Has the RSPCA lost its way?

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

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).

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