Why does the MP’s report on animal welfare want to muzzle the RSPCA?

rspca dog

Last month’s EFRA Select Committee Report on Companion Animal Welfare came up with some excellent recommendations to improve the welfare of pets in the UK.

More controversially, the report also recommended that prosecution powers should be withdrawn from the RSPCA, and this is what made headlines in the newspapers. Yet when the composition of the committee is looked at in detail, perhaps this is no surprise.

Who were the MPs on the EFRA Committee?

The Committee of eleven MPs included Simon Hart, Chair of the Countryside Alliance, who currently being paid £30k / annum by the Countryside Alliance for 8 hours per week as a ‘high-value consultant’. Other member included Chris Davies – Countryside Alliance supporter and ex-hunt master, Rebecca Pow who has strong family livestock farming interests, and David Simpson, founding director of the Universal Meat Company. The Chair of the Committee is a farmer, Neil Parish.

Chris Davies and Simon Hart spoke at the recent Westminster Hall debate on grouse shooting, strongly supporting it. Neil Parish, Rebecca Pow and David Simpson have been outspoken supporters of badger culling. Chris Davies, Simon Hart and David Simpson were also on the smaller EFRA sub-committee (mostly attended by only six appointed to look at the detail of the report and its recommendations.).

From these names, you can see that there seems to be a disproportionate representation of Countryside Alliance, farming and country ‘sports’ supporters compared to the majority of the pet owning population, which seems odd for a report which focussed on pet welfare.

What was the political split on the vote to call for action on the RSPCA?

The committee voted 6 to 4 to call for RSPCA to cease prosecuting – 5 Conservative and 1 SNP against 3 labour and 1 SDLP.  This political split is hardly surprising given the number of Tory MPs who want the Hunting Act repealed. The committee received a large number of submissions from people with a clear motive to have anti-RSPCA action promoted e.g. people who had been prosecuted by the RSPCA and found guilty in a court of law.

The statistics show that the RSPCA prosecutes thousands of cases of animal cruelty

It’d be easy to believe that the recommendation to remove prosecution powers from the RSPCA has less to do with animal welfare and more with the protection of hunting, shooting and farming interests. The latest RSPCA prosecutions report shows that in 2015 the RSPCA investigated 143,000 complaints of cruelty and served over 81,000 non-statutory improvement notices. 1781 convictions were secured. Most RSPCA investigations are resolved through advice or improvement notices, but an important minority do go to court. The RSPCA’s conviction success rate for cases brought to court in 2015 was over 99%, suggesting that they are highly focussed and diligent independent prosecutors.

The supposed ‘diminution’ of respect for the RSPCA referred to in the report is hard to understand. While donations to the RSPCA may have fallen a little in recent years, there are many reasons for this, including the economic context. Public support for the RSPCA is still very strong,  with over £100 million donations each year. Most of the recent opposition to the RSPCA seems to come from those who have objected to the RSPCA prosecuting hunts and campaigning against badger culling.

Who would prosecute cases of animal welfare if the RSPCA were stopped from doing this?

The Police, the Crown Prosecution Service and to a large extent local authorities have shown little interest in animal welfare investigations or prosecutions. The cases that the RSPCA pursue are often appalling, in urgent need of effective action and prosecution. The RSPCA has performed a massively valuable service funded by the public in investigating and prosecuting.

The right to pursue private prosecutions is a general right in law in England and Wales. It is an important right. It is one that can be pursued by any citizen if they feel that justice would not otherwise be served, and it is a right that organisations pursuing a range of public interests can also pursue (for example, with respect to child abuse, negligence, breach of health and safety regulations, corporate manslaughter etc). It is difficult to see how it could be seen as fair to arbitrarily and for politically-motivated reasons remove this right from selected individuals or organisations that powerful vested interests are opposed to.

Vets & animal welfare groups want the RSPCA to continue to prosecute animal cruelty cases

A large number of veterinary and animal welfare organisations have been surprised by this direct effort to muzzle the RSPCA.  Gudrun Ravetz, the President of the British Veterinary Association, summed up what many others felt when she said: “Calls to reduce the RSPCA’s prosecution powers received scant support from the organisations and individuals submitting evidence during the EFRACom inquiry so it is surprising that MPs are not only progressing, but shining a spotlight on this recommendation.”

It surely seems a shame that a committee set up to review the welfare of pets seems to have been side tracked by a political effort to tamper with the legitimate powers of the largest animal welfare group in the UK.


18 thoughts on “Why does the MP’s report on animal welfare want to muzzle the RSPCA?

  1. I will tell you why they should either stop prosecuting and leave it to CPS, or become regulated. What the RSPCA do not tell you is the amount of innocent pet lovers they have dragged through the court, just because they can. They do this for easy publicity in the inane hope it will increase donations. They ruin people’s lives, some have even killed themselves over the loss of their beloved pets. They kill so many animals, rather than spend money on treating them. If they did just concentrate on real animal abusers, nobody would mind, but it seems they ignore real animal cruelty and go after softer targets so they can keep their prosecuting stats high. They have been known to regularly lie in court, as the judge would rather believe them than the defendant. They often intimidate the victim into pleading guilty to making it easier for them to get a conviction. They manipulate the evidence to get a conviction In short, they do what ever it takes to get a conviction, and do not abide by the justice system, because they can, as they are not regulated, and have to answer to nobody, and regard themselves as above the law. You just have see the arrogant response to the recent fine for breaking data protection act, when Jeremy Cooper said they had done nothing wrong, and would continue snooping on their donors financial status?? Let me warn real animal lovers, if they come to your door, film everything, and ring SHG , or you could be another statistic!!

    1. I have no idea where you get your statistics from Collette. If the RSPCA are called to a pet owners house and find their animals ok then no prosecution happens. Only cases where severe neglect or cruelty has happened leads to action, which often is just getting the owner to get treatment for health problems rather than legal action.

      1. I ask the same question to Collette – your comments are typical of those used in sections of the media which are clearly strongly anti-RSPCA – but without specific instances, this is pure hearsay and it doesn’t tally with the information given by people like Heather who have first hand experience of working with and for the RSPCA. Can you give us some specific, proven facts, Collette?

        1. Some of the victims sent in their evidence to EFRA committee which is probably why they chose to recommend prosecutions pass to CPS, so no more innocent and vulnerable pet lovers are persecuted. Why can’t RSPCA just concentrate on real animal cruelty cases? I used to be a massive supporter of RSPCA until a few years ago, when my eyes were opened to the horrific reality! The reason people don’t see the truth is because the delete any comments off their page of real stories, and block the people from ever commenting again. One of my friends a lovely lady called Dawn dared to speak out with the truth, then they harassed her until she sadly took her own life. What other charity pushes people to suicide? The toll is at least 6 so far! They have become e a terrible greedy organisation, rather than the once great and compassionate animal charity they once we’re.

          1. I can understand your scepticism, as I never used to listen to people’s disregard of RSPCA, although I had heard a few bad stories about them, just thought they were one off stories. Now I know the truth, this scandal is bubbling under, and one day will erupt the way in the same way all the other scandals have erupted. They are all similar, as in every case, people persistantly refuse to listen and believe the victims until it is too late.as the perpetrator holds such a strong reputation!! Throughout centuries people have got away with persecuting their victims, as they hide behind public facade, in order to get away with their crimes. So before you dismiss my warning, remember the RSPCA are not regulated, so act like they are above the law, as they can. I have witnessed them in court blatantly lying, and manipulating the evidence, because they can. The judge is more likely to believe what the RSPCA are telling them, than the victim, so it is not classed as fair trial, and everybody deserves a fair trial. This is why I believe CPS should take on the prosecution, as they have nothing to gain from a prosecution so it will be a fairer process, and then only real animal abusers will be taken to court, and that is the way it should be!!.

          2. You haven’t told to full story, Collette. Dawn was depressed and she also was in a relationship with a man who took his own life. It is a very sad story, and may they both rest in peace. However it’s wrong of you to lay the blame at the door of the RSPCA for this, what’s your real agenda here?

      2. I’m sorry Heather but you are very wrongly informed. More and more now, the RSPCA are seizing and rehoming animals not even signed over to them, and before cases have even gone to court, where there has been no cruelty or neglect involved what so ever, and so they persecute people then on environment for example. Some very good friends of mine had their dogs seized and rehomed (the RSPCA obviously pockets all the proceeds), because they were in the middle of having a new kitchen fitted and the house was untidy. Well, I’m sorry but that is simply not good enough reason to put those poor dogs and their owners through all the distress of being separated, when often people have owned pets from puppies, kittens etc, and the animals have never known other family, places to live etc, and then the RSPCA has the audacity to then produce information concerning the devastating effects of ‘Separation Anxiety’ and the like, when it is them that has caused all this distress to the animals and owners. Who do the RSPCA think they actually are to often ‘illegally’ as in when no vet is present, seize animals for a untidy house, because is there even a law in existence that states ‘an untidy house is a criminal act’, NO of course there isn’t.

        Another example is a lady being prosecuted for her horse’s stable being two inches to small, and again I ask you, is there such a law in existence that stipulates stable sizes for horses or any animal for that matter.

        Yet another example, because this is obviously what you need to hear, so as to understand the ‘real’ reason for the enquiry, is a lady who lives on a farm, so lots of foxes about I suspect, taking her dog to the vet when it became apparent that the dog had developed mange, and the RSPCA arriving the following day and seizing the dog because of having mange. But hang on a minute, the dog had been seen by a vet the day before which was easily proven by her invoice and the bottle of wash she had been prescribed to bath the dog in. How are the above the terrible cases of cruelty that you seem to believe the RSPCA correctly prosecutes.

        I don’t have a problem with the RSPCA prosecuting people, as long as they consistently prosecute the ‘right’ people, but this is just not happening, and far to many mistakes are made, and terrible distress caused to animals and owners alike, almost on a daily basis it would seem, and so for that reason the RSPCA simply must be regulated, by an independent body, which is only the same as what happened when the police used to decide who was prosecuted and who wasn’t by the introduction of the CPS.

  2. Well done … fully agree. It is an abuse of power and corrupt to the core. The power to prosecute must stay with the RSPCA

    1. The RSPCA has NO more legal powers or rights than you or I do, and you may well feel very different if they happen to turn up at your house when you are having a nightmare day, and god forbid your bed isn’t made or something, and they then seize any animals you might have, and prosecute yourself, and believe me this is exactly what happens, and if requested, I can provide you with a full explanation as to why it does, because this is why people often don’t want to believe it, because they don’t understand what the RSPCA has to gain from such abuse of the legal system, but they actually have an awful lot to gain, as do the inspectors directly when annual rewards are given out to the inspectors securing the most convictions, which also carries promotion and the relevant pay increases.

  3. I can only comment on my personal experience as vet working with the RSPCA. I know they would like to spend more on treating animals but the money simply isn’t there. The majority of the time people are educated and helped with veterinary treatment, they keep their animals and no prosecution takes place. If animals are taken and owners prosecuted then I can have little sympathy since the neglect or cruelty has to be quite severe before this takes place. It is so hard to find new homes for animals so of course the RSPCA don’t want to take in animals where owner education is all that is needed. The only cases where I have been involved in court have been where awful cruelty has taken place. Court is expensive so not undertaken lightly. Much of the RSPCA’s good work goes on unpublished. The media are not interested in cases unless they are dramatic and the Councils are not interested in tethered horses or injured stray cats. I feel the RSPCA are the best placed of the animal charities for prevention of cruelty to animals. The society is constantly looking for ways to improve but since they are funded entirely on donations from the public resources have to be prioritised.

    1. If only it were as you so very wrongly state, because then no one would have any problems whatsoever with the RSPCA continuing to prosecute. It is interesting to note though, that with them being the most complained about charity, falling dramatically now (to about 17th position I believe), in the top 20 charities in the country, and with donations and support very much on the decline, and yet why do you think that is though Heather, is everything is exactly how you state it is?

      Just for the record though, there is absolutely no way I would wish there to not be an RSPCA, because they do do without doubt, a tremendous amount of absolutely wonderful work, and save many, many animals from the most horrific cruelty and neglect, and over the years I have adopted animals myself from the RSPCA.

      I do believe they need regulating though because of the unacceptable number of mistakes made, and I do have very serious concerns about how their prosecutions are rewarded directly to the inspectors, but the fantastic rescues are not. I’m not convinced that the best place for inspectors is sat on their backsides in court rooms up and down the country, pursuing convictions for which there are not even any existing laws, which could explain partly as to why so many people have become so unhappy with them, because when phoning in terrible cases of neglect and cruelty, these then go unanswered, because inspectors are simply not available to do the job for which they are employed, because they are sat idle in courts.

    2. Heather, tell me why time and again, they use the excuse their is no money to treat animals, yet have millions in the bank. They have no problem spending money on expensive solicitors, fat cat salaries, expense accounts. They do not spend money on local shelters,the shelters have to raise their own funds. If you believe that only animals are taken in severe cases, remember Claude the Cat?? Now, this was a huge mistake, but unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg as many people like them are prosecuted all the time, when all is needed is some compassion and advice. Luckily for them they filmed everything, so of course as RSPCA could not do wiggle their way out of this one, they had to admit their mistake, and apologise, but this goes on to poor animal lovers all the time, only we never hear of it. You say the RSPCA are constantly looking for ways to improve, so why do they consistently ignore people’s advice to them?

    3. where do they get all the money from for prosecution it is not about education any more just prosecution. less unnecessary prosecution more mony for treating animals instead of murdering them.

    4. Well said, Heather. I am a volunteer with another animal welfare charity and we work in partnership with the RSPCA at times. I wish the public and the media would look at all the good work the RSPCA do throughout the year. Their annual reports list all the positive outcomes: wild animals rescued, treated and released, pet owners educated and helped to keep their previously neglected pets, contributions to the cost of vet care for injured stray cats, treating and rehoming abandoned animals, providing educational resources for schools and other settings as well as the prosecutions (only a small proportion of the reports received – resources are targetted at educating and supporting animal owners, especially those in crisis, to keep their animals). All of those activities cost money and I believe a large proportion of donations goes towards them.
      Criticism of the Inspectors is so wrong; they often have to attend the most soul-destroying situations in awful, stomach-churning locations – not something I would ever wish to do. However, they do have positive stories to tell and I would recommend visiting the RSPCA Facebook page where a delightful Inspector named Marie contributes a video blog of her workday experiences.
      Also, I think that, rather than saying “the money isn’t there”, it would be more accurate to say the money is stretched across the whole of England & Wales and sometimes the facilities needed are full or the inspectors are miles away on other callouts, so they just can’t take in or investigate another report immediately which is what so many of the public seem to expect. As with the animal charity I volunteer for, many of the people working within the local branches of the RSPCA are volunteers. If it weren’t for them, the money would be even more stretched.

  4. People want the RSPCA to stop prosecuting because they see the appalling abuse of powers that the RSPCA have been given de facto with no checks, no safeguards and not even a debate in parliament. The courts believe everything they say and their vast funds mean that the chances of any fair trial are zero. Some of us are fed up with seeing people destroyed for the appalling crime of having an elderly or sick animal or rescuing animals the RSPCA will not rescue.

  5. With due respect to the fact that this was written by a vet, I would take issue with his knowledge of the law. The fact that the RSPCA prosecutes under a loophole that allows PRIVATE prosecutions, when since 1985 the police were no longer prosecuting but had to pass their investigations over to the Crown Prosecution Service so that there was an independent overview of that evidence by LEGALLY trained people. This is not so with the RSPCA. The writer needs to read and take on board the independent review of the RSPCA by an ex head of the CPS Stephen Wooler that was published in September 2014. It made 33 recommendations for it to improve its poor practice. At the time of the EFRA report in November 2016 not one single recommendation had been implemented. In 2014, the Senior prosecution case managers did not have a single solicitor or barrister among them. I am working with a case at the moment where there is a catalogue of 41 – yes that is right FORTY ONE breaches of the law BY THE RSPCA in its so called investigation, and that does not include the information that the police are refusing to investigate as they too breached several statutory codes, that if left ‘buried’ will let their own misconduct go unpunished. As this is an ongoing appeal, there can be no further details given, but it should hit the press after April.

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