Earlier this year an article about hunt insurance and related equine insurances appeared in Insurance Times, the UK’s top insurance sector magazine. It revealed the shocking truth about the insurers who offer insurance to hunts even though, as the journalist said, the fact that the majority of hunts still hunt foxes is ‘one of the UK countryside’s worst kept secrets’. Here’s what you need to know about why hunts can’t claim on their insurance.
One of the basic principles of insurance is that it does not cover illegal activities. In October 2021 trail hunting was proven in one of England’s highest courts to be a ‘sham’, a ‘smokescreen’ for illegal hunting. Mark Hankinson, at the time the director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, was found guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court for intentionally ‘encouraging or assisting’ others to use trail hunting as a cover for real fox hunting. Hankinson’s guilty verdict laid the trail hunting myth to rest forever.
All this means trail hunting-related insurance claims fall into a grey area. And, at last, the veracity and legality of hunters’ insurance claims has come under serious question. Despite the conviction being overturned, the facts still hold true. Trail hunting is a fiction and a lie, and everyone knows it. So let’s take a look at what the Insurance Times article said.
The Insurance Times reports on hunt insurance – As criminals, you’re not covered!
Hunting wild mammals with dogs was banned in England and Wales via the Hunting Act 2004. Since then the hunting fraternity has claimed to be ‘trail hunting’, replacing the traditional killing with a pre-laid scent trail. As a person interviewed for the article mentioned, “It’s absolutely beyond any doubt that most hunts in the UK break the law because they involve real foxes. I’ve phoned the police many times on this as fox hunters’ foxhounds have invaded our garden and frightened people’s pets and livestock. The countryside is a battleground and if you go onto any kind of social media or do a Google search, you will come across masses of evidence of hunts killing foxes.”
The evidence supports the article. As it stated, ‘many hundreds’ of successful prosecutions under the Hunting Act have also proved the point ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’. Despite all this new evidence, and a growing amount of publicity around illegal hunting, so far the insurance implications have mostly been ignored. This matters when every single insurance policy on the planet excludes illegal activity.
Why are hunters offered cover in the first place, never mind allowed to successfully claim on liability, motor, and property insurance policies? How come they can claim for accidents and so on that happen while they’re breaking the law? And how far do their fraudulent hunt insurance claims push up the premiums paid by innocent policyholders who don’t break the law?
The article goes on to explain how the insurance relating to trail hunting is ‘decidedly murky’. The Insurance Times reckons only six or so insurers or brokers sell equine and related cover. Of these, one was ‘adamant’ it doesn’t play any part in the hunting insurance market at all. Animal Friends Insurance says it does not cover hunting. Most of the rest declined to comment. Another ‘leading insurance intermediary’, one Insurance Times believes handles the most relevant insurance scheme of all, said confidentiality prevents them from revealing the details of the cover they offer. They also refused to reveal the underwriter’s identity. Later on, the same company denied acting as a broker to the hunting association under discussion, full stop. If you smell a rat, you’re not alone. It seems reasonable to wonder whether the intermediary concerned has set up a nice little insurance club for hunters, via which they can claim on their cover despite breaking the law, despite being criminals, to the detriment of innocent non-hunters who hold the same policy.
What insurances might hunters hold? It’ll be either an individual equine policy or cover provided by an ‘affinity scheme’ offering cover to those who ride horses. Insurance Times said individual policies are most relevant for fictional ‘trail hunting’, since if the hunter also has cover through an affinity scheme their personal policy will take precedence. The kind of policies hunters hold provide basic cover for horse death, theft and straying, plus a range of extras to choose from. This can include insuring the horse or rider against injury, an option chosen by more than 50% of policyholders. Some equine insurance policies specifically exclude trail hunting, others include it if the rider declares they’re likely to get involved in trail hunting. The problem occurs because hunts do not lay trails. They have never laid trails. They, everyone who lives in a rural area, landowners, and the police have always known trail hunting is a cynical cover for wildlife crime, for hunting and killing foxes with dogs when it has been illegal to do so for almost 20 years.
What happens if someone covered for trail hunting makes a claim, but it turns out the hunt was actually chasing foxes? NFU Mutual gave the Insurance Times journalist a clear answer. They say they ‘assess all risks before accepting them and do not condone or seek to insure any illegal activity’, which sounds good until you realise they’re weasel words. NFU Mutual also says, “We will not pay your claim unless you have throughout the period of insurance complied with all legal requirements and regulations imposed by any authority. All claims are investigated to ensure the policy terms and conditions are met.” In fact one Devon NFU Mutual Insurance office provides insurance to the Stevenstone and Torrington Farmers Hunt even though they must know these hunts do not lay trails. In effect, they’re insuring organised criminal gangs – as defined by the government itself. Unless, of course, they can tell us different?
In conclusion, anyone who deliberately goes fox hunting is not covered by their insurance if they or their horse is harmed. What about Personal Liability claims if an innocent third party or their property is harmed? Luckily, when the policyholder is in the wrong the insurer doesn’t always refuse to pay out. Assuming the claimant is innocent, they might pay the claim. On the other hand, “Where the hard line is drawn is that insurers won’t cover anything obviously illegal.” Another broker confirmed the fact, saying an innocent person might have their claim paid, but if hunting a wild animal was “clearly intentional”, they could expect the claim to be denied. As the Insurance Times concluded, the “lack of clarity on this issue is very concerning.”