The RSPCA is meeting the Charity Commission this week to discuss political concerns around its recent successful £327,000 private prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt for killing a fox.
It follows a letter from a cross-party group of politicians asking the Charity Commission to investigate the RSPCA’s spend on the prosecution against Heythrop Hunt which resides in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Oxfordshire constituency.
Last year, the RSPCA brought what it has called the first successful corporate prosecution against Heythrop Hunt under the Hunting Act 2004 for the killing of a fox.
However, since the case, the RSPCA has come under political attack from several quarters. It started when Judge Tim Pattinson, who presided over the case, criticised the RSPCA for spending more than £320,000 on the prosecution against Heythrop Hunt. Pattinson said the public might feel the funds could be better employed.
In response, a cross-party group of politicians, including Conservative peer Lord Heseltine, Tory MP Simon Hart and Labour MP Kate Hoey, called on the Charity Commission to investigate the RSPCA. They said that the trustees at the RSPCA had failed in their “duty of prudence” to the charity and its funds, calling the spend on the prosecution “staggering”.
Commission chair responds
Charity Commission chair William Shawcross has written back to the group. In the letter, recorded in the Telegraph, he says that the RSPCA has a long history of bringing prosecutions in furtherance of its purposes and that as long as they exercise a duty of prudence, their decisions would not normally be a matter for regulatory intervention by the Commission.
Nevertheless, Shawcross said that given the concerns raised by Judge Tim Pattison, politicians and others, the Commission is seeking an “early meeting” with the RSPCA to discuss its approach to prosecutions in general and its Heythrop Hunt prosecution.
Conservative MP Simon Hart, who is a former chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, welcomed the news and said he was planning to organise a House of Commons debate on the RSPCA’s prosecutorial role and its political and commercial objectives.
Countryside Alliance criticism
The Countryside Alliance has also criticised the RSPCA, accusing it of political bias in its prosecutions. In a recent interview with the Telegraph, Tim Bonner, campaigns director at the Countryside Alliance, criticised the charity for spending over £300,000 prosecuting Heythrop Hunt, but not pursuing animal abuses by other communities, specifically cockfights in the gypsy community.
He told the Telegraph: “Clearly cockfighting is not defensible in any form in terms of wildlife management, it’s simply animal cruelty. If the RSPCA was really interested in animal welfare rather than pushing a political agenda, we believe they would have focused their resources on that sort of activity rather than the Heythrop Hunt.”
A Charity Commission spokesman was keen to stress that its meeting this week with the RSPCA is not an investigation and noted that it would be unlikely to make further statements about the charity after the meeting.
A spokeswoman from the RSPCA said: "Representatives of the campaign to bring back bloodsports have written to the Charity Commission to raise a number of issues in relation to the RSPCA, particularly with regard to our prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt which resulted in a number criminal convictions for those involved in breaches of the Hunting Act.
"The Charity Commission is duty bound to respond to such letters as part of due process. The RSPCA has provided a written response to the Charity Commission that demonstrates we have acted in accordance with our charitable objects and with due process. This will be well known to those who wrote the letter. The RSPCA will be meeting the Charity Commission on Wednesday 16th January. There is no investigation and there are no regulatory concerns about the Society."
The charity recently came under attack from the Farmers Union Wales for its badger cull campaign.