RSPCA criticised over private prosecutions

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The role of the RSPCA in carrying out private prosecutions on animal-related issues has been criticised by MPs.

Opening a Westminster Hall debate on 29 January 2013, the Conservative MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire Simon Hart pointed to the fact that the charity carried out private prosecutions over allegations such as illegal fox hunting.

Mr Hart, a former head of the Countryside Alliance, questioned why the RSPCA carried out its own prosecutions while other charities relied on the police.

"All of this has a cost to the taxpayer due to the beneficial tax relief that all charities benefit from," he added.

The charity says it undertakes the prosecutions itself as many cases they pass to the Crown Prosecution Service do not make it to court.

However in a recent case where the RSPCA successfully prosecuted members of the Heythrop hunt, the judge in the trial said it was "quite staggering" that nearly £330,000 had been spent in bringing the action.

He said the public could question whether the charity's funds to bring the case to court could have been better spent.

Mr Hart said he was "not here to defend people who breach the law", but critics accused him of wanting to re-open the debate on the legality of fox hunting.

Labour MP Paul Murphy accused "those who lost the [fox hunting] debate" of wanting to attack the "splendid" work of the RSPCA.

"All we have today is the malice and spite of the pro-hunting lobby. The ban must be strengthened and reinforced," he concluded.

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