Save our RSPCA

Andrew Thorpe-Apps looks behind the RSPCA’s cuddly image, and finds the charity has entered dangerous territory.

When we talk about the RSPCA, we think of the dishevelled, unloved pets from the TV advertisements. As a nation of animal lovers, we revile against the mistreatment of our furry friends and are persuaded to give what money we can. The RSPCA, a seemingly benevolent bastion of charitable kindness, steps into the breach and prevents further suffering.

Few would deny that the RSPCA does indeed do great work. In 2012, the charity investigated 150,833 cruelty complaints. It consistently raises the issue of cruelty and has played an important role in bringing about legal protections for animal welfare. This activism led to The Animal Welfare Act 2006, which consolidated more than 20 pieces of legislation pertaining to the treatment of animals.

The work of the RSPCA is more important than ever, with recent years witnessing a large increase in the number of pet owners convicted of animal cruelty. It is this ongoing battle that motivates hard working volunteers up and down the country.

The problem is that the priorities of volunteers and donors no longer tally with the charity’s leadership.

The RSPCA has been politicised by a small group of left-leaning individuals. Resources are being diverted to lobbying and campaigns. Recent years have seen the construction of a £16 million Headquarters in Horsham (at 2002 prices), a burgeoning number of admin staff, the appointment of highly paid ‘managers’, and even £80,000 spent on a memorial to animals in war.

Founded in 1824 due to concerns about the mistreatment of cattle, the RSPCA is one of Britain’s best known charities. Although the charity lobbied Parliament even in the 19th century, it has strayed markedly from its founding principles. Today, the RSPCA focuses much of its attention on two particular issues: fox hunting and the badger cull.

Brian May Gavin Grant

The current Chief Executive is Gavin Grant, a former PR man. Grant, who is paid £160,000 a year, is a member of the Liberal Democrats, and in 2011 served as Chair of the party in South West England. Grant has previously worked as an adviser to Nick Clegg, and was involved in Clegg’s party leadership campaign in 2007. Grant has also been vocal in his opposition to badger culling.

In 2006, the RSPCA was investigated by the Charity Commission over claims that it had breached guidelines by conducting an overtly political campaign against the culling of badgers. More recently, the Advertising Standards Authority received over 100 complaints following an RSPCA advert, published in the Metro, which contained the headline ‘Vaccinate or Exterminate?’ The advert showed a bullet alongside a needle.

In 2012, the RSPCA spent £326,000 on bringing a prosecution against the Heythrop Hunt. It was unclear why the RSPCA had focused on this particular Hunt, which happens to be based in the Prime Minister’s Witney constituency. District Judge Tim Pattinson, who presided over the case, noted the ‘staggering sum’ spent on the case by the RSPCA. He also stated that ‘members of the public may feel that RSPCA funds can be more usefully employed’. The £326,000 was set against costs of just £19,500 paid by the defendants.

In August of this year, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme presenting cases where the RSPCA had hounded witnesses who had appeared in court for the defence in RSPCA prosecutions. The charity was again investigated by the Charity Commission over its bullying tactics and intimidation.

In September, RSPCA deputy chairman Paul Draycott stated that the charity’s campaigns had become too political and could deter future donors. Mr Draycott also warned of a potential exodus of ‘disillusioned staff’ if the organisation did not address these concerns.

If it were not for the rigours of UK charity law, one wonders how much further the RSPCA would have slid into murky political waters.


Mr Draycott’s concerns seem to be materialising. The RSPCA’s income, which comes primarily from donations, has fallen in recent years. This has been met with a dramatic increase in litigation costs. Last year alone, the RSPCA spent £8.7 million on prosecutions. Consequently, it is now less able to uphold the Animal Welfare Act by intervening in the sort of cases it shows on those TV advertisements.

If Gavin Grant wants to turn the RSPCA into an organisation concerned with prosecutions, rather than with the prevention of cruelty, then this should be made clear in the advertising. Playing on the emotions of others in the pursuance of political ends is simply not acceptable.

It is deeply sad that such a beloved charity has been reduced to this. Britain has a proud history when it comes to animal welfare and it is something we should seek to export across the world. Yet, despite the continued commitment of its volunteers and donors, the RSPCA is failing to live up to that proud history due to the actions of a misguided few.


  1. Oh dear.

    The RSPCA was originally set up to carry out prosecutions (just as the NSPCC) was and whilst the police are overstretched by budget cuts then the RSPCA will have to take action.

    What the writer really means is ” Its all very well to prosecute oiks from council estates who dog fight when it comes to Millord you should damned well doff your cap and tug your forelock and not mention hunting foxes”.

    Oh and I was a YC/FCS chairman before you were even born before you accuse me of being on the left.

  2. Unfortunately, I used to support the RSPCA via Direct Debit but I no longer do. As a lifelong dog-lover, I have always been very concerned with genuine animal welfare. Tragically, however, the Society has been infiltrated by a lot of left-leaning ‘animal rights’ nutters (“bunny-huggers”, as the Duke of Edinburgh would say). These people now conflate animal welfare with their own naff notion of ‘animal rights’ and proper animal husbandry with ‘cruelty’. Those running the Society, sadly, are now more interested in spending donors’ money on malicious prosecutions and a campaign of propaganda and misinformation that Joseph Goebbels would be proud of, all in furtherance of a distinctly left-wing agenda that persecutes our rural communities, not to mention scientific progress through their agitation against legitimate scientific animal testing. The final straw for me, however, was when these left-wing elements tried to have HM The Queen removed as royal patron of the Society. I knew at that moment, as a loyal monarchist, that I could have nothing further to do with this obnoxious organisation, and I cancelled my direct debit forthwith. I am now an active volunteer with the Cinnamon Trust, a charity that works specifically with elderly and disabled people and their pets. It is a shame, however, that my winder concern for animal welfare can no longer find useful expression through the RSPCA, which has lamentably lost its way.

  3. The problems arise from the very top. Gavin Grant is the wrong man for the job, he is bombastic and rude, his way is always the right way as far as he’s concerned. The whole organization needs a good shake from top to bottom if it wants to last another ten years. People are fed up with being villified and sneered at by an organization that then holds out its hand for money from those same people.

  4. Sean Davey – It does not appear to be just Tories attacking the
    RSPCA, their very own who once run the organization when it was concerned aboutanimal welfare and cruelty and not glossy campaigns for the benefit of a “few left wind individuals”. John Hobhouse a member of the National Council of the RSPCA for 20 years, and national chairman for 7 years In his letter to The Times after the HWD Act was passed wrote, “For an Act of Parliament purporting to relieve animal suffering to do exactly the opposite is very sad. That the RSPCA, which does immensely important work on so many animal welfare fronts, has been party to this fiasco is a tragedy”

    I wrote this a number of weeks back after the RSPCA
    complained they were being discredited for prosecuting hunts:-

    So these claimed
    attempts to discredit the RSPCA are only recent and in light of successful
    prosecutions bought by this organization against members of the hunting
    community. Should the RSPCA and their cohorts the IFAW and the League against
    cruel sports who formed Deadline 2000 and then later the CPHA be allowed to
    monitor and bring prosecutions against the hunting community?

    The ban was achieved with a 1 million pound donation to the
    Labour party by the IFAW with additional funding of Labour Mps in their
    constituencies by the League against cruel sports. Scientific evidence supplied
    to the Burns inquiry by the RSPCA had the original academic who conducted the
    research writing to the inquiry stating “there is an on-going problem with AR
    groups twisting my data to suit their own ends”. Since 1997 these organizations
    waged a bitter war against the Countryside Alliance and were less than
    economical with the truth on many occasions,

    Complaint upheld: The ASA determined that the RSPCA’s claim
    that “Independent polls have consistently shown that most people in this
    country agree with us” was not true.

    Complaints upheld: The ASA determined that the IFAW implied
    a 30-year-old practice was current; that ‘full of soil’ was an exaggeration;
    that submitted evidence was insufficient. Complaints upheld:

    The ASA determined that LACS was misleading and inaccurate
    in their use of a quote from the Burns Inquiry.

    Complaints upheld: The ASA determined that LACS was
    misleading and inaccurate in a pamphlet about hare hunting and coursing,
    including using no-longer-accurate data from 1951 when current information was
    easily available.

    That these organizations who themselves have moved more to
    an animal rights agenda can suggest these prosecutions are anything but a
    continuation of their spiteful dirty campaign against those they consider the
    enemy is laughable beyond the pale.

  5. I agree with you about the army of admin staff and overpaid heads – in fact that could be applied to a lot of established charities which is a sad for a lot of reasons. Personally I have no problem with the RSPCA pursuing prosecutions. It’s a deterrent to others who want to inflict cruelty. I also don’t distinguish between chasing and killing a fox, badger, cat or dog in either a Tory-run part of the countryside or a Labour-run inner-city area – all of those contexts would be unacceptable. If by “political” you mean challenging the government of the day (against scientifically flawed badger culls) or supporting the government (for banning fox hunting), then yes, the RSPCA is “political” and long may it continue to be!

  6. Surprise surprise, a Tory attacking the RSPCA because they dare to mention fox hunting… fox hunting and the badger cull are not left-right issues, so to claim the RSPCA has been taken over by “left-leaning individuals” is entirely disingenuous (not least because Gavin Grant is firmly on the right wing of the Liberal Democrat party).

    The RSPCA predates the Metropolitan Police as an inspectorate, and so taking the Heythrop Hunt to court for committing illegal acts is entirely consistent with the stated purpose which they have been serving for almost 200 years. If you are arguing that fox hunting laws are illiberal then make that argument, don’t attack the RSPCA for daring to suggest the law should apply to huntsmen just as much as it does to other law abiding citizens.

    Finally the RSPCA’s role is not simply to be a “benevolent bastion of charitable kindness” as you poetically described it, their job is to protect animals from cruel and sadistic human beings who inflict harm on them – and in my eyes making the argument against blood sports and lobbying the government to listen to scientific fact not dogma and pressure from the NFU on the badger cull seems to be doing exactly that – putting the animals first and defending them from death.


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