The Countryside Alliance has criticised the animal welfare charity the RSPCA for bringing what it says are "politically motivated" hunt prosecutions that it claims have cost the taxpayer more than £100,000 in the past 12 months.
Figures published this week by the pro-hunting charity show that 57 of the 72 summonses issued by the RSPCA to hunt staff and supporters under the Hunting Act 2004 and relating to six cases between December 2012 and November 2013 did not result in a conviction.
According to the study, which a spokeswoman for the alliance said was based on figures from the defence solicitors involved in the cases, the prosecutions cost £101,191.
The charity, which was set up in 1997 in part to lobby against the Labour government’s pledge to ban hunting with dogs, said the RSPCA was issuing "spurious, politically motivated summonses" and that it should meet defendants’ costs rather than use funds from the public purse.
Tim Bonner, director of campaigns at the alliance, said: "People simply will not understand why the taxpayer should foot the bill for failed RSPCA prosecutions, especially when they seem to be politically motivated. Judges are only able to award costs against prosecutors in the most extreme cases.
"There can only be one explanation for the huge difference between the RSPCA’s 21 per cent success rate in cases involving hunts and its 98 per cent success rate in all cases: it is issuing summonses as part of a political campaign against hunting. The Crown Prosecution Service should be looking very carefully at this abuse of the courts."
The RSPCA said in response that the alliance had sunk to a "new low of smear campaigns and inaccuracies".
Ray Goodfellow, chief legal officer at the RSPCA, said the alliance’s figures were "disingenuous and misleading".
He added: "It is a gross distortion of statistics to compare a percentage calculated on the number of summonses with a percentage calculated on the number of individual defendants successfully convicted. It’s like comparing apples with oranges.
"Obviously, I reject the claim that our prosecutions are politically motivated. The RSPCA follows the principles laid down in the CPS Code for Crown Prosecutors. The Countryside Alliance should engage with the independent review of RSPCA prosecutions if they have concerns about the manner in which the RSPCA brings private prosecutions."
The RSPCA announced last month it had appointed a former chief inspector of the HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate to carry out the independent assessment, due to begin this year.
"The RSPCA exists to be the voice of animals with no voice and no choice as to what happens to them," the RSPCA’s statement in response to the alliance said. "The alliance will not prevent us from protecting those very animals they would like to hunt, maim and kill."
The charity said that only 5p in every pound donated was spent on prosecutions.
A CPS spokesman said: "Individuals and organisations have a right under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 to commence private prosecutions without the need for any approval from the CPS. We can be asked by either the defendant or private prosecutor to consider taking over such a case after it has begun, but we do not have general oversight of private prosecutions."