The RSPCA - animal welfare champions.
RSPCA - Kind to animals, cruel to humans?
The RSPCA is one of Britain's most respected charities. But is it in danger of being kind to animals but cruel to humans in its treatment of animal welfare? Inside Out's Glenn Campbell investigates.
Reporter Glenn Campbell describes his experience of making the Inside Out film...
As a trainee journalist one of my favourite BBC programmes was Rough Justice.
Each week David Jessel would delve into a court case and forensically dissect it.
I'm now fast approaching 40 and my trainee days are a distant memory.
In August 2008 I started to hear stories that innocent farmers and pet owners were being wrongly accused and charged with animal cruelty.
I must admit I thought, how would David Jessel investigate this one if he was still making Rough Justice?
The RSPCA is, I think, one of Britain's most respected and cherished charities.
Without doubt it does some tremendous work safeguarding animal welfare.
I remember vividly as a boy going along with my parents to pick up our first family pet, an RSPCA rescue dog called Sam.
So how do you investigate a charity with such a saintly image?
Cases of animal cruelty shock the British public.
Like it or not, we are a nation of animal lovers and any picture or video that shows a dog or a donkey, skinny or suffering, will get us reaching deep down into our pockets.
RSPCA - too tough on humans?
This is why the RSPCA receives millions in donations every year... £35m in 2007, and that's not including the money it was left in bequests.
Wills from old ladies up and down the country who sometimes leave their entire estates to the RSPCA, often at the exasperation of those living relatives left behind!
If you ever find yourself in Horsham, West Sussex and you've an hour to spare, pop into the RSPCA's glittering new headquarters, which is on an industrial park in Southwater.
Walk into reception and the first thing you'll see are two large 'Donation Books'.
Each one lists, month by month, a list of generous people up and down the country who have bequeathed their cash to the RSPCA.
There's £50 from Doris in Newhaven and then you'll see under it £480,000 left in the will of Mabel from Taunton.
It truly opened my eyes to just how valued the RSPCA is by the people of this country AND how much money we leave it.
Reputation in jeopardy?
But is the RSPCA's reputation being jeopardised?
After three months of research looking at how the charity investigates and then presses ahead with its private prosecutions, I think there is need for concern.
Unlike the Scottish Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which investigates and then puts a case forward to the equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration, the RSPCA does both of these tasks in-house.
Critical of the current system - Roger Gale MP.
It investigates and then its own team of lawyers decide who to prosecute and who to let off with a warning.
If you are ever unlucky enough to find yourself on the receiving end of an RSPCA summons accusing you of animal cruelty, then beware, you could lose a lot.
You could find yourself banned from keeping any animal for life.
You could face a six month prison sentence and you could get a £5,000 fine.
All this could happen in a magistrates court under a private prosecution bought against you by the RSPCA.
I know because I've spoken to the people who've found themselves in this position... the beef farmer from Kent, the kennel assistant from Portsmouth and the pensioner from Petworth in Sussex.
My investigation looks at how these people found themselves facing a private prosecution by the RSPCA.
Prosecuted for animal cruelty - found not guilty.
They face the very real prospect of financial ruin and having their reputations destroyed.
All of them were actually found not guilty of animal cruelty charges in the end.
But I'll let you decide for yourselves whether I've managed to present a case worthy of inclusion in 'Rough Justice'.
Or have I actually only succeeded in giving the poor old RSPCA a rough time?
I'll let you be the jury and judge on that one.
last updated: 13/11/2008 at 16:37