The RSPCA have hit the headlines once again, after the story emerged of Claude, a cat in Tring, who was put down by the RSPCA (against his owners’ wishes) for – as the headlines have it – ‘having long hair’. Following the RSPCA’s decision to put down the cat, the charity then decided to prosecute the family for animal cruelty – a case which the CPS has now thrown out.
In February last year, Melissa Kite asked whether the RSPCA ‘thought it was the FBI’ after a stream of ‘lurid’ headlines which led to an investigation by the Charity Commission and a Commons Debate on the matter. But that wasn’t before, as Melissa put it:
‘dozens of ordinary householders have been convicted, fined and even tagged for offences such as killing squirrels in their gardens, or not arranging adequate veterinary care for a sick pet’.
Since that piece was published, however, much has changed at the RSPCA. Firstly, their chief executive Gavin Grant – the man who many thought was behind the ‘in your face’ campaigns – stepped down from the job in February, citing ill health. The charity’s acting CEO, John Grounds, also left in April 2014, just a few months after Grant’s resignation. Then, last month, the charity’s chief legal officer confirmed that they were considering stopping their prosecutions of fox hunts, and shifting their focus back to their original cause – the wellbeing of domestic animals.
But their entire prosecutions policy is also being independently reviewed by Stephen Wooler, a former CPS chief inspector, after the then-Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, wrote to the charity suggesting that it appoint ‘an independent person’ to review their policy.
But the strange thing is that despite their apparent review of their prosecutions policy, the RSPCA is still standing by their somewhat heavy-handed approach to domestic animal cases. Yesterday’s story – about Claude the cat – was featured on BBC’s Today programme, on which David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs at the charity, stood by their decision to remove the animal and have him put down. The cat’s owners refused to authorise the euthanasia, but claim that due to the threats of police action and ‘enormous pressure’ from the RSPCA, they eventually agreed to it.
Mr Bowles, however, denied John Humphrys’ claim that the number of cases the charity take to court has ‘nearly doubled’ in the past couple of years, and stated that he was proud of the charity’s prosecution record – despite the fact that they spent £326,000 prosecuting David Cameron’s local hunt, the Heythrop.
‘We haven’t taken any proactive decision to be more active at all’, said Mr Bowles, instead blaming any increase in prosecutions on ‘the recession’ and ‘a knee-jerk reaction from people’ who decide to buy animals on the spur of the moment – a claim that Humphrys rubbished.
Wooler’s independent report, which was initially promised in May, still hasn’t emerged, and the charity remains without a CEO. It will certainly be interesting to see what the RSPCA decide to do in the next couple of months. Their next choice of CEO – and how they decide to act on private prosecutions – will be an important decision for a charity that ought to be far more respected than, unfortunately, it currently is.