Camilla Swift Camilla Swift

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

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.

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