Campaigners have accused Wiltshire Police of "blatant discrimination" after the force banned officers with links to hunting, past or present, from joining its rural crime team.

The Countryside Alliance said that “there can be no justification for rejecting job applications based on an individual’s involvement in a lawful activity” and urged the force to immediately reverse its decision.

The organisation added that the ban, part of a key framework following controversy on the appointment of a hunt-affiliated PC to the rural crime team (RCT), "blatantly discriminates against people who are involved in a lawful activity" and accused Wiltshire Police of bowing to “faux outrage and mob rule”.

The framework does not ban officers with links to hunts from working for the force, but instead means greater scrutiny “to ensure the suitability” of personnel in the RCT.

It requires staff in the unit not have links to any hunt or anti-hunt group, past or present.

Furthermore, it “requires staff disclose links to any rural based hobby or initiative that could potentially call into question their policing impartiality”.

Last week, Wiltshire Police announced an internal review led to staffing changes, although did not provide specifics.

The force “accepted that some resourcing decisions we made as an organisation have distracted from the crucial work the team do”.

That review came after the team posted on Facebook welcoming the arrival of PC Cheryl Knight, a police officer with links to two hunts.

Salisbury Journal: Cheryl Knight's appointment causing controversy.Cheryl Knight's appointment causing controversy. (Image: Wiltshire Police)

It sparked a large protest outside police HQ in Devizes last month.

The Countryside Alliance has now launched a campaign to urge Wiltshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Philip Wilkinson, and Wiltshire Police to reverse the "unjust and divisive decision immediately".

In under 24 hours, 2,400 people had already sent emails to Mr Wilkinson, outlining their horror at the decision, the Alliance said.

It also argues that the new framework could apply to any lawful activity, from shooting and fishing, to farming or even rambling.

Polly Portwin, a spokesperson for the Countryside Alliance said: “There can be no justification for rejecting job applications based on an individual’s involvement in a lawful activity.

“Wiltshire Police recruits should be made up of a diverse range of men and women, irrespective of their background.

“This decision, as it currently stands, risks alienating thousands of potential people with rural and farming backgrounds from being able to serve their communities in the fight against crime.”

Ms Portwin added: “Wiltshire Police has not considered the damage this decision has caused the reputation of rural policing, which is already at all-time low across the country.”