Controversy after Wilton Hunt hires Salisbury Guildhall for event

Salisbury City Council has been criticised for allowing a hunt association to hire the Guildhall for its Christmas party.

The Wilton Hunt will host its Christmas ball at the public venue, owned by the city council, next Saturday (December 18).

However, concerns have been raised over whether the event should be taking place at the Guildhall.

The Journal understands it is no longer possible for the hunt to meet outside the Guildhall, in the Guildhall Square, so questions have been asked as to why the group is allowed inside the building.

Concerns raised by residents refer to past links between the Wilton Hunt and Mark Hankinson, who was convicted of intentionally encouraging huntsmen to use legal trail hunting as a “smokescreen” for the unlawful chasing and killing of animals in October this year.

Read more: Mark Hankinson fined £3,500 for illegal fox hunting webinars

Mr Hankinson, who is also the Director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, was Joint Master and Huntsman of the Wilton Hunt until 2012.

However, the offences of which he was found guilty took place during two webinars in August 2020.

There is no evidence to suggest he took part in illegal activities while based at Wilton.

Criticised for ‘hypocrisy’

The city council, which manages the building, has been accused of potentially supporting illegal hunting activity by allowing the association to make a booking in the Guildhall.

Peter Matthews, 66, Amesbury resident and volunteer for Action Against Foxhunting (AAF), said he is “concerned” about the hosting of the event due to the recent prosecution of Mr Hankinson, accusing the city council of “hypocrisy”.

He said: “I understand the Wilton Hunt has been using the Guildhall for a few years now, but due to the recent prosecution I am concerned about this hosting.

“Does the city council now condone foxhunting? Are the Guildhall and Salisbury City Council not aware that a previous hunt master of the Wilton Hunt was recently prosecuted for encouraging illegal foxhunting?

“Have they just turned a blind eye for profit?”

Pewsey resident Tina Watson, 59, who spotted the event on social media, added: “Hankinson is a convicted criminal, who was recently found guilty of encouraging others to break the Hunting Act.

“It would appear this is supporting illegal hunting. It is inconceivable that our public buildings profit from the illegally-slain blood of our wildlife.”

‘It’s a venue and it’s a Christmas party’

Mayor of Salisbury, Cllr Caroline Corbin, said: “I don’t like hunting, but, as a council, it’s a venue and it’s a Christmas party. They haven’t got horses in the square, it’s slightly different.

“The logistics of the management of the Guildhall day-to-day is down to the Guildhall’s staff. The hiring of the hall as a venue, councillors do not have much to do with it.

“But if it is that controversial and our residents feel that something needs to be done, then there would be a route to accommodate that too.”

‘No policy to ban groups’

In a statement, the management of the Guildhall said it did not “have a policy to ban any particular organisations” from using the building, but would actually “look into the issue” in the New Year.

The statement read: “The city council manages the Guildhall and hires the space to a variety of groups and organisations throughout the year.

“The booking to the Wilton Hunt is one such booking.

“The city council does not have a policy that would ban any particular organisations from using its facilities but will look into the issue in more depth in the New Year.”

Hunt denies ‘spurious’ claims of illegal activity

A spokesperson from the Wilton Hunt responded to the concerns by refuting any “spurious” allegations of illegal activity: “The Wilton Hunt conducts lawful trail hunting activities at all times to comply with the Hunting Act.

“We retain evidence of each hunting day – of which we have carried out thousands since traditional hunting with hounds was restricted in 2005 – and we refute any allegations about illegal activity.

“Any organisation or business that supports the Wilton Hunt can be assured that they are not condoning an illegal activity because the hunt complies with the law despite spurious allegations made by those with an anti-hunting agenda.”

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