Has the RSPCA lost its way?
ANIMAL-WELFARE campaigners are defending the RSPCA after the Commons Environment Food and Rural Affairs committee recommended it be stripped of its powers as prosecutor.
The general public is concerned with the charity’s tendency to target ‘vulnerable, ill or elderly people’ and its overzealous practices that, in some cases, allowed vets to sign for an animal’s removal without actually seeing the animal in question.
Last year, the RSPCA spent £4.9 million on legal fees (about 3% of its budget) and it has also been heavily criticised for the way it has investigated foxhunting.
MPS say that the RSPCA’S charitable role and its high profile as prosecutor is a ‘conflict of interest’, but Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, Blue Cross, Cats Protection, the Dogs Trust and the PDSA all attest that, without the RSPCA, many cases would go unprosecuted.
Just days before the report’s formal publication, the World Horse Welfare annual conference cautioned against haste. Guest speaker Angela Smith MP commented: ‘The RSPCA has built its skills over many generations. If people want change, it would take a very long time to deliver. We would have to see Government dedicating the financial resource to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and it would still have to be done in partnership with RSPCA.’ Complaints in England and Wales investigated by the RSPCA rose from 153,770 in 2013 to 159,831 in 2014, leading to 1,132 prosecutions, and, in 2014, the RSPCA claimed a success rate of 98.9%. The organisation’s Scottish and Irish equivalents do not prosecute. Other charities ceased bringing private prosecutions when the CPS was created in the 1980s, but the RSPCA’S near autonomy has led to many accusations of heavyhandedness. For example, last year, the RSPCA reportedly seized and destroyed 11 healthy horses owned by Rachelle Peel, despite offers to rehome them; it then failed to contest her appeal and her neglect conviction was quashed. The RSPCA spent £200,000 prosecuting her and claimed £10,000 for stabling costs after the horses were dead. In another controversial case, the RSPCA left a note on Bob Skinner’s gate, advising that they had taken his pet pig. He was told it was being cared for, but then discovered it had been destroyed. Pippa Cuckson
Recently discovered in a storeroom, this rare Georgian masterpiece by Scottish artist James Howe (1780–1836), Old Hallow Fair on the Calton
shows Edinburgh as few would recognise it today—thronging with sheep, horses and cattle. It will be auctioned on November 25 at Swan & Turner of Jedburgh (£15,000–£25,000).