Panorama documentary 'misleading and unfair', says RSPCA

The BBC One programme, broadcast last night, accused the charity of being heavy-handed in removing animals from owners and in its animal cruelty prosecutions

The RSPCA has criticised last night’s Panorama documentary about the charity, saying the programme showed a "misleading and unfair representation" of its work.

The BBC One documentary accused the charity of being heavy-handed in removing animals from their owners and in its prosecutions of people it believed had committed animal cruelty, as well as repeating concerns about the charity’s governance.

In a statement issued before the programme was broadcast, the RSPCA rejected the allegations, saying the film failed to recognise the work it did, the people and animals it helped to support and the passion and commitment of its staff, volunteers and supporters.

"It will not recognise these things because it has chosen not to," the statement said.

It went on to describe the film as "a misleading and unfair representation of our work" and said the prosecution cases it featured were "handpicked for sensationalism" and to paint a picture that was "highly misleading and inaccurate".

The statement said: "The allegations that Panorama will broadcast will not be a fair representation of the work we do or how we do it."

The charity said it did not prosecute cases without good reason or a thorough review process and that it would take alternative action where possible.

"Of the 150,000 investigations by our inspectors last year, fewer than 1 per cent resulted in a prosecution," the statement said. "We do not believe this represents an over-zealous or vexatious approach. Far from it.

"Nobody wants to be investigated for animal cruelty, or indeed any crime, and it is no surprise therefore that the individuals featured in the case studies are critical of us."

It acknowledged there were occasions when it got things wrong and said it aimed to admit and learn from its mistakes and do better in the future.

The charity’s governance has come under fire in the past year after negative press stories prompted the Charity Commission to order a governance review of the charity in early 2016 and when Jeremy Cooper, the charity’s chief executive, left in June 2017 after less than a year in the job.

The review, carried out by Pesh Framjee, head of non-profits at the audit firm Crowe Clark Whitehill, led to a report published in June this year that recommended a series of rule changes, as well as other proposals such as enforcing its code of conduct more rigorously during board meetings.

In a statement featured on the programme, the commission said: "Sadly, at this time, the charity’s governance is below the standard we expect in a modern charity.

"We have made clear to the charity’s trustees that they must act quickly to put the charity’s recent difficulties behind them and put the RSPCA onto a secure governance footing. The trustees have submitted an action plan based on that governance review, which we are considering."

The commission said the changed needed at the charity "must come from the very top" and it would consider further regulatory action if the required improvements were not made quickly enough.

The RSPCA has accepted the rule changes suggested in the review and voted them in at the charity’s AGM in June.

The RSPCA statement on the Panorama documentary said that, although the charity did not accept the programme’s portrayal of the charity, it recognised that some improvement was required.

"We’re committed to continually improving everything we do as an organisation because we know that is the best way to achieve our charitable objectives of helping animals and people," it said.

It added that Panorama’s allegations about individual trustees were "without foundation".

A spokeswoman for Panorama said in a statement that it produced balanced, fair and impartial journalism. "There was a clear public interest to look at the practices and governance of one of Britain’s most well-known animal charities and examine whether the organisation is fit for purpose," she said. "We gave the RSPCA ample opportunity to respond to the issues raised in the programme and reflected their responses throughout. We also made numerous requests for an interview, and this was something they chose not to do."

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