Police with links to foxhunting have been banned from a rural crime team after an officer posted a picture of herself riding with a hunt.
Pc Cheryl Knight’s appointment to Wiltshire Police’s rural crime outfit prompted uproar when anti-hunt protesters spotted photographs on her Facebook page of her at both the Avon Vale and Beaufort Fox hunts.
Scores gathered outside the police headquarters in Devizes to protest against her appointment.
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”.
Anti-hunt groups have welcomed the move and Pc Knight’s “removal” from her role – although Wiltshire Police refused to confirm details of her position, saying it “would not comment on individuals”.
‘Considerable public scrutiny’
The force also said those with links to anti-hunt groups will be scrutinised.
In a statement, the force 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.
“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 to 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.”
Victory for ‘police impartiality’
Wiltshire Hunt Saboteurs welcomed a victory for “police impartiality”.
A spokesman 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.
“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.”
Foxhunting was made illegal in 2004, but hounds are allowed to chase a pre-laid scent – which is known as trail hunting.