RSPCA prosecutions: Simon Hart MP calls for 'absolute clarity' in role

Heythrop Hunt
Image caption The RSPCA prosecuted members of the Heythrop Hunt for intentionally hunting a fox with dogs.

A Conservative MP is calling for the RSPCA's role as a prosecutor to be separated from its political and commercial activities.

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart says "absolute clarity and absolute accountability" is needed.

The charity has been criticised for prosecuting members of the prime minister's local Oxfordshire hunt.

The RSPCA said it was created to investigate animal cruelty and its various roles were independently run.

The charity spends £5m a year prosecuting cruelty cases, which it says accounts for just five pence in every pound donated.

Mr Hart opened a debate among MPs about the RSPCA's various roles on Tuesday.

Earlier, he told BBC Radio Wales he thinks the charity can be a prosecutor but added "if it's also a political campaigner and a commercial organisation, which it is, I think there's a danger that they will pick and choose their cases to suit their political and commercial needs.

Lines 'blurred'

"That wouldn't be allowed as far as any other prosecutor's concerned and I think there should be a very distinct separation between, if you like, its public interest role in bringing prosecutions and its political and commercial role.

"Because at the moment the two things are blurred."

Mr Hart said a Daily Telegraph report showed the Charity Commission had reprimanded the RSPCA for prosecuting members of David Cameron's local hunt, instructing it to review its prosecutions process.

"The RSPCA has rightly built its reputation on dealing with animal welfare issues," sad the MP.

'Vigorous and prolific'

"What I'm saying is if you're going to drag people through the court system which is expensive for them, its expensive for the nation, then there needs to be absolute clarity and absolute accountability in terms of the reasons that you brought them there."

Mr Hart added that police have to submit files to the Crown Prosecution Service for any prosecution to proceed, something designed to stop any officers "perhaps being tempted to chase a personal vendetta, or a target, or coming under pressure from the community".

He denied that his former role as chairman of the Countryside Alliance, which supports fox hunting, meant he resented the RSPCA for seeking to prosecute lawbreakers.

He said: "This is about whether a prosecuting body which is a vigorous and prolific prosecuting body can also pursue a very, very high-profile political campaign and also whether it can at the same time obviously feed its hungry mouth to the tune of £100m a year."

In a statement, the RSPCA said it was created in 1824 to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty offences in order to improve animal welfare in England and Wales.

It was also created to improve public understanding and knowledge of animal welfare and to campaign for legislative change on animal issues.

The RSPCA's prosecutions department is independent of its inspectorate and its campaigning work which ensures an objective approach when considering cases for prosecution, the statement said.

It added only five pence in every pound donated goes on prosecutions. The charity prosecutes about 1% of the incidents it is asked to investigate and has a success rate of about 98%.

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