- This story has been amended - see final paragraph
The RSPCA is changing into a "modern, open and transparent" charity after making mistakes that have attracted criticism in recent years, according to its new chief executive, Jeremy Cooper.
In an interview with Third Sector, Cooper said he accepted that the charity had made errors, as in the case of the removal and euthanisation of Claude, an elderly family cat that was thin and had matted hair and other significant health problems.
An independently-conducted RSPCA report on the case, leaked to the press, reportedly found that the cat had been "removed without lawful authority" and "respect for due process and the rights of individuals was largely absent." The charity has apologised and amended its procedures.
Cooper said the prosecution of hunts that broke the law was "a small part of our agenda". The RSPCA’s successful prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt in 2012 was strongly criticised, partly for the £330,000 it cost.
The charity has recently accepted all 33 recommendations of an independent report it commissioned after the Heythrop case.
These include reforming its prosecutions department, appointing an independent complaints overseer and changing some practices on expert evidence and campaigning.
Cooper insisted that the RSPCA did not have a political agenda and wanted to engage and work with other organisations that have criticised it, including the National Farmers’ Union and the Countryside Alliance.
"We’ve got to stop thinking we are at war with these people," he said. "Rhetoric doesn’t help – conversation and dialogue does. We sometimes need to be a bit less reactive and vocal, and a bit more balanced and thoughtful."
The most difficult challenge he faced, he said, was putting and end to the "negativity in the press" that had damaged the morale of a talented and committed workforce.
"I want a very open, transparent and engaging, new-style society," he said. "So how do I get rid of that negativity? That’s the hard bit for me. We’ve done some things, but how long do you get beaten for it?"
Cooper was in the RAF and worked in supermarket management before joining the RSPCA in 2012 to head its Freedom Foods division. The charity has been without a permanent chief executive since Gavin Grant retired on health grounds two years ago.
An extended interview with Cooper will feature in the June issue of Third Sector, published on 26 May.
- The story originally said Claude the cat was in good health apart from matted fur and being thin. The paragraph about the findings of an internal report on the case has been added.