Basic legal advice for pet owners.
You get a knock at the door; you open it.
It’s the R.S.P.C.A.
The “officer” may or may not be in uniform but, crucially, the police are not in attendance.
What should you do? Do not panic and do not let the uniform or the attitude intimidate you.

There is a good chance that you will be cautioned using the words “You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not now mention something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence”.

All this means is that the R.S.P.C.A. officer can now give evidence in court as to what you say. At this time the R.S.P.C.A. have no powers to arrest you, all they can do is report you for summons.  We recommend that you ask “Am I under arrest?” Note their response.

It is very important that you do not allow them entry into your premises.  
They have no rights to be on your property.  
They have no special legal powers.  
They cannot demand entry to look at your animals.  
They cannot demand that you answer questions.  
You may feel that you are being helpful to let them in and have a look round and you may feel that you have nothing to hide but do not let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security. Many innocent animal keepers have lost their animals in this way.
If you allow them in you are opening yourself up to problems  which could lead to you losing your animals even if you are a good and conscientious keeper.

 Be firm, but polite, and do not let them into your house, or other premises.

Say “I have been advised not to answer any questions put by, or in the presence of, R.S.P.C.A. officials without a solicitor present. If you wish to question me I must insist that you arrange, and pay for, the police duty solicitor to be present”. Ask them to leave saying “Unless you have lawful authorisation to enter my premises I want you to leave now”. 

If they refuse to leave you are entitled to use reasonable force to eject them, as you would any other common trespasser. Do not think that this is the end of the matter – they will probably be back, perhaps with the police. Telephone one of the  emergency helpline numbers – we will do our best to put you in touch with people who can help.  We can also advise on how you should now proceed.

Our basic advice would be that you need to photograph you animals and your enclosures, invite a trusted friend to look over your stock and conditions or, preferably, get someone whose testimony would carry more weight to look over your animals/pets. It would certainly be a good idea to have a specialist vet check and write you a report. We can put you in touch with expert witnesses and veterinarians and we can also seek legal advice on your behalf.

What do you do if the police attend your premises with the R.S.P.C.A.?

Ask “Do you have a search warrant, or other lawful authority, to enter my premises? Insist on a yes or no answer.

If the answer is no they have no right to demand access don’t let them in and proceed as you would if the R.S.P.C.A. attend on their own.

Many people feel intimidated when faced with “mob-handed” visits but the law is on your side. No matter what the R.S.P.C.A. may say to you, do not be tempted to let them in without proper authority.

 No legal seizure of your animals can take place unless entry to your premises has taken place with proper authority.

If in any doubt, or you simply want some back-up, call the either of the helpline numbers or get someone to call on your behalf. 

If they do have a search warrant ask “May I see and read the search warrant?” Ensure that you read the warrant before they try to enter unless they state it is urgent. It is very important that you don’t to anything to obstruct the police officer(s).

Check to see who is authorised to enter by the warrant. Only allow the persons authorised in the warrant onto your property and insist that any others leave. 

Ask for a witness to be allowed in. Get a friend to come over as soon as possible. Call the Emergency Helpline 0744 99 89 411 as soon as you are able and we will try to locate an expert witness in your area to attend. We can also get legal advice for you. The sooner we know you have a problem the sooner we can start acting on your behalf. Once you animals have been seized it can be quite difficult to get them back and we would always try to prevent seizures being carried out.

Ensure that you record the time that any search is initiated and also the time at which it is finished. Record the details of anyone who enters and insist that you see ID cards for anyone in plain clothes.

Remember that anyone not specifically named on the warrant can be told to leave. If they do not leave they are guilty of trespass.

Don’t be bullied, be firm but polite at all times. If you feel the situation is getting out of hand, or you want advice, call us.

 With reference to your property (whether it be your animals or any documentation), only the police have the authority to remove items.

The R.S.P.C.A. (or any other charity) have absolutely no authority to remove your property (and this includes your animals) without your consent.

If the police want to take things away seek further advice from us immediately. Insist that you are given a full receipt that lists everything in detail (e.g. 75 sheets of paper, 2 notebooks, etc.) do not accept receipts for, for example, “a quantity of correspondence” make sure it is listed in full.

Should your animals be removed by the police you are entitled to inspect them wherever they may have been placed and you are entitled to an independent veterinary inspection, which the R.S.P.C.A. are obliged to pay for. 

If you are arrested insist that you speak only to the police and do not answer questions with the R.S.P.C.A. present. Insist that you wish to speak to the duty solicitor and do not make a written statement until you have spoken to the duty solicitor.

 The police may have some other authority to enter your premises which means they can go in without a search warrant. They can, for example, enter to arrest you for various offences without your consent. If they use this authority it does not enable anyone else to enter so you can insist that all other persons leave your premises, unless they can give a lawful authority for their being present.

 If you are unfortunate enough to be the subject of a raid you may well find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people that end up on your doorstep. With police officers, R.S.P.C.A. personnel and members of other charities brought in as consultants or handlers, last and not least film crews,  you may well be facing a dozen or more people. Thus intimidated, even though you know your rights, you could find yourself pressured into allowing admittance to your house or other premises. Most keepers are law abiding citizens who have been accustomed to cooperating with authority figures and this is what makes you vulnerable.

Perfectly healthy-looking animals have also been removed “for further examination”, never to be returned. Do not be persuaded to sign away your animals, for examination off your premises, or for any other purpose – you will probably not have them returned.  

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