The new Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has confirmed the charity will be stepping back from launching private prosecutions against huntsmen, but made it clear the option remains open for them.
Jeremy Cooper, the RSPCA’s newly-appointed Chief Executive, has promised a more consensual and less political approach to the charity’s animal welfare work. In a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph he said he thought the organisation had become “too adversarial” and that it would be “very unlikely” ever to bring another prosecution under the Hunting Act which a Labour government introduced in 2004.
The comments were not welcomed by more virulent animal rights activists, with one — a Gloucestershire hunt monitor called Penny Little who is a member of Protect Our Wild Animals and monitors hunts in the Cotswolds — launching an online petition demanding Mr. Cooper be “sacked” from the post he took up in April. The petition called on the RSPCA Council to:
Dismiss their new Chief Executive Officer, Jeremy Cooper, for his deplorable capitulation to the bullying of the hunting fraternity. He has told the Daily Telegraph that the RSPCA have been “too political” and “too adversarial” and has all but ruled out any further prosecutions of hunts by the RSPCA. How can the head of the biggest animal welfare charity in the country choose to remove its protection from certain selected species of animal, foxes in particular? Incredibly, Jeremy Cooper has also told the Telegraph “foxes need to be managed”, thus showing his ignorance of fox ecology, and displaying his unfitness to make decisions about wild animal welfare issues.
The launch of Ms. Little’s petition, coupled with criticism from other quarters, saw the anti-hunting fraternity bullying Mr. Cooper into clarifying his comments in a statement to The Guardian. Saying that he “make no apologies for prosecuting people in instances where there is clear evidence of animal cruelty”, he explained:
“Following an independent review of our prosecution activity and in line with one of the recommendations of that review, RSPCA trustees agreed to change its policy and to pass suitable cases involving traditional hunts and suitable farm cases to the police for investigation, enabling the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute if appropriate.
“However, we reserve the right to proceed with such investigations, if the authorities fail to act.”
The move has been praised by representatives of the pro-hunting lobbby, such as the Countryside Alliance’s Chief Executive, Tim Bonner. He said it shows the RSPCA no longer aims to be “prosecutors of first resort” and that “they have accepted that the days of private prosecutions are over.”
Mr. Bonner welcomed the change of direction, explaining: “You can’t have a non-statutory body with no checks and balances as the default prosecutor for a great tranche of legislation.”
At one point the RSPCA was the second biggest prosecutor in the country, following only the Crown Prosecution Service, despite being a charity rather than an arm of government.
However, it was already scaling down its anti-hunt prosecutions in the face of criticism which resulted in a £7 million drop in donations in 2014 as animal lovers turned away from the charity. accusing it of betraying core values in favour of politically motivated campaigns against hunting and the badger cull.