RSPCA to become 'less adversarial' under new boss

Huntsman and hounds in Oxfordshire Image copyright PA
Image caption The RSPCA said it was "very unlikely" to bring another prosecution for illegal fox hunting

The new chief of the RSPCA, Jeremy Cooper, has said the animal welfare charity had become "too adversarial" and will now be "a lot less political".

A number of farmers and pet owners prosecuted or investigated by the RSPCA have accused it of being over-zealous in cases going back years.

In 2012, it was criticised for spending £330,000 to privately prosecute a hunt.

Mr Cooper told the Daily Telegraph the charity had made "mistakes" in the past and would now focus on "dialogue".

He said all future decisions on illegal fox hunting prosecutions would be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service and it was "very unlikely" the RSPCA would privately prosecute a hunt.

Criticism 'hurts'

The charity's policy of bringing private prosecutions rather than referring alleged offences to the CPS had also been criticised in a parliamentary debate in 2013.

Although members of an Oxfordshire-based hunt pleaded guilty in 2012 to unlawfully hunting foxes with dogs in a case brought by the RSPCA, the presiding magistrate called the charity's costs "staggering" and said the public could question whether the money could have been better spent.

Mr Cooper said persistent criticism of the way the charity pursued its aims "hurts" and detracted from the "fantastic job" done by many of the organisation's 1,600 employees.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The RSPCA said its next big campaign would focus on the puppy trade

Asked how policy would change under his leadership, Mr Cooper said: "We should look to fall back on education and advice wherever possible.

"My style of advocacy is encouragement and dialogue... If you want to shout and use rhetoric, that's fine, but it isn't helpful to anybody.

"We have made mistakes. We have to be honest about that."

Mr Cooper said a less political approach "doesn't mean we won't stand up for animals. But we are not a political organisation."

'Very positive'

The Countryside Alliance welcomed Mr Cooper's comments.

Spokeswoman Charlotte Cooper said: "We have been concerned for years about its dual role of both investigating and prosecuting cases. We have a big problem with that.

"To say they will pass prosecutions to the CPS is very positive. It's what we've been calling for."

Mr Cooper said that the RSPCA's next big campaign would focus on the illegal puppy trade rather than fox hunting or badger culling.

"Puppy trading is a real problem," he said. "It is about animal welfare. People may have had the perception we were becoming an animal rights organisation. It is not the reality now and it won't be in the future."

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