The RSPCA is being urged to overhaul the way it prosecutes animal cruelty cases, according to an independent report.

Findings of an independent review into the welfare charity’s prosecutions policy were published yesterday (October 1), which was led by former CPS investigator Stephen Wooler.

The £50,000 review recognised the “substantial and important role” the charity played in enforcing animal welfare legislation; however the report found the charity operated outside the mainstream prosecution system in an “unstructured and haphazard environment”.

The RSPCA conducts 80% of animal welfare prosecutions in England and Wales and last year dealt with 66,000 incidents and took nearly 1,600 people to court. But the welfare group has been accused of becoming too aggressive in pursuing farmers and pet owners.

The review made 33 recommendations on the charity’s investigation and prosecution activity, including:

• inviting the Government to put the charity’s investigation and prosecution functions on a more formal basis, seeking statutory appointment of RSPCA inspectors under the Animal Welfare Act 2006;

• more detailed operational guidance to govern relationships with the police

• realignment of the charity’s prosecution role in certain areas such as animal sanctuary cases

• a comprehensive review to be undertaken by the charity of its prosecutions structure, including the adoption of a prosecution policy statement and clearer guidelines on how it assesses whether to take prosecutions.

Mike Tomlinson, chairman of the RSPCA, said: “The RSPCA accepts the need to adapt its approach to meet modern expectations of transparency and accountability in law enforcement.

“The RSPCA’s next step will be to discuss the outcome of the review with other key players in enforcement of animal welfare legislation, such as the Government and other statutory enforcement bodies, to develop a more clearly defined strategy for the enforcement of animal welfare legislation.”

The RSPCA announced the review of its prosecutions policy last December following a string of high-profile, costly court cases, including the decision to spend £326,000 prosecuting the Heythrop Hunt in Oxfordshire for illegal foxhunting.

For more information, or to read the full report, visit www.rspca.org.uk/webContent/staticImages/Downloads/WoolerReviewFinalSept2014.pdf

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