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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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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.”