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What would Foxhunter Richard Martin Think of the RSPCA Today?

Jamie Foster wonders what the founder of the forerunner to the RSPCA, Richard Martin, would think of the current state of the charity, as another prosecution of alleged illegal hunting fails.

Let me start by declaring an interest. Mr William Bryer, the Joint Master and Huntsman of the Cattistock, is not only my client but also my friend, and has been for some years. He is without doubt one of the nicest people in hunting and, as a result, I was mortified when I first learned that he was being prosecuted by the RSPCA for a Hunting Act offence. I was equally delighted when, just before a major legal argument listed on March 20, the RSPCA contacted me to inform me they intended to drop their frankly hopeless case.

William Bryer and Richard Martin have quite a lot in common, despite living a century apart. They both share a passion for fox hunting and a great love of animals. They both spent time jumping the hedges of Ireland in pursuit of vulpine quarry and both share a concern that horses, sheep and cattle should be properly cared for.

Richard Martin was a proud farmer who despised the mistreatment of livestock so much that, as an MP, he ensured the passing of Martin’s Law, the forerunner of the Animal Welfare Act, and as a campaigner he helped to found the Society that would eventually become the RSPCA.

Richard Martin said that it would be a terrible thing if the Society he helped to form became just another prosecuting society. In the early nineteenth century prosecuting societies were faux charities that used the money provided by rich donors to hound those they disapproved of, usually prostitutes or the drunken poor. The prosecuting societies fell into disrepute by being seen to pay witnesses to pervert the course of justice and use the criminal courts to further their own political beliefs. Richard Martin was very clear he didn’t want that for his Society. If he could see the case that the RSPCA brought against William Bryer he would be spinning in his grave.

Since the Hunting Act came into force, William Bryer and the Cattistock, like most of the hunts in the country, have been practising a new rural pursuit called trail hunting. A trail, usually of fox urine, is laid by dragging a soaked rag across the countryside after which the hounds and the hunting field go out and try to find the trails. The point of the exercise is to give the hounds as close an experience to hunting as is legally possible in order to keep them in tip top condition in the event the awful and illiberal Hunting Act is ever repealed. In this way hunts can remain within the law but still preserve their culture and traditions.

The Cattistock is heavily ‘monitored’ when it trail hunts by anti hunting organisations including the International Fund for Animal Welfare or IFAW. This organisation was fully aware that the Cattistock hunts trails because its ‘monitors’ filmed members of the Cattistock laying trails and Will Bryer hunting them. I know this because I have seen video footage the Cattistock have captured of IFAW monitors filming trail laying. Despite this IFAW was determined that a case should be brought against the Cattistock. One reason for this appears to be the fact that another joint master of the Cattistock is the landowner Charlotte Townsend whose wealth and support for hunting make her a regular political target of the activists.

IFAW managed to capture footage of a fox crossing a road and running across a field in a similar direction to that taken by William Bryer’s hounds. They didn’t take this footage to the police and the CPS, knowing full well that there was no way the proper authorities would bring a case based on such flimsy evidence. Instead IFAW preferred to chance their arm with the RSPCA. By rights this approach should have failed. Last year the RSPCA invited the ex Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service, Stephen Wooler, to hold an inquiry into the RSPCA’s prosecution policy and prepare a public report. I gave evidence to Mr Wooler’s investigation. His report was published quite late, having been subject to amendment by the RSPCA who were not altogether pleased with his findings. Nonetheless the final version contained the clear advice that the RSPCA should allow the police and the CPS to take the lead on prosecuting hunting, as they already had primary responsibility for it, and that the RSPCA should confine itself to campaigning on hunting rather than seeking to prosecute in this area.

Rather bizarrely, only days after the publication of this advice, and the RSPCA’s public statements that they intended to follow the advice in the report, the RSPCA personally served a summons on William Bryer containing an allegation that he had been hunting unlawfully.

This extraordinary decision may be partly explained by the fact that the RSPCA didn’t have a CEO or a Deputy CEO at the time of this decision, and still don’t. The IFAW approached the RSPCA at a time the society was leaderless and reeling from the criticism contained in the report that they themselves had commissioned.

But in order for any court to convict William Bryer they would have to hear from a prosecution expert. William Bryer was nowhere near the fox that IFAW had filmed crossing the road at any time. Neither were his hounds. The court would therefore have to hear from someone who could interpret what William Bryer and his hounds were doing and form an opinion about whether he was trail hunting in the same vicinity that a fox had previously crossed the road or if he was trying to pursue that fox and therefore break the law.In the end the RSPCA decided against having an argument in court with me about whether their witness could give independent expert evidence.

But they had wasted the courts time, eight months of William Bryer’s life and thousands of pounds on either side bringing this hopeless and ridiculous case to court.

Mr Bryer is back looking after his hounds and without a stain on his character. Mr Martins Royal Society now needs to appoint a strong CEO to give it proper direction and put it back where it should be, at the heart of animal welfare in the UK. I suggest they ask me to do it.

I would help them to understand that their job is to help people look after animals so that all the animals in the country could be as well looked after as Mr Bryer’s hounds. That is what Mr Martin intended. Common decency. Sounds simple when you put it like that doesn’t it?

Text republished with Authors permission

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