The RSPCA are well known in the farming community as being unreasonable extremists whose main aim seems to be the kudos gained from glamorous prosecutions. There is actually a self help group for farmers (and others!) experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA. I do quite a bit of work for them. Here's an article which appeared in Y Tir and Welsh Farmer in October 1997

RSPCA Self Help Group
In 1990, a small group of farmers who believed they had been unreasonably and unfairly 'targeted' by the RSPCA formed a self-help group. Problems experienced can range from the frustration felt when anonymous, malicious telephone calls result in the embarrassment of a visit by a uniformed 'official' in a clearly marked RSPCA van, to the financial devastation caused by a prosecution resulting in an order banning the defendant from keeping animals. The RSPCA is an extremely wealthy and powerful organisation, able to draw on vast resources and past experience in any situation. It employs solicitors who are experts in animal law, and appears to have unlimited funds to spend on prosecution costs. Ranks, uniforms and the name RSPCA serve to impress both members of the public and, unfortunately, some magistrates.

In the face of this powerful organisation, the defendant, often through lack of funds, may be unrepresented, or represented by an inexperienced solicitor. Potential professional witnesses will often decline to even consider his case on hearing that the RSPCA is involved. The RSPCA has no special rights or powers. They have no rights of access, no rights to inspect animals, or to demand answers to their questions. Nevertheless, their employees often act as if they have such rights, and proceed to ignore the civil and legal rights of others in pursuit of their ends. Unfortunately, magistrates do not pay enough attention to the fact that when statements are obtained by the RSPCA, the people making them often do so in extremely difficult cicumstances with none of the protections afforded to someone making a statement to professionally trained police officers.

Anyone participating in a police investigation has certain protections provided by law. The police are trained in interviewing, interviews are taped and copies made available to the defence, people are advised they can have a solicitor present, medical attention is available if they become unduly distressed, and there are well publicised, official channels for complaints. Nevertheless, even with all of these protections in place, the decision to prosecute was taken out of the hands of the police on the grounds that they had too great an interest in obtaining a prosecution. How much more applicable is that objection to a well known animal welfare organisation pursuing both the investigation and the prosecution of people whose daily activities, while perfectly legal, are often among those the organisation is campaigning to have banned? So, how do we redress the unfair balance of power in such cases?

We try to make the public aware of their rights, and can provide names of solicitors who are experts in animal law, and of vets and other expert witnesses who are prepared to appear against the RSPCA. The practice of hiding animals away from people pending possible prosecutions must end, on the grounds that this often damages the defence case as veterinary evidence often cannot be obtained at the pertinent times.

We are currently searching for a volunteer who would undertake to produce articles to submit to magistrates' journals and apply to attend their seminars and explain our position to them. The RSPCA already do this, and it is only reasonable that the views of both organisations are represented.

The Director of Public Prosecutions should be encouraged to look very closely at prosecutions brought by the RSPCA and to take them over and discontinue them if the standard of evidence and conduct of the prosecution are unacceptable.

We would welcome details (that can be verified) of any cases that could be included in a dossier we are preparing in support of this proposal