Countryside Alliance Chairman Barney White-Spunner writes: Last Friday, whilst the eyes of the nation were understandably elsewhere, the RSPCA quietly dropped the private prosecution it had brought against Heythrop huntsman Julian Barnfield relating to two allegations from the 2010/11 hunting season. In offering no evidence the RSPCA admitted what we had always believed; that the allegations were spurious and completely without merit. This retreat should not go unnoticed, however, not least as the RSPCA has launched a second, larger prosecution involving Heythrop hunt staff, masters and the hunt as a whole.
There is something very unseemly about the RSPCA using the court system to pursue its political agenda. Worse than that, the costs of these legal adventures are being borne by you and me. The bill for preparing and fighting Julian's case is well into 5 figures and common sense would suggest that the organisation that chose to prosecute should meet that cost. The court, however, decided that the taxpayer should pay for the failure of the RSPCA's prosecution through public funds.
Simon Hart MP recently asked the Ministry of Justice how much money had been paid from public funds to meet the cost of failed RSPCA prosecutions. He was told that the Ministry did not hold such figures. When Legal Aid funding is being cut to the bone it cannot be right that the Government is signing cheques to meet the cost of failed RSPCA prosecutions without even the most basic of scrutiny.
Of course there are also significant costs to the RSPCA in bringing prosecutions, whether they win or lose. Solicitors and barristers do not come cheap, especially for a huge case like that it plans against the Heythrop. Yet the RSPCA is currently making a 130 staff redundant and imposing cuts that will undoubtedly impact on its important animal welfare work.
The RSPCA faces charges of politicising the legal process, skewed internal priorities and wasting public money. It would be well advised to leave the hunting field and concentrate on real animal welfare issues.