Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
|Founder||Richard Martin, William Wilberforce, Reverend Arthur Broome|
|England & Wales|
|Jeremy Cooper (CEO, April 2016-)|
|GBP £132.8m (2012)|
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is a charity operating in England and Wales that promotes animal welfare. In 2012, the RSPCA investigated 150,833 cruelty complaints. It is the oldest and largest animal welfare organisation in the world and is one of the largest charities in the UK, with 1,667 employees (as of 2011). The organisation also does international outreach work across Europe, Africa and Asia.
The charity's work has inspired the creation of similar groups in other jurisdictions, starting with the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (founded in 1836), and including the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1839), the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1840), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1866), the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1882), and various groups which eventually came together as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Australia (1981), the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) (1997) – formerly known as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) (1903–1997).
The organisation was founded in 1824 (without the "royal" prefix) as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; it was established by a group of 22 reformers led by Richard Martin MP, William Wilberforce MP, and the Reverend Arthur Broome in Old Slaughter's Coffee House. The foundation is marked by a plaque on the modern day building at 77–78 St. Martin's Lane.
The society was the first animal welfare charity to be founded in the world. In 1824 it brought sixty three offenders before the courts. It was granted its royal status by Queen Victoria in 1840 to become the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as it is today. In the late 1830s the society began the tradition of the RSPCA inspector, which is the image best known of the organisation today.
The RSPCA lobbied Parliament throughout the nineteenth century, resulting in a number of new laws. The Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 amended Martin's Act and outlawed baiting. In 1876 the Cruelty to Animals Act was passed to control animal experimentation. In 1911 Parliament passed Sir George Greenwood's Animal Protection Act.
Since that time the RSPCA has continued to play an active role, both in the creation of animal welfare legislation and in its enforcement. An important recent new law has been the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Animal welfare establishmentsEdit
RSPCA centres, hospitals and branches operate throughout England and Wales. In 2012 RSPCA centres and branches assisted and rehomed 55,459 animals.
In 2013 the society owned four animal hospitals, Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Putney (south London) and the Harmsworth Memorial Hospital in Holloway (north London), and a number of clinics which provide treatments to those who could not otherwise afford it, neuter animals and accept animals from the RSPCA inspectorate.
RSPCA animal centres deal with a wide range of injured and rescued animals, working alongside its inspectorate, volunteers, and others to ensure that each animal is found a new home.
In 2013 the Society had four wildlife centres at East Winch (Norfolk), West Hatch (Somerset), Stapeley Grange (Cheshire) and Mallydams Wood (East Sussex), which provide treatment to sick, injured and orphaned wild animals to maximise their chances of a successful return to the wild.
Organisation and structureEdit
At the national level, there is a 'National Control Centre', which receives all calls from members of the public, and tasks local Inspectors, some information AWOs or ACOs to respond to urgent calls.
Additionally the £16 million 'National Headquarters' located at Southwater in West Sussex houses several general 'Departments', each with a departmental head, consistent with the needs of any major organisation. The current Chief Executive Officer is Jeremy Cooper who replaced the previous Chief Executive Officer Gavin Grant who left in February 2014.
There are five 'Regions' (North, East, Wales & West, South & South West, South East), each headed by a Regional Manager (responsible for all staff and RSPCA HQ facilities) assisted by a Regional Superintendent who has responsibility for the Chief Inspectors, Inspectors, AWOs and ACOs. The Regional Managers are expected to have a broad understanding of operations throughout their regions.
RSPCA branches operate locally across England and Wales. Branches are separately registered charities operating at a local level and are run by volunteers. Some RSPCA branches are self-funding and raise money locally to support the animal welfare work they do. They find homes for about three-quarters of all animals taken in by the RSPCA. RSPCA branches also offer advice, microchipping, neutering and subsidised animal treatments. In 2013 there were also about 1000 RSPCA shops.
Each Region of the RSPCA contains 'Groups' of Inspectorate staff. A Group is headed by a Chief Inspector. Each Chief Inspector might typically be responsible for around 8 or more Inspectors, 3 Animals Welfare Officers (AWOs) and 2 Animal Collection Officers (ACOs), working with several local Branches. There are also a small number of Market Inspectors across the country.
Inspectorate rank insigniaEdit
Mission statement and charitable statusEdit
The RSPCA is a registered charity (no. 219099) that relies on donations from the public. The RSPCA states that its mission as a charity is, by all lawful means, to prevent cruelty, promote kindness and to alleviate the suffering of animals.
RSPCA inspectors respond to calls from the public to investigate alleged mistreatment of animals. They offer advice and assistance to improve animal welfare, and in some cases prosecute under laws such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Animals rescued by the RSPCA are treated, rehabilitated and rehomed or released wherever possible.
The RSPCA brings private prosecution (a right available to any civilian) against those it believes, based on independent veterinary opinion, have caused neglect to an animal under laws such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The Society has its own legal department and veterinary surgeons amongst the resources which facilitate such private prosecutions. All prosecutions are brought via independent solicitors acting for the RSPCA, as the Association has no legal enforcement powers or authority in its own right.
Legal standing and inspectors' powersEdit
In 1829 when the first recognisable police force was established in England, they adopted a similar uniform to that of RSPCA inspectors who had been wearing uniforms since the charity's beginning in 1824. This has led to similarities in the RSPCA rank names and rank insignia with British police ranks, which has led some critics (such as Chris Newman, chairman of the Federation of Companion Animal Societies) to suggest an attempt to "adopt" police powers in the public imagination.
An RSPCA inspector may also verbally caution a member of the public, similar to that used by the police, i.e. "You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence"; this may strengthen the perception that the RSPCA has statutory powers. When Richard Girling of The Times asked about their lack of powers, a spokesman for the RSPCA said "We would prefer you didn’t publish that, but of course it's up to you". Chris Newman claimed that the RSPCA "impersonate police officers and commit trespass. People do believe they have powers of entry"; however, he did not produce any evidence of such impersonation of police officers, and the Society strongly deny the charge of impersonation.
Sally Case, former head of prosecutions, insisted that RSPCA inspectors are trained specifically to make clear to pet-owners that they have no such right. They act without an owner’s permission, she says, "only if an animal is suffering in a dire emergency. If the court feels evidence has been wrongly obtained, it can refuse to admit it".
One recent trial was halted and charges relating to nine dogs were thrown out of court after District Judge Elsey ruled that they had been wrongly seized and that the police and RSPCA acted unlawfully when they entered private property and seized the animals.
While the Protection of Animals Act 1911 provided a power of arrest for police, the British courts determined that Parliament did not intend any other organisation, such as the RSPCA, to be empowered under the Act and that the RSPCA therefore does not possess police-like powers of arrest, of entry or of search (Line v RSPCA, 1902). Like any other person or organisation that the law deems to have a duty to investigate – such as HM Revenue and Customs and Local Authority Trading Standards – the RSPCA is expected to conform to the rules in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 so far as they relate to matters of investigation. RSPCA officers are trained to state, following giving the caution, that the person is "not under arrest and can leave at any time".
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 has now replaced the Protection of Animals Act 1911, and it empowers the police and an inspector appointed by a local authority. Such inspectors are not to be confused with RSPCA Inspectors who are not appointed by local authorities. In cases where, for example, access to premises without the owner’s consent is sought, a local authority or Animal Health inspector or police officer may be accompanied by an RSPCA inspector if he or she is invited to do so, as was the case in previous law.
Following a series of Freedom of Information requests in 2011, to police constabularies throughout England and Wales it was revealed that the RSPCA has developed local information sharing protocols with a number of constabularies, allowing designated RSPCA workers access to confidential information held on the Police National Computer (PNC). Although RSPCA workers do not have direct access to the PNC, information is shared with them by the various police constabularies which would reveal any convictions, cautions, warnings, reprimands and impending prosecutions. Information regarding motor vehicles can also be accessed. The Association of Chief Police Officers released a statement clarifying that the RSPCA had no direct access to the PNC, and that in common with other prosecuting bodies, it may make a request for disclosure of records. This indirect access does not include any information that the RSPCA does not need in order to prosecute a case at court.
Controversy and criticismEdit
Fund-raising in ScotlandEdit
The RSPCA has been criticised by the Scottish SPCA for fund-raising in Scotland and thereby "stealing food from the mouths of animals north of the border by taking donations intended for Scotland." The RSPCA insists that it does not deliberately advertise in Scotland but that many satellite channels only enabled the organisation to purchase UK-wide advertising. In a statement, the RSPCA said it went "to great lengths" to ensure wherever possible that adverts were not distributed outside England and Wales, and "Every piece of printed literature, television advertising and internet banner advertising always features the wording 'The RSPCA is a charity registered in England and Wales'". "All Scottish donors, who contact us via RSPCA fundraising campaigns, are directed to the Scottish SPCA so that they can donate to them if they so wish." The Scottish SPCA changed its logo in 2005 to make a clearer distinction between itself and the RSPCA in an attempt to prevent legacies being left to its English equivalent by mistake when the Scottish charity was intended.
In September 2012 the RSPCA euthanized 40 sheep, based on the decision of the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, and were accused of using the photographs to further their campaign against animal exports.
The RSPCA stated that they were present at the request of the Port Authority, Thanet District Council, to ensure that animal welfare laws were fully implemented in the operation headed up by DEFRA. The animals were all checked by several independent vets including two Defra vets, and the decisions on the day to slaughter the sheep was taken by Animal Health, and not by RSPCA inspectors.
However, the National Farmers' Union said that it "still leaves many questions to be answered, by both AHVLA and the RSPCA", and that "The NFU also still has questions about why the method of slaughter used resulted in so much blood in the photographs". The RSPCA responded to this by stating that the amount of blood shown in the photographs was caused by ‘moving the dead bodies to an area where they were piled up pending collection for disposal’.
Badger culling and politicisationEdit
The RSPCA's opposition of a badger cull has been commented upon; in 2006 there was controversy about a "political" campaign against culling, with the Charity Commission being asked to consider claims that the charity had breached guidelines by being too overtly 'political'. The charity responded saying that it took "careful account of charity law and the guidance issued by the Charity Commission".
Slaughter of sacred cowEdit
On 13 December 2007 the RSPCA unlawfully trespassed onto Bhaktivedanta Manor Hindu temple and unlawfully slaughtered the sacred cow Gangotri. The cow was under veterinary care and was recovering from an illness. 200 people protested at the RSPCA headquarters about the killing, and the RSPCA was sued by the Hindu monks of Bhaktivedanta Manor Hindu temple. On 13 December 2008, the RSPCA admitted culpability, apologized for the killing of Gangotri, and donated a pregnant cow to the sanctuary representing a symbol of reconciliation.
In 2012, the RSPCA spent £326,000 on a successful magistrates’ court prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt. The charity reported: "We believe that this was the first ever prosecution of a traditional hunt as a corporate body. The Heythrop Hunt pleaded guilty to four offences of intentionally hunting a fox with dogs on four separate occasions." The huntsman and hunt master involved also pleaded guilty to the same offences. The relatively large amount spent in securing a prosecution (£6,800 in fines were imposed) led to criticism by the trial judge, who was later investigated for his comments, the media and some MPs, who accused the charity of breaching its "duty of prudence". The RSPCA said in response that "the overwhelming support from our supporters and the public confirms that the vast majority of people are right behind us. They want us to speak out and stand up for all animals – farm animals, pets, animals used in research and wildlife – by bringing those who abuse them to justice."
Allegations of discrediting of witnessesEdit
On 7 August 2013 the BBC Radio 4 Face the Facts Radio program broadcast an episode called "The RSPCA – A law unto itself?" The program presented a number of cases of where the RSPCA has sought to hound vets and expert witnesses who had appeared in court for the defence in RSPCA prosecutions. In one case it sought to discredit the author of the RSPCA Complete Horse Care Manual (Vogel) after he appeared as an expert witness for the defence team in an RSPCA prosecution. The RSPCA later released a statement saying that this is untrue and that they do not persecute vets and lawyers who appear for the defence and as defence experts. There have been thousands of lawyers taking defence cases against the RSPCA and they have only ever made a complaint about one.
Deputy chairman raises concerns over 'political' allegationsEdit
In September 2013 the RSPCA deputy chairman Paul Draycott said that 'too political' campaigns threatened the charity's future and could deter donors. Draycott said that the RSPCA could go insolvent "We have spent months discussing where we want to be in 10 years time, but unless we develop a strategy for now we won't be here then". In response the chairman Mike Tomlinson said "The trustee body continues to place its full support behind the RSPCA's chief executive, management and all our people who do such outstanding work". The accusations of politicization remain unsubstantiated.
Paul Draycott also warned that the RSPCA fears an exodus of "disillusioned staff" with "poor or even non-existent management training and career paths" for employees. In response the RSPCA’s chief executive, Gavin Grant denied suggestions in the memo that there was "no strategy" in some areas, stating that there was no difficulty in attracting trustees or serious internal concerns about management.
Whistleblower suicide and Charity Commission investigationEdit
In May 2013 former RSPCA employee Dawn Aubrey-Ward was found hanged at her home when suffering from depression after leaving the animal charity. Aubrey-Ward had been a whistleblower against RSPCA bad practices. The RSPCA subsequently had a meeting with the Charity Commission over its approach to prosecutions.
Advertising standards violationEdit
An advertisement published by the RSPCA in the Metro newspaper said: "The UK Government wants to shoot England's badgers. We want to vaccinate them – and save their lives." But more than 100 people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), saying the use of the term "exterminate" was misleading. The advertising standards watchdog judged that the advert was likely to mislead the general public who had not taken an active interest in the badger cull saying, "The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told the RSPCA not to use language that implied the whole badger population in the cull areas would be culled in future advertising." An RSPCA spokesman said it "welcomed" the judgement of the ASA to dismiss three of the areas of complaint about their advert but "respectfully disagreed" with the complaint which had been upheld.
Small animal sheltersEdit
In November 2013 the RSPCA was accused of instigating police raids on small animal shelters with insufficient evidence that animals were being mistreated. The owners claimed that they were being persecuted because of their "no kill" policy of only putting animals down if they cannot be effectively treated. The RSPCA stated that their inspectors will offer advice and guidance to help people improve conditions for their animals, and it only seeks the help of the police where it considers there is no reasonable alternative to safeguard animal welfare. The RSPCA also stated that whilst a few of their own branches operate "no kill" policies themselves, that many of its branches still puts down excess animals, with the RSPCA killing half of the animals that enters its care.
Countryside Alliance criticismEdit
In December 2013 the Countryside Alliance stated that the RSPCA had moved away from its role of promoting animal welfare and was now interested only in animal rights. General Sir Barney White-Spunner said that the RSPCA has turned into a "sinister and nasty" organisation and urged members of the Countryside Alliance to stop donating to the RSPCA the "once great institution". White-Spunner also said that RSPCA inspectors have been given intrusive powers with no proper basis in law. In response, the RSPCA accused the Countryside Alliance of being out of touch with public opinion and denied that it had departed from its original remit.
Comparison to the holocaustEdit
In June 2014 RSPCA campaigner Peta Watson-Smith compared the conditions livestock are brought up in across the country to that of the Jews during the Holocaust. The comments were condemned by countryside campaigners and Jewish groups. In 2015 Peta Watson-Smith was elected to the RSPCA ruling council saying more money should be spent prosecuting farmers. At the same election the RSPCA members also voted to give a seat on the ruling council to Dan Lyons, who has previously called for pet owners to sit an exam.
Cat euthanasia, false prosecution, media errors and an apologyEdit
In August 2014 it was reported that, following a review by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Director of Public Prosecutions had exercised her powers to take over and drop all charges brought by the RSPCA against the owners of a cat for causing it suffering due to having matted fur and being thin. It was reported that the RSPCA euthanised the cat because its hair was too long. A spokesman for the charity said it had been concerned for the cat's welfare. The owners claimed that the RSPCA had refused to defer the euthanasia to allow their children to say good-bye to the pet they had owned for 16 years, a claim initially denied by the RSPCA on BBC radio. The family accused the RSPCA of lying over the facts of the case to try and justify its actions. In October 2014, the family met with senior RSPCA staff and their Independent Reviewer Stephen Wooler CB. They presented a recording taken at Wendover Heights Veterinary Surgery on the day the cat was euthanised. In November 2014, the RSPCA issued the following apology to the owners of the cat: On 16 May 2013, an RSPCA inspector responded to a call from a member of the public concerning ‘Claude’, an elderly cat belonging to Mr and Mrs Byrnes. Claude was removed from the family home and euthanased by a vet the following day against the wishes of Mr and Mrs Byrnes. The RSPCA acknowledges that the way in which it intervened in taking Claude from his home and the subsequent treatment of Mr and Mrs Byrnes at that time was disproportionate and insensitive and fell short of the standards of compassion the public are entitled to expect of the RSPCA. Specifically, the RSPCA accepts that its decision not to defer euthanasia so that Mr and Mrs Byrnes’ children could say goodbye to the pet cat they had known their entire lives caused great and unnecessary distress to the whole family. In November 2013, the RSPCA began legal proceedings against Mr and Mrs Byrnes. They were individually charged with two offences under section 4(1) (unnecessary suffering) and section 9(1) (duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Following a review of the charges by the Crown Prosecution Service, in August 2014, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) exercised her powers to take over and discontinue the prosecutions because they failed to meet the tests set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors. The RSPCA accepts that it failed to apply the evidential and public interest tests correctly prior to bringing legal proceedings against Mr and Mrs Byrnes and that it was wrong to have commenced prosecutions against them. The decision of the DPP to discontinue the prosecution received widespread media attention in August 2014. The RSPCA acknowledges that it made a number of unfortunate errors in its public responses to this coverage which could have been understood to cast doubt on the correctness of the DPP’s decision to discontinue the prosecutions. The RSPCA accepts that the cumulative effect of these errors presented Mr and Mrs Byrnes in an unfavourable light to the public. The RSPCA sincerely apologises to Mr and Mrs Byrnes and their family for the mistakes made in its original intervention, in its incorrect decision to prosecute them and for the errors in its media responses and for the resulting upset and deep distress caused both to them and their children.
A review marked “confidential” carried out by Stephen Wooler, a former chief inspector to the Crown Prosecution Service, concluded that the cat "Claude" had been removed without any lawful authority and that "Respect for due process and the rights of individuals was largely absent.” 
In October 2014 the RSPCA Council set up an independent review of the Society's performance so that it might listen to and learn from any feedback, including criticism and complaints. The report that followed, conducted by Stephen John Wooler CB, highlighted the unique remit of the RSPCA as a successful prosecuting animal welfare organisation, whose prosecutions team "enjoys good standing before the courts for the effective manner in which its cases are presented."  While it also stated that the RSPCA operates in an "unstructured and haphazard” environment, the report also asserted that the Society is not only making a huge contribution to animal welfare, it is also "fulfilling a very significant constitutional role" whose contribution in terms of expertise and resources is huge and "simply too valuable to be lost." 
The RSPCA admitted that in 2014 it had euthanised 205 healthy horses. In one particular case 12 horses from a Lancashire farm that had been assessed by vets as being "bright, alert and responsive" and suffering no life-threatening issues were killed by the RSPCA. In a 2016 court case the RSPCA admitted that in 2015 it had illegally slaughtered 11 healthy horses, and attempted to charge the owner for 100 days of stabling fees for the period after the horses were already dead. The charge was overturned in a court decision.
Apology from new CEOEdit
In 2016 the new head of the RSPCA, Jeremy Cooper, made a dramatic, public apology for the charity’s past mistakes and vowed to be less political and bring fewer prosecutions in the future. The new Chief Executive admitted that RSPCA had become "too adversarial" and will now be "a lot less political". Mr Cooper said that the charity had alienated farmers in its aggressive campaign against the Government’s badger cull and disclosed that it would be “very unlikely” to ever bring another prosecution against a hunt.
Direct Debit donor recruitment campaignEdit
In 2016 the Fundraising Standards Board upheld a complaint against RSPCA that in recruiting people to regularly donate money by Direct Debit had failed adequately to monitor compliance with the Code and had failed to comply with the requirements of fundraising sites, where owners had prohibited the collection of Direct Debit payments. The Fundraising Regulator is considering what further actions need to be taken arising from the report’s findings and recommendations.
On 6 December 2016, the RSPCA was fined £25,000 by the UK Information Commissioner's Office which ruled that the charity had breached data protection legislation by employing external bodies to analyse the financial status of supporters in order to appeal to them for further donations, a practice known as 'wealth screening', and by trading the personal details of its donors with other charitable organisations. The BBC reported that, "Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said donors had not been informed of the charity's practices, and were therefore unable to consent or object to them. She also suggested other charities could also be engaged in similar activities. 'The millions of people who give their time and money to benefit good causes will be saddened to learn that their generosity wasn't enough,' Ms Denham added." The same BBC report noted that the charity's chief executive had stated, "There is no suggestion that we lost or sold any personal data, but rather the ICO considered the information we gave to supporters on how their personal data would be used was inadequate. There has been one acknowledged contravention, through an inadvertent error, which we ourselves brought to the ICO's attention."
- Eurogroup for Animals represents organisations such as the RSPCA at the European Union level
- Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (links to other SPCA organizations worldwide)
- Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) – formerly Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) from 1903 to 1997
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- Detail from a copy of the book, published by Heinemann of London in 1974 with an ISBN of 434 90189 X. The chapters relate to the Origin of the Society, and finishes with prospects for the future, with a foreword by John Hobhouse (Chairman of the RSPCA). Appendix section includes a List of Past Presidents and Accounts information.
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- RSPCA England/Wales
- Charity Commission. RSPCA, registered charity no. 219099.
- Guidance on the Operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986
- RSPCA Inspector Career advice
- Freedom Food the RSPCA's farm assurance scheme
- RSPCA Brighton
- Pet Insurance from the RSPCA
- Letter from RSPCA against claims of euthanizing a pet too soon