RSPCA defends decision to drop prosecution against hunt members

The animal welfare charity successfully prosecuted two members of Avon Vale Hunt but dropped its case against five others


The RSPCA has refuted the accusation from critics that it wasted court time in a partially successful prosecution of hunt members last week.

The animal welfare charity successfully prosecuted two members of Avon Vale Hunt at Chippenham Magistrates Court for interfering with a badger sett in March 2012.

But it also dropped its case against five members of Avon Vale on charges of illegal hunting on the first day of what was scheduled to be a seven-day trial, leading the judge reportedly to criticise it for bringing a weak case.

A spokesman for the charity said the reason it dropped the charges was because of a deal made between its prosecutors and defendants just days before the trial was to start.

"The defence changed its position to guilty pleas from two of the defendants, but only on the basis that the RSPCA would not continue the prosecution for alleged illegal hunting and would also drop all charges against the remaining defendants," he said.

The spokesman said it then accepted legal advice in relation to the deal that the public interest would not be served by pursuing a trial on hunting charges.

It said court time and costs would have been saved if the defendants had accepted the strength of the RSPCA’s case earlier.

The charity also said it gave the Crown Prosecution Service the chance to review independently the summonses for alleged offences under the Hunting Act early on in the case, at the request of the defendants’ legal team.

"The CPS was satisfied that there was a reasonable prospect of conviction on all charges," the spokesman added.

The RSPCA also clarified the political status of its chief executive, Gavin Grant, after it was claimed he was the election agent for a Liberal Democrat candidate in North Wiltshire constituency at the last General Election.

The charity said Grant was chair of the local Lib Dem party at the time and had signed endorsement papers for the candidate, but was not the election agent  and had held no political office since joining the RSPCA.

Jonathon Seed, a Conservative councillor in Wiltshire and one of the men against whom charges of illegal hunting were dropped last week, insisted Grant was the "declared agent for the election campaign".

"As for this deal, my lawyers told the RSPCA they were happy for them to proceed with the hunting charges because they had no case," said Seed. "It was the judge who told the RSPCA it had not brought a strong case."

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