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The RSPCA’s private prosecutions, and the cost to the public purse

29 December 2012

1:18 PM

29 December 2012

1:18 PM

In this week’s Spectator, Melissa Kite spends the day with the Heythrop Hunt – David Cameron’s local hunt, and a hunt that has recently been fined £4,000 for hunting outside of the law. Much has already been written about the ‘staggering’ amount of money which the RSPCA chose to spend on the case, and the lengths to which the RSPCA have gone to mount the prosecution.

The two huntsmen charged pleaded guilty to four charges of breaching the Hunting Act and, as Melissa writes:

‘The RSPCA initially laid summonses for 52 separate allegations and the trial had been set to take 30 days of court time spread over three months. Defence costs could have run into six figures, so it is little wonder the defendants pleaded guilty.’

But this isn’t the first time the RSPCA and similar groups have attempted to prosecute the Heythrop Hunt.  In 2008, 4 charges were brought against one of the huntsmen but the prosecution failed. In 2011, the RSPCA brought another 2 charges against the same huntsman, but once again the prosecution failed, and they dropped the charges in August 2012. In a normal situation, one might expect the organisation who decided to bring about a private prosecution – in this case the RSPCA – to pay the costs of the prosecution, as often happens when the CPS loses cases. But the court decided that the costs should be paid for from the public purse, meaning that the taxpayer is paying for the RSPCA’s failed prosecution.

Much has been made about the RSPCA’s decision to spend money given to them in order to improve animal welfare on a politically motivated prosecution which cost the charity £330,000. But if RSPCA supporters don’t like how the charity is spending their money, they can always vote with their feet and donate elsewhere. Unfortunately, the taxpayer doesn’t have that option.

And now that the RSPCA have finally won a prosecution, it sounds as if they might have the bit well and truly between their teeth when it comes to private prosecutions. Last weekend, The Sunday Times ran an interview with the chairman of the RSPCA, Gavin Grant, in which he said that in his opinion, people caught hunting illegally should be jailed for ‘two years? Five years?’

In June of this year, Simon Hart – one of the MPs who last week reported the RSPCA to the Charity Commission over ‘concerns about the motivation for bringing this prosecution’ – asked the Ministry of Justice how much money from public funds had been spent covering the cost of failed RSPCA prosecutions.  The Ministry said that they didn’t hold the answer, but whatever that number may be, given Mr Grant’s attitude, it doesn’t seem likely that the figure will be decreasing anytime soon.

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