Op-ed: Members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee (EFRA) are currently in discussion about Britain’s animal welfare laws and whether they are still fit for purpose in 2016.
The inquiry will focus on the effectiveness of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in protecting domestic pets, such as cats, dogs and horses, from cruelty.
This is in part response to the growing concern about Internet trade in animals and the easy way unscrupulous people can buy and sell animals for dog fighting, baiting and other nefarious activities.
Included in EFRA’s review of animal laws is a debate about the RSPCA and whether the charity should be allowed to continue in its present form of investigator and prosecutor.
The RSPCA has been saving animals both domestic and wild for 200 years. It is irreplaceable and the work could not be picked up by the police and the CPS.
The Charity has no statutory powers above and beyond any citizen in the UK.
It is a long established legal right of every one under English law to bring a private prosecution, and with a 92.4 per cent success rate, which is much higher than the CPS, the RSPCA has saved the taxpayer £43 million a year, and in 2015, 796 animal abusers out of 1,781 were convicted and punished.
So all in all the RSPCA is fulfilling its remit as a charity by preventing cruelty and helping bring animal abusers to court in the interests of the public. It should also be remembered that the RSPCA has no powers of arrest, and in the case of domestic animal abuse, all arrests and removal of animals are carried out by the police, not the RSPCA. Similarly, in Court it is the lawyers and the judges who decide if a person is guilty or innocent, not the RSPCA.
No reasonable person would argue that RSPCA private prosecutions are anything but about stopping animal abusers and saving animals from suffering but it appears the Charity is a victim of its own success.
Animal experts and others in authority have been invited to submit evidence for the EFRA review, and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has reportedly also submitted evidence to EFRA stating that the RSPCA should step back and leave the roles of investigator and prosecutor exclusively to the police and the CPS.
The NPCC is concerned that the RSPCA has no statutory powers to assume the default role of investigator and prosecutor and it draws attention to the fact that the RSPCA has been shouldering this responsibility outside of a statutory framework for some considerable time.
The NPCC goes on to say that groups such as the Countryside Alliance (CA) have long accused the RSPCA of pursuing politically motivated prosecutions against hunters and it is past time the Charity left the state to prosecute criminals as it does in every other area of the law.
Tim Bonner, CA CEO said, “The time has come for the society to accept that none of its prosecution decisions will be seen as independent whilst it attempts to carry out the multiple roles of political campaigning and criminal prosecutor, whilst running an intensive fundraising operation,"
Tiverton and Honiton MP and Efra committee chairman Neil Parish said the role of the RSPCA is, "certainly something MPs will be looking at and taking evidence on.
We are a nation of animal lovers and that's why the RSPCA is one of the largest and most well-funded charities in our country. They've had a tough period and I think that prosecutions have had a lot to do with that.”
Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Dene, who is also a member of EFRA, said animal welfare is one of the issues constituents contact her about the most and whilst this Government has made huge strides in this area, including taking action on protecting wildlife, there is still much work left to do. Ms Pow hopes the EFRA inquiries can highlight the areas where improvements can be made.
And so the stitch up of the RSPCA begins in the guise of updating the UK’s animal welfare laws.
If we take a closer look at the EFRA committee, half of those on board are pro hunt and pro repeal of the hunting Act.
Neil Parrish, EFRA Chair, is rabidly pro hunt and pro badger cull. Rebecca Pow, MP is also in favour of making legal again the ripping up of Britain’s wildlife for entertainment.
Neither Mr Bonner nor the NPCC have explained in what way prosecuting animal abusers is political. It’s not and never has been political to stop people being cruel. Neil Parrish claims the RSPCA prosecutions have made it tough for the Charity. He’s right, but not because of any political motivation.
The Countryside Alliance has long had reason to hate the RSPCA since the Charity successfully prosecuted the Heythrop hunt for illegally killing a fox.
The unelected, single issue, pro hunting/shooting Countryside Alliance organisation has relentlessly pursued the RSPCA through the pro hunting media with lies and smears and claims that prosecuting hunt abuse of wild animals is because people are against toffs enjoying themselves. There is no moral argument to support hunting, so the next line of attack is to render those against their cruel form of entertainment powerless.
What better way to avoid prosecution than to remove the right of the RSPCA to prosecute?
To this end, the Countryside Alliance has harassed the RSPCA online and in the national press.
The CEO has pestered the Charity Commission, members of Parliament and indeed anyone else who will listen to the relentless carping. This remorseless attack is not in the best interest of animals, it is purely in the interests of the hunting fraternity, who want the RSPCA stripped of its right to investigate and prosecute hunt abuse of wild life.
The police aren’t interested in illegal hunting, and indeed many police officers are pro hunt themselves, so with the RSPCA unable to act, its business as usual for hunts up and down the country with little fear of being caught and punished.
Many reports of police collusion with hunters and the prevention of the saboteurs monitoring hunts can be found on Facebook.
On March 20th this year, the Sheffield saboteurs reported that an inspector based at a Northampton police station, encouraged hunt followers to block the road preventing the sabs from following the hunt for 10 minutes, giving them time to get a head start.
It was alleged that the same officer also witnessed an assault on the sabs but then claimed he didn’t. When challenged he said " I am not bothered about assaults. But I am bothered about aggravated trespass "
In answer to the question, are you going to do anything about illegal hunting? he said "no, but I will be making arrests for aggravated trespass “.
The Accidental Activist wrote in his blog in March that a senior police inspector was present at an illegal cub hunt in 2015, and the Wild Life Crime Officer for Leicestershire police was forced to stand down from her role when it was discovered that she is from a hunting family and she is currently involved with the Duke of Rutland’s Belvoir hunt. (The same hunt that is under investigation after allegations of grievous bodily harm to two monitors from the League Against Cruel Sports.) It has been alleged that on other occasions Leicestershire police regularly harass hunt sabs while ignoring assaults, dangerous driving and reckless & outrageous behavior by local hunt supporters. Leicestershire police are not alone in this.
In 2006 Avon and Somerset and Devon and Cornwall police were presented with evidence against the Exmoor Foxhounds but they decided not to pass the file on to the Crown Prosecution Service. The police prevaricated until such time as the League was forced to take out its own private prosecution against the hunt.
Elections for Police and Crime Commissioners will be held in the 41 police force areas of England and Wales on 5 May 2016. One of the candidates for Durham is Tory Peter Cuthbertson who has declared in an email to a constituent that although he is very much against animal abuse and supports good animal welfare he does not support the fox hunting ban.
Lord Ashcroft, in his unofficial biography of David Cameron, claimed that whilst our Prime Minister was an MP, he wrote to the CPS to get a friend off a hunting charge.
The CPS subsequently dropped the case and a FOI request about the issue was denied on the grounds it was not in the public interest. David Cameron is himself a hunter, and repeal of the hunting Act is in the Tory manifesto.
As recently as June 2015 East Kent Hunt Saboteurs Association presented the CPS with evidence of illegal hunting but the case was dropped before the Court hearing on July 13th. The hunters were accused of illegal hunting on two separate occasions, November 8 and December 23 2014 on the Romney Marsh, and a separate incident when they were alleged to have dug out a live fox. Video evidence was supplied as well as an expert witness statement.
Grant Tilman from the East Kent Hunt Saboteurs said: “It is unbelievable that the CPS believe that there was insufficient evidence, the video footage speaks for itself. The video evidence was also to be backed up by the testimony of a local hunt saboteur/ hunt monitor and evidence taken from two pro hunt websites.”
In disgust Mr Tilman went on to say, “How often does a prosecution case have video evidence of an offence, someone with twenty two years of hunt experience ready to testify, not to mention two websites implicating many of the accused at the scene of the crime. How much evidence do they need? A signed confession?”
So where does all this leave animals if the RSPCA is stripped of its prosecuting rights?
And equally worrying, where will it end?
Will the League against Cruel Sports be banned too from taking abusers of UK wild animals to Court?
People who care about animals are justifiably concerned that with animal cruelty on the rise, and prosecutions left to the police and the CPS, many animals both domestic and wild will not get the protection or the justice they deserve.
Many of us feel that the EFRA committee would serve our animals better if instead of persecuting the RSPCA, they remind Britain’s police forces that they have a duty to uphold ALL UK laws, not just those they deem are more important.
September 2015 - Open letter to EFRA, Cameron, Hart and Parish
An open letter to EFRA, Mr David Cameron, Simon Hart MP and Mr Neil Parish MP
A great many of us are seriously concerned that the EFRA [Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] committee is using its position in government to curtail or remove the right of the RSPCA [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty cases, and that the motive for this move is more about preventing fox hunting prosecutions than any real concern for animal welfare.
It will be impossible to prosecute if the Charity is not allowed to investigate, and it will be difficult to investigate if the Charity then has to rely on the CPS to bring up the thousands of cases in Court. It should also be remembered that it is the right of every private citizen to seek justice through the UK Courts.
Of course there will be times when the RSPCA gets it wrong, but in the thousands of abuse cases which reach Court, there is only a handful which have been stopped and deemed not to be in the public interest. I would point out that for every case which does go to court, there are hundreds more that don’t. The problems are sorted out with RSPCA support and education and the cooperation of the animal’s owner. Sometimes the animal’s owner is reluctant or refuses to improve or take advice and that is when the RSPCA must step in for the sake of the animal.
The Charity spends around 5p in the £1 on prosecutions and the rest of the money is spent on animal housing, veterinary treatment, education and of course paying inspectors salaries. The RSPCA also saves the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds every year which it is doubtful could be matched by the CPS, especially in these times of austerity and swinging cuts to services.
The pro hunting press, ably abetted by the Countryside Alliance, are also guilty of a steady build-up of accusations of RSPCA misuse of power. The Telegraph and the Daily Mail are particularly aggressive in accusing the RSPCA of radical campaigning, promiscuous legal actions and the underhand use of funds. Yet this is at odds with ALL of the RSPCA reviews which have found the RSPCA to be acting within its remit, which is to prevent animal abuse. The Charity Commission has said on at least two occasions that the RSPCA has no case to answer.
The Heythrop prosecution is often cited by Mr Hart as a scandalous waste of money, which he claims was undertaken for political motives to embarrass the Prime Minister who has associations with the hunt. But it has never been political to uphold the law, nor is it political to prosecute cruelty. Perhaps if the Heythrop themselves had been more mindful of Mr Cameron’s reputation by association, they would have not broken the law in the first place. (Oddly the Charity’s prosecution of cruelty to horses in 2008 on Spindles Farm cost over £2,000,000, and the RSPCA was praised for their dedication and compassion.)
It is of especial concern that animals will not get the protection they need after reading Lord Ashcroft’s expose of David Cameron, who he claims, when in opposition, used his influence and asked the CPS to drop a hunting case against a member of the Heythrop hunt, and if that allegation turns out to be true, not only was Mr Cameron’s action undemocratic, but it could also be viewed as an attempt to pervert the course of justice. The CPS dropped the case against the hunter, which in the light of recent news reports of Mr Cameron's personal intervention does not give people confident in the CPS or the law.
The RSPCA is as respected and it is respectable, it is also unique. Britain has a reputation of being a nation of animal lovers and the majority who care do not want to see the RSPCA rendered useless because another backdoor attempt is being made to prevent hunt prosecutions.
If the EFRA committee rule that the RSPCA can no longer investigate and prosecute animal abuse, then perhaps EFRA would tell us what it intends to put in place of the Charity, and where the money will be found to carry out the investigations and to fund the court costs so that no animal is left to suffer.
Sources and resources;
Western Daily press
In summary, Mr Wooler found the RSPCA to be fulfilling its role as animal protectors. The report highlighted the unique remit of the RSPCA as a successful prosecuting animal welfare organisation, whose prosecutions team "enjoys good standing before the courts for the effective manner in which its cases are presented." While it also stated that the RSPCA operates in an "unstructured and haphazard” environment, the report also asserted that the Society is not only making a huge contribution to animal welfare, it is also "fulfilling a very significant constitutional role" whose contribution in terms of expertise and resources is huge and "simply too valuable to be lost.”
Public support for the RSPCA was at an all-time high with people taking to Twitter and Face Book with unsolicited messages of encouragement. Below are just a few examples of the hundreds of unsolicited messages they received via Twitter and Facebook:
“Let’s not forget, if the hunts didn’t keep breaking the law there’d be no need to prosecute them! Well done @RSPCA_official”
“RSPCA I am so impressed with the recent campaigns and your brilliant work I am upping my donation!!! I am behind all recent decisions 100 PERCENT !!! Well done everyone !!!!”
“Completely and 100% support @RSPCA_official. #dontlikeitdontfollowme”
“I was absolutely disgusted to read such a biased, one-sided article. I hope they’re held to account for such misleading, damaging ‘journalism’. Well done to all of you for everything you do for animals.”
“@RSPCA_official : money spent prosecuting law breaking animal abusers is money well spent!”
“@MailOnline not printing comments in support of @RSPCA_official, hardly surprising from the biased, bitter journos on the daily fail!!”
“@RSPCA_official RSPCA will be fine – back-stabbing and smearing part of today’s sad society.”
This was last year, and for the first few months of 2015 the vitriol against the RSPCA seemed to die down. That is until the charity decided to prosecute the Cattistock hunt on film evidence provided by the IFAW. Unfortunately, the RSPCA decided to drop the case against the Dorset based Cattistock on the 18th of March 2015. The evidence upon which they built their case was supplied by IFAW, but with the Law being as it is at the present time, it was decided that the footage was not enough to secure a conviction.
Look at the footage here and decide for yourself - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcQucQhxcv8
Hunts caught out breaking the law claim accidental hunting and these claims are hard to disprove at times. Accidental hunting is a loophole in the hunting Act, inserted by the pro hunt MPs when the legislation was going through the Commons. It is a ploy often used today when hounds are observed chasing foxes. Of course the Countryside Alliance is full of self-righteous indignation, with their campaigns manager accusing the RSPCA of a vendetta against law abiding hunts.
Penny Little, the POWA monitor whose footage helped convict the Heythrop, described the situation as a complete and utter scandal. She went on to say that if the RSPCA is bullied in to not taking on hunting prosecutions it is tantamount to state-approved anarchy in the countryside.
The RSPCA’s chief legal officer spoke of the society having to have ‘proportionality’, and agreed that the expense of prosecuting hunts and huntsmen for breaking the ban on hunting meant money wouldn’t be spent stopping cruelty to pets.
The state of play at the moment is far from satisfactory. It is common knowledge that many hunts ride out every week with the express intention of hunting foxes in contravention of the law. The CPS and the police are less than enthusiastic and the animal charities against blood sports have their hands tied up the accidental hunting and research clauses in the Act. It seems clear however, that as long as hunters continue to train their dogs on fox scent, those dogs are going to chase and kill foxes if they are given the opportunity.
Perhaps with a change of government in 2015, we can lobby to have the Act strengthened. It would be a good idea to remove the accidental hunting clause and stop the hunts using fox scent to train the dogs. The offence of hunting a wild mammal with a pack of dogs should carry a jail term and perhaps hunters riding out with a pack of killer dogs could be charged with going equipped to break the law.
Country lover, amateur naturalist and fox lover fighting to preserve the ban on hunting