The SSAA has long been aware of the changing ideologies of the once-respected RSPCA, having seen it shift over time from being a much-loved animal welfare group to an extreme animal liberationist organisation. We even wrote a letter to the Queen expressing our concern regarding this shift in ideology after the organisation’s attempt to ban gamebird hunting in 2009. As reported in the Daily Mail’s article ‘Hunt victory over ‘malicious’ RSPCA as trial collapses: Charity accused of ‘harassment’ and having mystery financial backer’ on March 22, 2015, this radical change is also being seen in the United Kingdom, with the high-profile RSPCA prosecution of the renowned Cattistock Hunt in Dorset spectacularly collapsing amid claims that the hunt was the victim of a politically inspired campaign, funded by a mystery backer – the RSPCA.
A high-profile RSPCA prosecution of the renowned Cattistock Hunt in Dorset has spectacularly collapsed amid claims that the hunt was the victim of a politically inspired campaign, funded by a mystery backer.
The Cattistock’s joint master Will Bryer has accused the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – which brought the prosecution – of co-ordinating a campaign of harassment and surveillance over more than three years, in a failed attempt to prove the hunt had broken the law.
He also claimed a wealthy anti-hunting businessman intent on landing a “prize scalp” had bankrolled surveillance of him, his employees and hunt followers, saying: “We believe the campaign is funded by a Dorset-based company.”
“Hunt saboteurs at our meets this year were all wearing T-shirts advertising the firm. We don’t believe that to be a coincidence but a statement.”
The animal rights organisation, which has been criticised for spending £22.5 million pursuing animal welfare prosecutions last year, formally withdrew its case on Friday – after admitting it had no realistic chance of a conviction.
Mr Bryer, whose joint master of the Cattistock is one of the richest women in Britain, the Honourable Mrs Charlotte Townshend, claimed the campaign had been “focused and sophisticated”.
He went on to say: “Despite the endless footage taken of us by so-called covert investigators, this is the only time anyone associated with the Cattistock has ever faced a charge and now it has been dropped.
“I’m afraid the time has long passed when we thought these people were seriously interested in the law. As far as we are concerned, this is just another way of attacking people who participate in hunting.”
Yesterday, the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance said the RSPCA was at a crossroads, and would have to decide whether to continue to bring what it described as “malicious” cases or “embrace sanity and change tactics”.
Mr Bryer’s solicitor, Jamie Foster, claimed that the case had been flawed from the start. He explained: “There is video footage of my client laying legal trails before and after the alleged breach of the hunting ban which was not disclosed to us by the RSPCA.”
He said the laying of a trail, or a scent which the hounds can track rather than chasing a live animal, showed that the Cattistock had behaved responsibly, not recklessly as the prosecution claimed.
Cattistock chairman Robert Atkinson said: “We are very pleased that common sense has prevailed and the case has been dropped. The hunt and all its staff, in particular Will as master, make every effort to hunt within the law and be seen to do so. We are glad that our stance has been so demonstrably and categorically vindicated by the court.”
The RSPCA has the power to bring its own prosecutions rather than rely on the police or the Crown Prosecution Service. However last October, a report commissioned by the charity recommended abandoning the policy and leaving the job to the CPS, which has more expertise.
Last year, The Mail on Sunday reported that the RSPCA had spent £22.5 million on prosecutions in two years, and had been obliged to take out an overdraft facility with its bank, Coutts, for the first time in its 190-year history.
Discussing the dropped prosecution yesterday, an RSPCA spokesman said: “We have not at any stage been made aware of a trail being laid or of any alleged footage of such a trail being laid. But having considered all the evidence now available, we concluded there no longer remains a realistic prospect of securing a conviction.”
Addressing the Cattistock’s claim that the RSPCA had mounted a campaign of surveillance, he said: “This is an outrageous slur and completely untrue. We did not monitor this hunt. The RSPCA does not monitor any hunts.”
He went on to reject the claim that the prosecution had been effectively paid for by a wealthy backer, insisting: “This prosecution was funded by the RSPCA.”
Philip Mansbridge, the UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare – which shot the disputed footage and provided it to the RSPCA – said: “We are very disappointed that the case has been dropped. We do understand the reasons and the difficulties in getting these cases through the courts. But we stand by our evidence completely; this case was dropped, not lost.”
He went on to say: “We have now reached the reluctant conclusion that having tried everything under the current judicial system, we now need to make changes to strengthen the Hunting Act. Time and time again, hunts flout the law and escape prosecution by using the false alibi that they were trail hunting. The pro-hunt lobby continually drag out cases and waste public and charity funds.”