The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is being accused of being driven by an animal rights agenda after spending a large sum to prosecute members of the Heythrop Hunt and is now being asked to review its prosecution policy by the Charities Commission.
A debate, which was sponsored by Simon Hart MP, the former chief executive of the Countryside Alliance – which supports the return of blood sports – challenged the RSPCA’s role in private prosecutions that drew arguments from both sides.
Members of the hunt admitted to animal cruelty for hunting foxes with dogs on multiple occasions, which was banned in 2004 under the Hunting Act. The RSPCA spent￡326,000 prosecuting members of the hunt, while some now claim the case was politically motivated to target Prime Minister David Cameron who had participated before the law changed.
“While overstretched police resources struggle to investigate such offences, the RSPCA will not turn away. Our job is to argue for better animal welfare laws and to ensure they are properly enforced. Given the sheer weight of evidence, for me, the decision to prosecute was never in doubt,” wrote RSPCA Chief Executive Gavin Grant.
Now, some MPs are questioning the RSPCA’s political motivation.
“My concern is, where there is a political and commercial activity which the charity is unsurprisingly involved with, can it be completely objective, as it says it is, when it comes to prosecuting people?” Hart told the Telegraph.
“I think there is a number of members of parliament who are going to raise examples of potential conflicts of interest and just suggest to the Attorney General that this is an area that needs to be looked at,” he said.
Others are concerned about the RSPCA’s perceived animal rights agenda.
“In my mind the RSPCA was always an animal welfare body, that’s how I always saw it. But I must admit I’m finding it more to be an animal rights body,” said Glyn Davies, a Conservative MP.
Apparently it’s only a welfare issue when an average citizen commits a violent act against an innocent creature, and anyone who would oppose people dressing up in fancy clothes to galavant about the countryside on horseback with the sole intention of seeing a wild animal torn to pieces by a pack of dogs is an AR extremist.
Fox hunting, no matter how romanticized or promoted, is a cruel and barbaric blood sport pure and simple. Fox hunting is not about conservation efforts nor about controlling populations (statistics prove otherwise) it’s about chasing and brutally killing an animal for sport and pleasure. In reality, fox hunting is no better than dog fighting, which is a felony in every single US state.
Evidence-based research has also found that foxes who are chased suffer from pathological stress and trauma so severe it can lead to organ failure and death, even if they’re lucky enough to escape being caught and torn apart by hounds. There is also no shortage of evidence that foxes are not immediately killed by hounds, but are viciously maimed before they die. The ones who find refuge may be dug out by terriers and shot, killed with a spade, re-hunted or thrown to the dogs while they’re still alive.
Those who have accused the RSPCA of having political motives are plain wrong. We were founded and are supported by politicians of all parties. Our motivations are to prevent cruelty and promote compassion for animals. Any doubters should watch the footage that was played to the judge. It clearly shows a fox being pursued by a pack of hounds, encouraged by the huntsmen. It shows huntsmen failing to call off their dogs as they rounded on their target, before savaging it. It shows undeniable wildlife crime. It led to guilty pleas on a significant number of charges.
Questions have been raised over the amount of money it has cost the RSPCA to bring this case. I understand and sympathise. I would have liked to have saved that money and could have done so if these huntsmen and the Heythrop had obeyed the law. They did not, and you cannot put a price on justice. After all the animals cannot bring the case or speak for themselves. To that end I have launched the RSPCA Legal Fighting Fund to allow us to continue to defend the animals and bring their abusers to justice.
The RSPCA did garner support from a number of MPs who endorsed its actions. Caroline Lucas, former leader of the Green Party, supported the hunt’s prosecution and said that “upholding the law is not a political act.”
The government also noted that it technically has no control over who the RSPCA prosecutes because it is a private organization which has just as much right as any other individual to pursue litigation without government interference. Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, called it an “ancient right,” for people to be able to do so, which remains “fundamental and important.”
“We take our responsibilities as a prosecuting body extremely seriously and will continue to do so. We are as committed to our mission, to promoting compassion to all creatures and prevent cruelty, as ever,” said the RSPCA in a statement.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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