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MP demands answers from Police and Crime Commissioner about hunting bias

Labour MP Matt Western has sent a letter to Philip Seccombe, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Warwickshire, asking him about the questionable policing of the Warwickshire Hunt.

A Conservative councillor on Stratford-on-Avon District Council between 2002 and 2017, Seccombe was first elected as the Warwickshire Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016 and re-elected for a second term in May 2021. He attended the Royal Agricultural University (formerly Royal Agricultural College) where in February this year students strapped a dead fox to the roof of a car for a charity rally.

Back in December 2022, the Warwickshire Hunt was issued with a Community Protection Notice (CPN) for causing road chaos. Protect the Wild understands that the CPN was issued as a result of evidence gathered by experts with a particular expertise in road laws. But in August 2023 the police backtracked, having negotiated with the hunt to come to a “sensible working arrangement”, which it didn’t expand upon to the public.

Anti-hunt campaigners were suspicious that Seccombe had something to do with the decision. Seccombe is a member of the Countryside Alliance, which unashamedly lobbies to repeal the Hunting Act.

Searching for answers

Western questioned Seccombe on behalf of his constituents. He wrote:

“My understanding is that the Warwickshire Hunt had been in the process of appealing the CPN, but that prior to an appeal hearing going ahead, a private protocol was instead agreed between the Warwickshire Police and the Warwickshire Hunt. I do not believe that the terms of this protocol are in the public domain, and certainly I have not had sight of a copy. This apparent lack of transparency is causing some concern.”

Western went on to cite an example of illegal hunting that took place on 9 October, as well as an assault on a hunt saboteur on the same date, and raised concerns about hunt havoc. He then politely demanded answers, asking for reasons why the CPN was withdrawn, who drafted the protocol, why it was agreed privately, and why it has not been made public. He also demanded to see a full copy of the protocol. He awaits a response.

Complicit?

Suspicious that Seccombe had direct involvement in the decision to withdraw the CPN, West Midlands Hunt Sabs confronted the PCC in person back in August. One sab asked him:

“Are you saying that you had absolutely no involvement with the Chief Constable, who made a massive u-turn, clearly, to do with the Warwickshire Hunt’s CPN?”

Seccombe replied:

“Well, the notice was served, it was discussed with lawyers, everything else, and an agreement has been reached… It’s a protocol… It’s not a public document as far as I know… It’s an agreement between a private lawful activity and the police.”

On his own website, Seccombe states that his particular interest is road safety. If he didn’t have a bias towards his hunting friends, he would surely have been pushing for the CPN to stick: after all, it was issued with regards to chaos on roads.

In his role as PCC, Seccombe insisted to the sabs that his membership of the Countryside Alliance doesn’t pose a conflict of interest. This is, of course, absolutely ludicrous. Because as PCC, he must, among other tasks, set police objectives and hold the Chief Constable to account. As he is a member of the pro-hunting lobby, we can assume that his priority won’t be to ensure that the police force catches and prosecutes people murdering foxes. And he won’t want to put hurdles in the way of his friends carrying out their bloody hobby.

Seccombe is also a board member of the National Rural Crime Network, which is, apparently,

“working to see greater recognition and understanding of the problems and impact of crime in rural areas so more can be done to keep people safer.”

Organised criminal gangs (hunts) terrorise our countryside all over the country every week, yet Seccombe’s key role likely ensures that this type of rural crime is completely ignored by the network.

Integrity?

PCCs must adhere to the Seven Principles of Public Life. One of these principles is integrity:

“Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.”

Another principle is openness:

“Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.”

West Midlands Sabs pointed out that in fighting the CPN, “a lot of money would have been thrown at the legal team representing the Warwickshire Hunt.”

They went on to say:

“In our opinion if the CA had any involvement in helping the Warwickshire Hunt getting the CPN dropped then the Police and Crime Commissioner who is a member of the CA certainly has some questions to answer over his position and whether there is a conflict of interest.”

With PCCs like these, who needs enemies?

Seccombe isn’t the only pro-hunting PCC. Protect the Wild has previously covered Wiltshire PCC Philip Wilkinson’s obvious hunting bias. In trying to prove that he has seen sabs — who he called “black clad, balaclava wearing thugs” — terrorising hunts, Wilkinson admitted to a member of public that he had “been to two hunts covertly”. Wilkinson also uses obnoxious language when questioned about hunting, and when speaking about hunt saboteurs.

The hunting lobby is very aware that supporting pro-hunting Tories to get into PCC positions will enable them to continue their hunting largely unchallenged. So having men like Seccombe and Wilkinson in these key roles is vital to them.

In the meantime, we wait with anticipation for Seccombe’s reply to Western. Whether the Warwickshire Hunt protocol becomes public knowledge remains to be seen.

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