RSPCA accused of political motivation for Wiltshire prosecution

The animal welfare charity successfully prosecuted two members of the Avon Vale Hunt for interfering with a badger sett, but dropped case against five others

Two hunt members interfered with badger sett
Two hunt members interfered with badger sett

- This story has been corrected - see final paragraph

The RSPCA has again been forced to defend itself from allegations of bringing politically motivated prosecutions after a partially successful case at Chippenham Magistrates’ Court in Wiltshire yesterday.

The RSPCA successfully prosecuted Benjamin Pethers, 29, and Stuart Radbourne, 29, who are members of the Avon Vale Hunt, on charges of interfering with a badger sett in March 2012.

Both men pleaded guilty and were ordered to pay fines of £300 each plus £250 towards the charity’s court costs, which are yet to be finalised.

As part of the same case, the RSPCA also attempted to prosecute five members of the Avon Vale Hunt – including Jonathon Seed, who is the election agent of James Gray, the Conservative MP for North Wiltshire – for hunting with dogs.

But the charity dropped its case against the five men on the first day of what was scheduled to be a seven-day trial.

Reports said the judge criticised the charity in court for wasting court time by bringing a weak case.

Seed, a Conservative councillor for Wiltshire Council, told Third Sector that Gavin Grant, chief executive of the RSPCA, had been the election agent for Gray’s Liberal Democrat opponent at the last election and suggested that the failed case against him was politically motivated.

"Why bring this case if not for political reasons?" he asked. "There was no animal welfare case against me. I don’t think the law on hunting with dogs has anything to do with the RSPCA; why should it second guess the Crown Prosecution Service in these matters?"

Responding to the claims, the RSPCA said its actions were not politically motivated and the Charity Commission had given it a clean bill of health on this issue in February.

"The RSPCA does not take prosecutions for political purposes," said a spokesman for the charity. "It adheres strictly to The Code for Crown Prosecutors and takes cases only if they meet the evidential and public interest tests.

"Where an offence has been committed and it is in the public interest to prosecute, the RSPCA has a duty to bring the case to court and trust that this will prevent other animals from suffering in the future."

- the initial version of the story said the court costs were £40,000. The RSPCA has since said it is still waiting to confirm the figure

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