You don’t have to look far in the dog world and beyond to come across horrendous cases of cruelty, never mind the daily grind of neglect and abuse inflicted upon dogs and other animals. The RSPCA state that they receive calls to their cruelty line in England and Wales on average every 30 seconds, totalling 1,118,495 calls in 2015. They investigate more than 140,000 complaints of cruelty and neglect annually. So when you drop money into the collecting tin for the RSPCA, purchase something in one of their shops or attend a fundraising event on their behalf, where do you expect your money to go?
The RSPCA state that 82p in every £1 donated is spent on animal welfare, 1p on governance and 17p on fundraising and that £10 could provide a day’s boarding for a horse, £25 PPE for an inspector and £50 van equipment. Not surprisingly, they do not produce a breakdown for external barristers fees which have been recorded as being £800 – £1,200 per day in their prosecution against the Heythrop Hunt. In spite of having their own legal department, the RSPCA chose to engage Mr Carter-Manning QC who submitted costs of £73,310.80. His assistants added another £90,000 to the bill. This represents approximately 244 hours of the QC’s time which he spent watching amateur video footage. The four charges that were eventually brought against hunt staff are regarded as being so minor that they are classified as “non-recordable”. The remaining charges were dropped. In previous situations when the RSPCA has lost a case, defendants’ costs have been borne by the taxpayer. In addition, the RSPCA admiited to euthanasing 3,400 animals for non-clinical reasons in 2011 in spite of having an official no kill policy.
The RSPCA must already have marked 2016 down as being an annus horribilis following a submission to a Parliamentary committee by the National Police Chiefs Council which recommended that animal welfare prosecutions should be carried out by “a single agency, preferably a statutory body funded by Government”. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has also questioned whether it is appropriate for the RSPCA to bring forward private prosecutions when it is also involved in campaigning and fundraising. Owen Paterson, Secretary of State, warned the RSPCA to be “wary” of muddling charity and politics. The charity regulator further ordered the RSPCA to conduct an inquiry into their organisation and structure using independent auditors. RSPCA inspectors were banned from rehoming animals unless an indepdent vet attests to have personally seen evidence of suffering following over-zealous actions against pet owners. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, animal welfare groups have the power to investigate cases, but the decision to prosecute lies with the state.
Much of the impetus behind the recommendations follows aggressive persecution of hunts, including the Heythrop. Their case cost the RSPCA £325,000 as opposed to the average cost of £2,500 per case. Other cases such as that against Cattistock Hunt in March have collapsed and, in the Cattistock case, the RSPCA withdrew all its “evidence”. The cost to charity to take the case and similar cases that far has not been revealed. Persecuting hunt staff is therefore regarded as being 100 times more important than any of the cruelty cases that they use to tug at your heart – and purse- strings.
When new CEO Jeremy Cooper took over in spring this year, it seemed that the RSPCA might extricate themselves from the mire into which they have been wallowing since following an aggressive anti-field sport agenda in the mid 1970s. He apologised for the charity becoming “too political” and referenced both hunting and the government badger cull that aims to eradicate TB in cattle. He was forced to eat his words almost immediately by the RSPCA’s governing body.
Just when it seemed that it could not get any worse, shocking revelations have been made by the Information Commissioner, responsible for dealing with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 amongst other legislation.
The RSPCA has been fined £25,000 on the RSPCA (and the British Heart Foundation £18,000) for “wealth screening” donors. The RSPCA has paid “wealth management” companies since 2010 to trace and target new or lapsed donors illegally and pursue them for more donations by piecing together personal information obtained from other sources and trading personal details with other charities. Donors were not informed of the charity’s practices and so had not opportunity to consent or object to their use of personal data. The Information Commissioner stated “The millions of people who give their time and money to benefit good causes will be saddened to learn that their generosity wasn’t enough”. Indeed. They might also consider it a massive betrayal of trust. The RSPCA confirmed that the practice has now ended but disagreed with the Information Commissioner’s conclusions and may appeal against the decision – no doubt spending even more money on legal fees.
Whilst the RSPCA are not alone amongst charities of pursuing aggressive and even it seems illegal practices, they are one of the few that exist to help dogs and other animals. Surely the thousands of abused animals that they are supposed to protect deserve to benefit from their not-inconsiderable funds more than lawyers?