In response to the accusations in our article, which we put to the RSPCA and Mr Grant, the charity issued the following statement (our questions are in italics):
“We would like to reiterate that some recent media coverage about the RSPCA has been incorrect, misleading and potentially defamatory and that a number of the issues you are focusing on are similar to those that have caused us concern. As you will be aware we have made a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission on this matter.
“Recent press coverage is part of a sustained effort to intimidate and silence the RSPCA by those who seek a return to bloodsports, such as the Countryside Alliance but they will not succeed. The support we have received during this period has been overwhelming, from supporters, the public and other charities.
“For example in a recent parliamentary debate, Paul Flynn MP said to Simon Hart MP to stop “attacking the splendid work of the RSPCA” and also “if he wants to save the charity money from prosecuting he should tell his friends to stop breaking the law.”
::Mr Grant, has the RSPCA under your leadership changed its agenda from animal welfare to animal rights and if so, why?
The RSPCA is and will remain an animal welfare charity. Our animal welfare policies have not changed, our objectives have not changed.
Gavin Grant is leading a well-established animal welfare charity whose purpose is to prevent cruelty to animals in all its forms and bring to justice those who abuse animals.
This is exactly what the RSPCA was set up to do and why people give money to us.
In recent weeks we have received huge support from supporters and the general public, encouraging us to continue our work. A legal fighting fund set up in December already has more than £160,000 in donations given by those who particularly wish to show their support for our work in prosecuting those who are cruel to animals.
::What do you say to those who allege you are waging “in your face campaigns” to get headlines?
The RSPCA’s raison d’etre is to prevent cruelty to animals, to bring to justice those who abuse animals and to improve animal welfare in England and Wales. We campaign – and will continue to do so – on behalf of animals who have no voice and no choice in what happens to them. Sometimes these campaigns are hard hitting, and need to be. Animal cruelty is not pleasant.
::Do you think horse-racing is cruel?
We think the welfare of racehorses has to come first and that more can be done to make courses safer for horses. We continue to work closely with the racing authorities to achieve this.
We are also concerned about the excessive production of horses for racing, and the likelihood of future welfare problems for unwanted, retired or injured animals. The RSPCA believes the racing industry should make provision for the future wellbeing of these animals.
::Do you want to ban it?
No. We think the welfare of racehorses has to come first and that more can be done to make courses safer for horses.
In terms of the Grand National, we remain concerned that two significant issues have not yet been addressed sufficiently. These are the impact of Becher’s Brook and the field size which remains the same.
While the proposed improvement at Becher’s by the additional levelling of the adverse slope on the landing zone can only be beneficial, we believe that the remaining many complexities of this fence mean that it continues to pose a serious and unacceptable threat to horse welfare.
We will watch carefully the impact of this change at Becher’s at the 2013 Grand National. This is the BHA’s chance to show that this fence can pose a fair and safe challenge to horse and jockey.
Given the number of fallers and failures to complete the course, we do not accept that the field should remain at 40. Clearly many horses compete at the Grand National that cannot complete it.
We welcome the constructive dialogue that has taken place to date between the RSPCA and the BHA and believe that this is the best way to improve the welfare of racehorses.
The testing nature of the Grand National will always produce a higher level of risk. That risk must be appropriate and the safety of horses paramount.
Consequently the Grand National and related races will remain high on our agenda. We will seek permission for more RSPCA equine officers to be present at Aintree and will pay even closer attention to the conduct of the 2013 Grand National and its welfare outcome.
::Mr Grant, what did you mean by describing your feelings towards the owner of the winning horse at the Grand National last year as “cold fury”? (quote on your blog April 17, 2012)
The comment was in the context of the shambles at the start of the race, watching horses fall at fences and the sight of the winning jockey striking his horse with the whip again and again.
::Mr Grant, why do you describe fox-hunters who fall foul of a controversial law they make clear they do not accept as “common criminals”? Why, specifically, “common”?
Common criminals is merely a generic term for those who break the law.
::You say no injury to a racehorse is acceptable. Do you not accept, as a horse-owner, that it is impossible to guarantee to keep a horse, much less a thoroughbred, free of injury even in the safest surroundings and that actually the death and injury rates at Aintree are statistically not that high and that other equestrian events, though less high profile, might be more cruel and dangerous, for example cross-country events where horses are whipped and ridden hard in hotter weather.
Of course there is always a risk that any horse will sustain an injury. However, the testing nature of racing will always produce a higher level of risk. That risk must be appropriate and the safety of horses paramount.
::Mr Grant, do you agree with Dr Richard Ryder that animals are morally identical to humans? Or do you agree that humans are at the top of the food chain?
I think you need to look at this in a different way. All members of the RSPCA council are well aware that their duty as charity trustees is to further the purposes of the charity for the public benefit. This is the touchstone for our own trustees and indeed the trustees of any charity.
::If you say, as Mr Ryder does, that animals have the same rights as humans, is it not therefore sensible to say they have the same responsibilities? If we are not allowed to rip an animal to pieces “for fun”, should not a fox be taken to task for doing so? And if we do not take it to task, do you not accept that the fox has thus leapt above humans in the food chain as the fox is unassailable while we are forbidden from challenging him? How, for example, am I supposed to cope with foxes sitting on my window sill every night, going through my bins and threatening my domestic pets and livestock? Are you suggesting I trap them and take them to the vets for a lethal injection?
It is a fox’s natural behaviour to find food for their young. In terms of humans killing foxes for sport, as you say it is ‘for fun’ and causes unnecessary suffering. Our factsheet provides advice on how to deter foxes from your garden:
::Would it not have been more humane for your inspectors to wring the injured Stockport squirrel’s neck rather than make it wait to be taken to a vet to be killed?(this refers to the prosecution of a pensioner for shooting a squirrel with an air rifle and the RSPCA’s subsequent actions )
It is not an approved humane method of killing a squirrel to wring its neck.
::Do you not think it at least possible that the Ramsgate sheep might have suffered less being left in the lorry and then slaughtered professionally rather than dragged out and shot one by one?
Are you aware that trust in the RSPCA is now so low that some people are alleging that you might have posed the pictures of the Ramsgate sheep to make them look more bloody in order to better campaign against live exports?
As I understand it, the RSPCA were asked to be present by DEFRA agents who were in charge of the operation. One thing I can’t work out, did the RSPCA inspectors take the photos and who posted them on the internet?
Trust in the RSPCA is not low. Indeed we have been overwhelmed with support during the past few weeks when malicious and factually incorrect statements have been made about the Society by those seeking to undermine our work..
We are aware that these entirely false accusations are being made. The events of that day are subject to a criminal investigation but the suggestion that RSPCA inspectors would kill animals and display them in a certain way to get headlines is defamatory and completely incorrect. The photos were taken by RSPCA inspectors. A photo appeared on our own website along with a warning about the shocking nature of the image.
The incident at Ramsgate port on 12 September 2012 is the subject of a potential criminal prosecution by Kent Trading Standards of those involved in the transportation of the sheep under The Welfare of Animals(Transport)(England) Order 2006 (SI2006/3260). Whilst that investigation is active, we cannot go into the details of what occurred. However, the allegation that the RSPCA acted unnecessarily, incompetently and inhumanely in killing the sheep is completely and utterly rejected.
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), as the agents of DEFRA, was the relevant statutory body in charge of events at the port. RSPCA inspectors were present at the explicit request of the Port Authority, Thanet District Council, to ensure compliance with animal welfare laws. An AHVLA vet and an independent vet were supervising the operation and advising on animal health and welfare. They made the decision to put down the sheep. In very difficult circumstances, the sheep were put down by an RSPCA inspector, under the direction of the independent vet and assisted by AHVLA officers, strictly in accordance with accepted animal welfare procedures and out of sight of the other sheep. The blood was the unavoidable consequence of the method of euthanasia (captive bolt followed by pithing) and moving of the dead bodies to an improvised holding pen, as there were no facilities at the port. The independent vet and AHVLA vet were fully satisfied that the euthanasia was carried out humanely. Indeed the AHVLA made a public statement to that effect on 13 September 2012 as follows: ‘The injured sheep were humanely culled at the port.’
::Some MPs are questioning your charitable status. Do you have any sympathy for those who say you should not be taking sides in controversial political debates such as hunting and badger culling, but instead working with both sides to ensure animal welfare?
To suggest that the RSPCA is acting beyond its charitable status by campaigning on animal welfare issues is simply, factually, incorrect .
As with all charities, we have responsibility to advocate in accordance with our charitable purposes and that is, precisely, what we are doing.
It is no coincidence that recent attacks on the RSPCA and our chief executive Gavin Grant follow our successful criminal prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt. Those behind these attacks such as Simon Hart MP are supporters of the Countryside Alliance who want to see a return to bloodsports and a repeal of the Hunting Act.
We stand by our intention to take the Government to judicial review over what we view as their failure to safeguard animals facing live export.
We also stand by and will continue our campaign to stop the proposed pilot badger cull which Defra have said they are committed to despite the huge weight of public, political and scientific opinion stacked against them.
In taking on these issues we are opposing powerful people and recent press coverage is part of their sustained effort to intimidate and silence the RSPCA.
But they will not succeed. The abused animals have no voice and no choice and we will stand up for them as we have done for 188 years.
::Do you accept you have the same right to prosecute people as I do, and that your inspectors have no more power to enter people’s homes than anyone else?
Section 6(1) Prosecution of Offences Act, 1985 preserves the right of individuals to initiate private prosecutions. It is on this basis that the RSPCA brings private prosecutions for cruelty to animals.
We don’t have any extra powers to enter property without the owner’s permission. We work with the police on the occasions when we are denied access and an animal is in immediate danger.
::Mr Grant, do you accept that people in the RSPCA are frightened of you? What do you say to those who say you have created a “culture of fear” and that no one dare speak out against you?
People work for the RSPCA because they care about animals and support the aims of the charity and we all share the same passion for making this world a better place for animals..