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Thu 25th Apr 2019
The meaning of the letter of the law
Blythyn: Applied the velvet hammer
Blythyn: Applied the velvet hammer

First published in 1853 as a country newspaper for the hunting, shooting and fishing community, by 1986 The Field magazine was struggling. With a circulation of just 7000 copies and falling, prompt action was needed if it were not to disappear altogether. The one advantage it enjoyed was that it was owned by newspaper magnate, Lord Rothermere, who had the resources to bring about change and one of the first changes he made was to appoint a new publisher, drawn from the staff of his newspaper the Mail on Sunday. What he didn’t know about this hotshot, was that he was at that time a member of the League Against Cruel Sports; however, it was not long before he was alerted to the fact, whereupon and shortly after a note arrived on the desk of the individual. Signed by the Chairman It said: “It has come to my attention that you are member of the League Against Cruel Sports, a situation I find wholly incongruous with your current position as publisher of The Field and I am inviting you to consider which of the two options you most favour”

This tale has a relevance to the recent news that an attempt by the fieldsports bodies to bring about a judicial review of the Welsh Government’s decision to ban shooting on land under its control, had failed. The reason it failed was that the court decided that a letter sent by the then environment minister, Hannah Blythyn, to the head of Natural Resources Wales, Claire Pillman, had been decisive in bringing about the ban and, as the letter had been sent in July of last year and the attempt to bring about a review had not commenced until October, the whole thing failed because it had breached the two-month deadline under which such cases may be brought. Now it gets interesting, because although the judge said the letter was decisive, the minister concerned had gone on record to say it wasn’t. How did that happen? And that’s where the earlier experience of The Field’s publisher become relevant, because Ms Blythyn had penned her letter after Natural Resource Wales’ head had decided that shooting should go ahead. That decision would have been anathema to Ms. Blythyn, a dyed-in-the wool class warrior, with the usual default opposition to anything perceived to involve privilege. Hence in a letter to Pillman, she referred to “ethical reasons” for implementing a ban. Pillman, a public body veteran long used suckling at the teat of the public purse, would have understood the clearly implied threat. Ergo, you are entirely free to make a choice, but make sure it is a choice with which I agree.

And it was this, Rothermere-esque application of the velvet hammer that the judge saw all too clearly. Thus, having spent £48,000 of taxpayer’s money on a review that recommended shooting on Welsh public land should continue, shooting is now banned. Still, that will be a drop in the ocean to a Government that has cut thousands of jobs in the past ten years in an effort to save money. Alas one of those savings was not the £80,000 plus it pays Ms. Blythyn. Having made a hash of her last role, she was quietly moved to a new job in Housing and Local Government.

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