RSPCA urged to overhaul its prosecutions policy

The RSPCA should overhaul the way it prosecutes animal cruelty cases and hunts and leave some cases to the CPS and police, says an independent report.

The findings of an independent review into the charity’s prosecutions policy were published on Wednesday (1 October).

The £50,000 review, led by former CPS investigator Stephen Wooler and commissioned by the RSPCA, recognised the “substantial and important role” the charity played in enforcing animal welfare legislation.

The RSPCA conducts 80% of animal welfare prosecutions in England and Wales. Last year the charity dealt with 66,000 incidents and took nearly 1,600 people to court.

But in recent years, the RSPCA has been accused of becoming too politicised and aggressive in pursuing farmers, hunts and pet owners.

The report found the charity operated outside the mainstream prosecution system in an “unstructured and haphazard environment”.

And it argued that the RSPCA should leave prosecutions of high-profile hunting and animal sanctuary cases to the police and CPS.

The review makes 33 recommendations on the society’s investigation and prosecution activity, including:

• Inviting the government to put the charity’s investigation and prosecution functions on a more formal basis, seeking statutory appointment of RSPCA inspectors under the Animal Welfare Act 2006

• More detailed operational guidance to govern relationships with the police

• Realignment of the charity’s prosecution role in certain areas such as animal sanctuary cases

• A comprehensive review to be undertaken by the charity of its prosecutions structure, including the adoption of a prosecution policy statement and clearer guidelines on how it assesses whether to take prosecutions.

Mike Tomlinson, chairman of the RSPCA, said: “The RSPCA accepts the need to adapt its approach to meet modern expectations of transparency and accountability in law enforcement.

“The RSPCA’s next step will be to discuss the outcome of the review with other key players in enforcement of animal welfare legislation such as the government and other statutory enforcement bodies to develop a more clearly defined strategy for the enforcement of animal welfare legislation.”

The RSPCA announced the review of its prosecutions policy last December following a string of high-profile, costly court cases, including the decision to spend £326,000 prosecuting the Heythrop Hunt in Oxfordshire for illegal foxhunting.

Its former chief executive, Gavin Grant, who earned up to £160,000 a year as the charity’s head, stepped down in February, citing health concerns .

Mr Grant positioned the RSPCA with an aggressive campaign stance against badger culling. He also outraged farming unions with his call to have farmers involved in the pilot culls “named and shamed”.

NFU leaders and the RSPCA have also clashed over the charity’s long campaign to stop live animals being exported from Ramsgate port in Dover.

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