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Wiltshire Police's PR nightmare

Since announcing suddenly that no staff with any ‘links’ - past or present - to hunting could join the Wiltshire Police Rural Crime Team (RCT), the force has found itself in the middle of a totally avoidable PR nightmare.

The context in which this extraordinary announcement was made took place a short time after a handful of animal rights activists protested outside Wiltshire Police HQ, following the appointment of a female officer to the RCT, who happened to have previous ‘links’ to hunting.

Wiltshire Police bosses may have thought that by capitulating to the demands of a few, embittered activists, that the countryside would just keep quiet and understand their decision. That we would accept the force denying law abiding people taking part in a lawful activity from joining the RCT. Their knee jerk response provoked entirely the opposite reaction, which thanks to our supporters, has resulted in thousands of emails being sent, calling the discriminatory policy out and demanding it be scrapped. There have been a number of embarrassing news stories for the force too.

Since launching our campaign, Philip Wilkinson, the Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner, has repeatedly accused the Countryside Alliance of “scaremongering” and spreading “untruths” and “half-truths”. Despite repeated requests by the Alliance to do so, Mr Wilkinson has been unable to justify any of his allegations.

Whilst the primary issue remains the implementation of a clearly discriminatory policy, Mr Wilkinson’s particular issue seems to be his refusal to accept the logic of Wiltshire Police’s policy which bans anyone who has had “personal links to hunts past or present” from being a member of the Rural Crime Team (RCT).

 It seems obvious that policy includes not only anyone who attended hunts before the ban and anyone who has taken part in trail hunts since the ban, but also anyone whose family has been involved in hunting and anyone who has ever attended hunt events like a point-to-point or a hunt ball otherwise there would be absolutely no reason to use the phrase “personal links”.

It is almost inconceivable that any Wiltshire Police officer who has been part of the rural community would not have had such links to a hunt at some time, whether by attending a Boxing Day meet, a point-to point or any other of the myriad of hunt social event that make up a huge part of rural life.   

 Mr Wilkinson has talked about his own links to hunting, including attending hunt social events. By Wiltshire Police’s own definition, those links, irrespective of how long ago they took place, would very clearly bar him from a role in the RCT, but he denies this would be the case, contradicting the policy as it currently stands and causing further confusion.

Following Mr Wilkinson’s accusations about the Countryside Alliance and because of the confusion he has caused, we submitted a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request to Wiltshire Police directly, requesting a copy of the framework in question in order to seek much-needed clarity.

The response from Wiltshire Police states clearly: “Officers will not have any personal links past or present to any hunts. This will include historic links that have occurred during their employment with Wiltshire Police. Where the links were prior to the officer joining Wiltshire Police, a review will be undertaken by the senior lead on the rural crime team in consultation with the Professional Standards Department. These links are wider than just membership of a hunt, but also includes individuals who have ridden with the Hunts, or demonstrated public support in any other way.”

So, there we have it. Despite Mr Wilkinson’s claims to the contrary, the Countryside Alliance has been accurate in its reporting.

It is important to note that responsibility with this disastrous policy, ultimately, lies with Wiltshire’s Chief Constable, Catherine Roper. We will be contacting CC Roper imminently. The Alliance is now requesting that, at the very least, the policy be revisited to address the confusion caused by Mr Wilkinson. Of course, it remains our preference for the entire policy to be scrapped and for this unfortunate saga to end.

In the meantime, we continue to ask the public to sign our ongoing e-lobby.

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