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Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show: Who’s not telling the truth?

Over the last few weeks Protect the Wild has supported an Action Against Foxhunting (AAF) campaign which was asking for clarity about which hunt packs organisers had invited to parade at the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show (which was on 16/17 August).

Looking at the show’s website it was clear there would be ‘Hound Parades’ but not a single mention anywhere on the site of which hunts those hounds came from. Using the site’s search box was no help either.

What exactly was the Show trying to hide? Have hunts become so toxic now that organisers of shows like these shy away from naming their ‘guests’ because they know the inevitable backlash that will follow? (The answer to that second question is almost certainly YES…)

We and AAF hosted a petition (which is now closed) asking organisers – quite reasonably, we thought – to add full details of which hunts would be attending, what they would be doing, and how long they would be at the Turnpike Showground to their website.

After all, as we pointed out, ‘country shows’ are important fundraisers for hunts and while organisers could invite who they wanted, the ticket-buying public also had a right to know what they would be paying for.

Over 4000 of us sent emails. We know the organisers got them, because they told AAF that they did. Despite that no names and no details were added.

 

Hunts with pending prosecutions

Would organisers, both Protect the Wild and AAF wondered, at least honour their (now-deleted) statement on AAF’s Facebook page that no hunts with pending prosecutions would be present at the Show?

 

No, they wouldn’t.

AAF attended the Show on the 16th and discovered that both the Portman Hunt and the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt were parading their hounds in what AAF noted was a ‘shambles’ where hounds from different hunts mixed freely and on several occasions ran into the crowd (notably AAF also reported that in another biosecurity breakdown children petted the hounds but there were no handwashing facilities provided).

What was going on?

As AAF explain:

Members of Action Against Foxhunting approached the show organisers immediately after the hound display. They asked Nick Hill (the responsible person) why these hunts had appeared, despite what was said only a couple of days ago. Mr Hill stated that he had asked the Portman Hunt if they were due in court, and they said they were not. This is untrue. After an investigation by Dorset Police Rural Crime Team into an incident involving the Portman Hunt on Thursday 15 September 2022, Tom Lyle, Marcus Boundy and Mark Pearson will appear in Weymouth Magistrates Court in October.

Mr Hill also stated that he did not know about the BSV’s pending prosecution. However, AAF, Protect the Wild and an independent local repeatedly informed him of the fact that members of this hunt are facing two different prosecutions. Steve Paul, terrier man for the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt is due in court for spraying a hunt saboteur in the face with unknown liquid, possibly urine. He already has a caution for doing the same thing a month earlier. His trial is set for 5th October. Charlie Mayo, from the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt is due in Bournemouth Crown Court for hitting a hunt saboteur over the head with a whip handle. The injury required hospital treatment. Charlie Mayo is the son of the master of the BSV. He will appear in court in November.

 

Fox running

So who is being ‘economical with the truth’?

Which leaves both us and AAF pondering, who is not quite telling us the truth: Nick Hill, the Show’s organiser. or the hunts?

We don’t know Mr Hill and have no idea whether he is as clueless as he makes out. It would be irresponsible of us to comment further. We all know that hunts lie routinely though. They are not so-called ‘trail hunting’ as they claim: this has been proven so many times it barely needs repeating any more. They break traffic laws, they claim to love their dogs but shoot them in the head when they get a little too old to chase foxes, and think nothing about trespassing onto private land whenever the mood takes them (which is often).

Could both hunts have simply brushed off Mr Hill’s request for clarification with a breezy and fabricated statement? It’s not outside the realms of possibility, but again we weren’t in the room and maybe they are both so dense that the little matter of a court appearance simply slipped their minds.

But it does leave the questions about why the Show – which was well-supported and extremely well-organised otherwise – didn’t name which hunts would be appearing, and why organisers explicitly stated that hunts with pending prosecutions had been ‘uninvited’ but still turned up.

Questions we and AAF will be pressing the organisers to answer on behalf of everyone who signed our petition.

 

Action Against Foxhunting press release.

Action Against Foxhunting posted the following press release on 21 August 2023:

 

“The Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show has become a focal point of controversy as two hunts facing legal prosecution participated in their hound parade, contradicting the organisers’ previous assurances that they would not be present.

On Wednesday 16th August, The Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt and the Portman Hunt, under scrutiny for illegal hunting and assault charges, were active participants at The Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show.

Organisers had previously assured the public that the hunts facing criminal prosecutions would not be participating in the hound parade, a declaration which gave rise to optimism within the anti-blood sports community. Action Against Foxhunting and Protect the Wild (anti-blood sports campaign groups) asked for transparency and accountability regarding the inclusion of foxhound packs in the event’s activities. Despite thousands of emails sent to the organisers by their members, no responses were received, fuelling concerns about the show’s commitment to addressing these critical issues.

The anti-blood sports community’s hope was kindled when the show actively promoted the participation of a clean-boot bloodhound hunt. This hunt (and its cruelty-free approach) symbolised a potential shift towards more ethical practices. However, hopes were shattered on the day of the event when, despite prior assurances that they had be uninvited, the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt and the Portman Hunt appeared in the hound parade.

It has come to light that a Facebook comment made by the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show, assuring the public that hunts facing criminal prosecutions had been uninvited, was later deleted. This has raised suspicions about the transparency of the event’s organisers and their commitment to consistent communication.

The Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show now faces mounting pressure from animal welfare advocates and concerned citizens. These groups are demanding an explanation for the contradiction between the organisers’ prior statements and the presence of the controversial hunts. The lack of responsiveness to the thousands of emails sent by concerned members of the public further exacerbates concerns about the event’s willingness to engage with its audience and address critical concerns.

As public outcry grows, the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show organisers are faced with a crucial decision: to acknowledge and rectify the situation, demonstrating a renewed commitment to ethical and transparent practices, or to maintain their current stance, jeopardising the show’s reputation and credibility.”