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RSPCA prosecution powers ‘to be examined by MPs

The RSPCA’s powers to prosecute people for animal abuse are to be investigated by MPs, the BBC has learned.

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The inquiry will examine whether the charity should be allowed to both investigate and prosecute cases of animal cruelty.

Neil Parish, chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, said it was important the “right cases” were taken to court.

The RSPCA says the private prosecutions it brings saves government £50m a year.

Sara-Lise Howe, one of the UK’s leading defence lawyers on animal abuse cases, told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme there was a “danger” the RSPCA’s campaigning interests would affect its decisions to prosecute.

In 2014, the charity brought charges relating to animal cruelty against 1,132 people in England and Wales.

It is the second-biggest prosecutor in the UK, behind the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, animal welfare groups have the power to investigate cases, but the decision to prosecute lies with the state.

Mr Parish, a Conservative MP, said this model must be considered as a potential alternative in England and Wales.

He said it was important to ensure the “right cases” are taken to court, at a time when the RSPCA does not have a chief executive.

“Sometimes there are cases which we feel they shouldn’t have prosecuted on. Other times we would like to know why they didn’t prosecute,” he said.

The investigation is likely to take the form of a “mini-inquiry” and involve other animal welfare groups such as Battersea Dogs Home and Blue Cross.

Mr Parish explained it would look to assess the purpose of the RSPCA and the structure of the organisation.

“They need to balance what they do as an animal welfare organisation with campaigning activities,” he said.

RSPCA ‘mistreated me’

Richard Byrnes, from Hertfordshire, said his family “has been mistreated in the most appalling fashion” by the RSPCA.

In 2013, an RSPCA inspector – concerned about the low weight and matted fur of Mr Byrne’s 16-year-old cat Claude – ordered him to be taken to an RSPCA vet.

Mr Byrnes was told Claude needed to be put down and that if he did not give permission the cat could be seized by police and his decision overruled.

“We were given no options, and once you sign that authorisation [for the pet to be put down], in the RSPCA’s view it becomes an admission that you have mistreated the animal,” he says.

After Claude was put down, the RSPCA tried to bring a private prosecution against Mr Burns and his wife – with each charged on four counts of animal cruelty and neglect.

But, two years into the process, the CPS intervened in the case and the pair were acquitted.

“We loved Claude, and we never did anything anywhere near cruel to that cat,” Mr Byrnes explains. The RSPCA has since apologised.

‘Wrongful prosecutions’

Ms Howe said: “The people making decisions are not solicitors or barristers,” citing the 2014 Wooler Review into the charity’s prosecution activity.

“In state prosecutions there are codes of practice which have to be followed, where prosecution is a last resort. But there is no way to check the RSPCA follow them,” she added.

Power to prosecute

  • Complaints of cruelty investigated by the RSPCA rose from 153,770 in 2013 to 159,831 in 2014 in England and Wales
  • In 2014, this led to 1,132 prosecutions
  • The charity’s prosecution success rate is 98.9%, according to 2014 RSPCA figures
  • Co-founder of the RSPCA, Richard Martin MP, said in 1822: “If legislation to protect animals is to be effective, it must be adequately enforced.”
  • The RSPCA, founded in 1824, is thought to have been the first animal charity in the world
  • It saved dogs during the Blitz and has campaigned against animal testing, dog fighting and fox hunting.

Ms Howe said she has represented a “large number” of people who should never have been prosecuted, including the elderly and vulnerable.

In some cases, she explained, the RSPCA would be “far better off” offering support to pet owners rather than looking to prosecute them, and would avoid the costly process of taking cases to court.

‘Difficult job’

RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said the charity was saving government £50m a year by taking the responsibility to prosecute away from the state.

“Police in England and Wales don’t have the resources – animal welfare is not a high-priority area for them,” he said.

He accepted prosecuting people was a “difficult job”, saying “sometimes we don’t get it right but we learn our lessons and are going forward and protecting animals”.

He added that it was “total rubbish” to say the charity took prosecutions that were connected to their campaigns, and said there were safeguards in England and Wales which allowed the CPS to take over any prosecutions if they believed them to be malicious or connected to a campaign.

Article taken from: hhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34314004

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Yorkshire Beagle Breeding Facility Under Judicial Review After Appeal Launched By Cruelty Free International

A judicial review has been launched against the Home Office’s controversial decision to allow a facility which breeds beagles for research to be built in Yorkshire.

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Cruelty Free International launched the review in a bid to stop thousands of puppies being bred by B&K Universal Ltd (B&K Ltd) and used in laboratory experiments. B&K Ltd is owned by US multinational animal supplier Marshall BioResource.

Hundreds of thousands of people opposed the plans, which were originally turned down by the local council in 2013, but overturned by Communities Secretary Greg Clark in July this year.

Ricky Gervais and Brian May were among leading figures to speak out against the breeding facility, in Grimston, East Riding.

Nearly half a million have signed a petition calling for the government’s decision to be reversed.

Queen guitarist May has spoken out against he plans before, saying: “I am sickened to hear that this facility is to go ahead, ignoring the views of the public and local authorities and condemning these best friends of man to thousands of unethical and unnecessary tests. This is an appalling message to send out to the world.”

Cruelty Free International maintains that the government’s decision to allow the breeding facility violates European Union legislation, as no outdoor access will be provided for the dogs.

The animal protection organisation said that, if the Home Office had not given the green light to denying dogs outside runs, then the recent planning appeal by B&K might have been rejected.

B&K Ltd said that outdoor runs would contribute to a decline in the health status of dogs at the facility, exposing them to a wide range of infections carried by wildlife, which would potentially invalidate research studies

But Cruelty Free International points to EU Directive 2010/63, which requires animal welfare considerations to be given the “highest priority” and that dog breeding establishments must provide their dogs with outside access where possible.

Dr Katy Taylor, director of science at Cruelty Free International states: “This is a really poorly reasoned decision by the Home Office, which gives every impression of wanting to facilitate B&K’s planning appeal instead of engaging in rigorous science and protecting the welfare of dogs.”

Cruelty Free International said that B&K already has outside runs but is considering destroying them following concerns about noise.

The animal organisation highlighted a number of concerns they have about the government’s decision.

It said that the Home Office had not pointed to any particular evidence of pathogen transmission to dogs around the B&K Ltd site, had failed to take into account measures which could eliminate most forms of transmission in outside runs and had also not cited any research showing that the pathogens could interfere with science.

Cruelty Free International said that even if there was evidence that some dogs should be kept indoors, because of their intended use, that cannot be said of most B&K dogs, who are earmarked for standard toxicology tests.

Many laboratories, in the UK and around the world, do provide access outdoors.

A Home Office spokesman told the Huffington Post UK that they would not be able to comment on “any ongoing legal proceedings”.

B&K Ltd has been approached for comment.

Article taken from: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/09/17/yorkshire-beagle-breeding-judicial-review_n_8153730.html?utm_source=change_org&utm_medium=petition

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Animal charity’s £2,500 reward for help finding horse slasher

An animal welfare group is offering a £2,500 reward for help catching a horse killer.

Earlier this month two-year-old Honey was found dead in her field in Syston with slash injuries to her head and the rest of her body.

Peta, the international animal rights charity, today warned that the attacker is a threat to everyone and that their violent behaviour is “likely to escalate” if they are not stopped.

Spokewoman Elisa Allen asid: “It is imperative that any community faced with a sadistic and violent act such as this take measures to find the culprit or culprits and bring them to justice.

“Animal abusers are a danger to everyone – they take their issues out on whoever is available to them, human or non-human, and must be caught before they act again.

“History shows that past incidents involving cruelty to animals regularly appear in the records of serial rapists and murderers.

“Young killers Mary Bell, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables as well as serial murderers Ian Huntley, Dunblane killer Thomas Hamilton, Fred West, Dennis Nilsen, Ian Brady and Raoul Moat all started out by deliberately harming animals.”

Honey had been in a field off Potters Lane, Syston, when the attack happened between 6.15pm on Sunday, September 6, and 10.30am the following day.

Her owner, Claire Watts told the Mercury she was horrified to see her mutilated horse on the Monday morning.

She said: “I could not believe what I was seeing. It’s barbaric, the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

“Her right ear and some of the right side of her face were cut off and there were lacerations all over her body.”

Peta has offered to pay the £2,500 in return for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the blade attack that resulted in the death of Honey.

Anyone with information about this case is encouraged to contact the police on 101 or Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111.

Article taken from: http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/Animal-charity-s-2-500-reward-help-finding-horse/story-27818130-detail/story.html#mz07RePFe3HDr2so.99

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Freedom of Information Request Reveals True Cost of Badger Cull – Nearly £7,000 per badger killed

DEFRA has finally been forced to reveal the true cost of their disastrous badger cull policy in a Freedom of Information request brought by the Badger Trust. The final bill for the taxpayer (including policing costs) is just under £16.8 million, which works out at £6,775 per badger killed.

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The DEFRA figures show:
2012 badger cull postponement costs – £2,500,000
2013 badger cull cost – £9,818,000
2014 badger cull cost – £4,459,000
Total costs – £16,777,000

The Badger Trust has pursued the government relentlessly over the actual costs of the badger cull policy but DEFRA fought hard not to reveal them. So in November 2014, the Trust went public with its own estimate of £6,100 per badger for the first two years of the culls, a figure derided as ‘inaccurate and alarmist’ by pro-cull politicians and the farming lobby, who also accused the Trust of inflating the costs to ‘fuel public opposition’ to the policy.

Reacting to the latest figures released by DEFRA, Dominic Dyer CEO of the Badger Trust said, “Despite the best efforts of the government and the farming lobby to discredit us, our cost estimates were, if anything, too low.

“Not only is the badger cull a disastrous failure on scientific and animal welfare grounds, it is also becoming an unacceptable burden on the taxpayer. When the policy was developed in 2011 the government claimed it would be a farmer led initiative, paid for by farmers. In reality it’s the taxpayer who is footing the bill and these costs will continue to rise rapidly as the policy is extended into Dorset, and possibly other counties in the future.

“If, as the former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson stated in 2013, the badger cull is rolled out to over 40 areas of England the costs to the tax payer could easily exceed half a billion pounds.”

Badger Trust Chairman Peter Martin added, “It’s time the government stopped pandering to the irrational sentiments of the farming lobby by playing the badger blame game. We live in a world of science and facts, and DEFRA’s own data show that even in TB hotspot areas 85% of badgers will not even have the disease and 98% are no risk whatsoever to cattle. Killing badgers that don’t have TB cannot possibly help the situation for farmers or for cows. This indiscriminate slaughter is not only irrational but hugely wasteful of public money at a time when key services are being axed, including 40% cuts at DEFRA.

“The Welsh Government’s approach has been far more successful by focusing on improved testing and movement controls in cattle. New incidents of bTB in Wales are down 28% with a 45% cut in the number of cattle being slaughtered. This leaves 94% of the Welsh herd now free of bTB, without culling any badgers.

“The public has a right to be outraged not only by the appalling waste of badgers’ lives but also the disgraceful squandering of tens of millions of pounds on a policy that will have no measureable impact on reducing bovine TB. If famers are worried about badgers then vaccinating them is not just more effective and humane, it’s also ten times cheaper than culling.”

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Scottish Wildcat website launched at Scottish Parliament

Labour MSP and champion of the wildcat species, Rhoda Grant, was on hand for the unveiling earlier today at the Scottish Parliament of the website for Scottish Wildcat Action.

Proceedings – and visitors – were carefully monitored by William the wildcat, on hand – or paw – to lend authenticity and a cuddle the real thing would never contemplate.

Scottish Wildcat Action, supported by the Scottish Government and Heritage Lottery Fund, is delivering the first national conservation plan to bring back viable populations of Scottish wildcats.

The new website has easy-to-use features which encourage people in the Scottish Highlands to report sightings, volunteer with fieldwork, and register their interest to help.

Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, said: ‘The Scottish wildcat is one of Scotland’s most endangered mammals and urgent action is needed to ensure they have a future.

‘The Scottish Government is therefore committed to wildcat conservation and I am delighted to support the launch of this new website as part of the wider Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan, which was launched by my predecessor, Paul Wheelhouse, in September 2013.’

Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP and Scottish wildcat species champion, said: ‘The Scottish Wildcat is part of our heritage that we are desperately seeking to protect.

‘We have a limited time to stop wildcats from disappearing but we also need to reduce the risks from hybridisation and disease from feral cats in the meantime. The launch of the website today will not only help to identify where our remaining wildcats are but it will also help to glean invaluable information on hybrids and feral cat sightings which will allow for the required action to be taken to reduce the hybrids and combat the transmission of disease.

‘The website will offer members of the public the opportunity to be involved in this fantastic project to save this most beautiful of species and will, I am sure, prove to be an invaluable resource in ensuring the wildcat’s survival.’

Dr Roo Campbell [Winnie the Pooh should have had wildcats instead of Tiggers], Scottish Wildcat Action Project Manager for the work in wildcat priority areas, said: ‘Local sightings of all wild-living cats are key in our efforts to save Scottish wildcats and the new website will allow our local communities to report sightings.

‘As part of our national work, our team of staff and volunteers will set up more than 400 trail cameras in wildcat priority areas to build up a picture of what’s out there, but public sightings will add valuable intelligence to this standardised monitoring.’

Trail cameras are motion-sensitive field cameras used for monitoring shy species that live in remote places.

Dr Andrew Kitchener, Principal Curator at National Museums Scotland, and partner in the project, said: ‘The most useful sightings will be those that are followed up with a photograph so we can identify whether it is a wildcat, a domestic cat or a hybrid of the two. There are seven key characteristics we are looking for and each characteristic will be given a score of 1 for domestic cat, 2 for hybrid or 3 for wildcat.’

The website gives users further tips on how to identify a Scottish wildcat, but the general advice is if it looks like a large tabby cat with a thick ringed tail with a black blunt tip, it could be one of few remaining wildcats.

Hybrid and feral cat sightings are also important to the project, which aims to reduce risks of hybridisation and disease transmission through a co-ordinated Trap-Neuter [vaccinate] and Release [TNR] programme in the priority areas.

Numbers of Scottish wildcat are now so low that it is difficult for them to find and mate with other wildcats, so inevitably they have hybrid kittens with unneutered domestic cats.

This inter-breeding is contributing to the attrition of Scottish wildcats as a distinctive native species. The presence of unvaccinated feral cats, often in poor condition, can also lead to diseases, such as feline leukaemia virus (FeLV), being passed on to wildcats.

Wildcat priority areas identified by Scottish Wildcat Action are Strathpeffer, Strathbogie, Northern Strathspey, the Angus Glens, Strathavon and Morvern. Sightings and volunteers within these areas are particularly important to the conservation of the species but sightings from across Scotland are also welcomed.

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: ‘By working together as organisations and individuals we have a better chance of saving this rare native creature. It is thanks to players of the National Lottery that volunteers will be trained and cameras installed to track the elusive Scottish wildcat. However, it is down to us all to keep our eyes peeled, report any sightings, and give this species a brighter future.’

Article taken from: http://forargyll.com/?p=100930