in November 2017
PC Cheryl Knight (pictured) prompted uproar when she was appointed to Wiltshire Police’s rural crime team and anti-hunt protesters spotted photos on her Facebook page of her at both the Avon Vale and Beaufort Fox hunts
Anti-hunt groups today praised the move and PC Knight’s ‘removal’ from her role, though Wiltshire Police refused to confirm details of her position as they ‘would not comment on individuals’.
But Countryside Alliance today blasted Wiltshire Police’s decision to ban officers with fox hunting links from joining its rural crime team as ‘blatant discrimination’.
Naturalist Chris Packham today welcomed Wiltshire Police’s decision and urged forces across the country to follow suit.
The 61 year old said: ‘I welcome this decision but we now need other police forces to notice this has happened.
‘I’m a keen supporter of the police, but we have got to have trust in them, we want to be working positively with them.
‘Police forces need to tighten up their regulations.
‘We all make mistakes, and hats off to Wiltshire Police for realising it.
‘I hope other police forces follow suit, particularly Dorset where they’ve had a lot of problems with fox hunting.’
Naturalist Chris Packham today welcomed Wiltshire Police’s decision to ban officers with links to fox hunting from joining its rural crime team and urged forces across the country to follow suit
Dozens of people gathered outside Wiltshire police headquarters in Devizes earlier this month to protest at PC Knight’s appointment to the rural crime team.
The team – which is made up of one inspector, a sergeant and four constables – has now undergone ‘staffing changes’ since the investigation but the force would not confirm whether PC Knight was still part of the unit.
Announcing her appointment in February, PC Knight introduced herself as being ‘interested in all things equestrian’ and ‘looking forward’ to her new role.
But her appointment quickly sparked anger with many pointing out she had previously posted pictures of herself to social media with two local hunts, Avon Vale and Beaufort.
READ MORE: Historic Cotswold Hunt is suspended and investigation launched after saboteur video claims to show fox buried alive in a bag during hunt
Footage captured by hunt saboteurs appears to show a fox being trapped in a bag during a meet. Pictured: Saboteurs appearing to take the fox out of the bag
Referring to PC Knight’s appointment, Packham said: ‘It just looks like Wiltshire Police were asking for trouble if we have to be questioning their impartiality.
‘There’s nothing illegal about riding with a hunt but this officer’s been put in a difficult position where she’s been asked to police her friends.
‘It must be hard to not be able to do your job properly.
‘I don’t have any sympathy for the fox hunts, I hope they go out of business and we can put it all to bed with more than 80 per cent of people wanting it to stop now.’
Referring to a recent suspension of the Cotswold Hunt, Packham, who lives in Hampshire’s New Forest added: ‘When you see a fox tied up in a bag and buried alive you realise these people are evil.
‘We need to see a lot more effort put into rural crime, and we need effective rural crime teams to do that.’
In a statement, Wiltshire Police today said: ‘We regularly review our resourcing and policing approach to ensure we can provide the best possible service to the public.
‘We commissioned an internal review of our Rural Crime Team, which has resulted in us establishing a framework to ensure the suitability of our personnel working within the unit.
‘The new framework will provide more scrutiny around the suitability of our officers, staff and volunteers to work within the unit.
‘It sets out key principles to ensure staff do not have personal links to hunts past or present, do not have links to any anti-hunt groups past or present and requires staff disclose links to any rural based hobby or initiative that could potentially call into question their policing impartiality.
‘This has already resulted in some staffing changes although it would not be appropriate for us to comment on individual cases.
‘Although it is important to stress that, to date, none of our colleagues in the unit (past or present) have been found to have breached legislation or guidance, we accept that some resourcing decisions we made as an organisation have distracted from the crucial work the team do.
‘We appreciate there has been considerable public scrutiny regarding this team however, the action we have taken should reassure our communities that we will continue to police without fear or favour and, when appropriate, we will respond pragmatically to concerns when they are raised.’
PC Knight is said to have attended the Avon Vale Hunt and Beaufort Fox Hunts.
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A photo from the fundraising event at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) in Cirencester shows the lifeless fox sprawled on the vehicle’s roof
The Avon Vale Hunt was recently thrown out of the sport’s governing body after footage of a fox being thrown to hounds was posted online.
In the clip, the fox appears to be dug out from a den by hunt members before tossing it to waiting dogs.
Fox hunting was made illegal in 2004, but hounds are allowed to chase a pre-laid scent – which is known as trail hunting.
The Cotswold Hunt was suspended this week after shocking footage emerged of a fox allegedly buried alive in a bag.
A group of hunt saboteurs filmed the alleged discovery of the young female fox buried in a man-made den during a hunt on the Miserden Estate in Gloucestershire on March 18.
Wildlife rescue experts said the rescued fox was possibly lactating at the time of discovery and the bag she was found in was ‘sodden’ with urine suggesting she had been trapped for many hours or even days.
The British Hound Sports Association suspended the hunt’s membership initially while investigating the matter, before deciding to permanently ban the hunt.
But Countryside Alliance today described Wiltshire Police’s decision to ban officers with fox hunting links from joining its rural crime team as ‘blatant discrimination’.
Polly Portwin, Director of the Campaign for Hunting at the Countryside Alliance, said: ‘This decision is blatant discrimination which risks damaging the reputation of the force within Wiltshire’s rural community.
‘There can be no justification for rejecting job applications based on an individual’s involvement in a lawful activity.
‘Wiltshire Police recruits should be made up of a diverse range of men and women, irrespective of their background.
‘It appears Wiltshire Police have bowed to faux outrage and mob rule without considering the reputation of rural policing which is already at all all-time low across the country, with two thirds of rural voters thinking that reporting crime is ‘a waste of time’ according to our recent rural crime survey.’
In a freedom of information request, Wiltshire Police confirmed PC Cheryl Knight had not investigated any hunt related offences.
However, in PC Knight’s capacity as wildlife Crime Officer she may have been ‘requested to provide advice on wildlife crime’, it said.
Meanwhile, Wiltshire Hunt Saboteurs today welcomed a victory for ‘police impartiality’.
They said: ‘Without saying it directly, Wiltshire Police are pretty much saying that the foxhunting police [officer] who was recently assigned to the Wiltshire Rural Crime Team has now been removed from her rural crime post, if not the police force.
What are the rules for hunting with dogs in the UK? How fox hunters try to avoid run-ins with the law
Hunting with dogs was banned in England & Wales in 2004 (Scotland in 2002) because of the profound suffering it causes to foxes and other hunted animals, such as stags and hare.
The law was not intended to stop foxes being killed, but to stop them being cruelly killed.
Exemptions were included in the law which permit dogs to be used in certain specific circumstances…
Stalking and flushing to guns: Two dogs may be used to flush a fox from cover so it can be shot for the purpose of protecting livestock, game birds or biodiversity. The dogs must be kept under close control and the fox must be shot as soon as it breaks from cover – no further chasing is allowed.
Rescue of an injured mammal: Two dogs may be used to capture a fox if the hunt believes it is injured and the hunting is undertaken to relieve its suffering.
Research and observation: Two dogs are allowed to be used for the purpose of or in connection with the observation or study of a wild mammal.
Flushing to a bird of prey: An unlimited number of dogs can be used to flush a fox from cover to a bird of prey which will catch and kill it.
Recapture of escaped wild mammal: An unlimited number of dogs can be used to capture a fox that has escaped from captivity.
Use of a dog below ground (known as terrier work): One terrier may be used below ground to flush out a fox to be shot for the purpose of protecting game birds being reared for shooting. The terrier men must carry written permission from the landowner.
Fox hunters have long tried to find ways to avoid the law. When the Hunting Act was introduced many hunts quickly took raptors out with them so they could claim to be using the bird of prey exemption.
However, few hunts claim to be using this exemption today. Equally, some hunts went out with just two hounds and claimed to be flushing to guns, but this too quickly stopped.
Today, most fox hunts say they have switched to ‘trail hunting’, where the dogs follow a pre-laid scent trail made using fox urine and does not involve a fox being chased or killed.
‘The removal of Foxhunting police officers from the RCT was always at the core of our campaign.
‘This issue goes to the heart of police impartiality, accountability and public trust and confidence in the ‘policing by consent’ model, particularly during a time when the public gaze is very much focused on the corruption and the sometimes criminal behaviour which occurs within every police force around the country.
‘Naturally this result is welcomed. This is most certainly a win for the power of people to hold powerful institutions and interests to account, when the official systems invariably fail to do so.
‘We know the RCT are currently investigating several incidents of hunt crime, some of which hunt sabs have been assisting with, and we will continue to provide evidence, where we can, to bring these organised rural crime gangs to justice for the sake of our persecuted wildlife.’
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