Heythrop Hunt prosecution was not politically motivated, RSPCA tells Charity Commission

Charity insists it followed its usual procedures and claims it benefited from 'discounted rates' on legal fees for £320,000 case

The RSPCA assured the Charity Commission in a meeting last month that its prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt for illegal fox hunting was not politically motivated.

The minutes of the meeting, obtained by Third Sector under the Freedom of Information Act, show that the charity was asked to justify its actions after spending more than £320,000 on a successful prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt in December.

The cost of the prosecution prompted a group of politicians to accuse the charity’s trustees of failing in their duty of prudence and they wrote to the regulator to ask it to investigate the charity.

The commission said last month that it had no plans to investigate the RSPCA but did ask it to attend a meeting on 16 January to explain its actions.

In the meeting Michael Flowers, deputy head of prosecutions at the RSPCA, told the commission there was "absolutely no political motive" for the prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt.

Ray Goodfellow, chief legal officer of the charity, said its council of trustees had delegated prosecutions to the prosecutions department. The trustees were kept informed and knew of the scale of this case, but were not involved in any decision to prosecute "in order to protect the integrity of that decision."

John Grounds, the campaign director at the RSPCA, told the commission that its prosecutions department works "as independently as possible" within the charity and is not influenced by any current campaigns.

Flowers told the regulator that its prosecutions team used the same two-stage process as the Crown Prosecution Service when deciding whether to pursue animal abuse cases. Stage one is based on whether there is enough evidence to prosecute and stage two on whether a prosecution is in the public interest.

Despite the high cost of bringing the private prosecution, the charity told the commission it had received "discounted rates" on legal fees by employing junior counsel to review hours of footage, Flowers said. It was the volume of video footage that led to the high costs in prosecuting the case.

Hunt monitors initially presented the charity with only edited highlights of their footage but, following legal advice, the charity asked to analyse the entire footage because it wanted to ensure a successful prosecution and protect itself from the legal coats of any appeal.

The charity said it hoped the prosecution would also serve as a deterrent to other illegal fox hunts.

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