Editorial: Standing up to the hunting lobby

The RSPCA should hold its nerve on hunt prosecutions, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

Thanks to Tim Pattinson, a district judge at Oxford Magistrates Court, the hunting lobby is in full cry over the RSPCA's recent successful private prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt and two huntsmen for chasing a fox. He said it was "staggering" that the charity had spent £327,000 on the case, and commented that the public might feel the funds could be better employed.

Leaving aside whether it's any business of the judge how the RSPCA uses its funds, his intervention sparked extensive media coverage and prompted Simon Hart, the Conservative MP who was chief executive of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance for seven years until his election in 2010, to write a letter of protest to the Charity Commission.

Addressed to the new commission chair, William Shawcross, and endorsed by a handful of other supportive MPs and peers, the letter expressed concern about the motivation for the prosecution and claimed the expenditure was a breach of the trustees' duty of prudence.

It seems unlikely that the commission will want to get involved, given its new emphasis on trustee responsibility and the fact that the RSPCA was acting within its charitable purposes and obtained prior sanction from its board for expenditure that amounted to about 6.5 per cent of its annual outlay on prosecutions.

It's also important to remember that the charity was acting to enforce the law of the land, and that it is the hunting lobby that is running a political campaign to change the law again. Meanwhile, the government declines to give MPs the free vote on hunting that it promised at the last election, for the simple reason that it knows they would stick with the hunting ban.

The RSPCA was wise to set up, just before this case, a special appeal to fund prosecutions. It might also want to review whether it got best value for money for the detailed study by lawyers of many hours of video. But the main point is that the charity should hold its nerve and continue with a mission that is endorsed by its supporters.

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