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Now showing on the League Against Cruel Sports’ website is a little film celebrating the 90 year history of the organisation. What’s interesting about the film is not that it concentrates on what it sees as victories, but how it skips over certain events.

So, in the interest of fairness and balance, here are a few of the omissions.

But first, has anyone ever wondered why the Labour Party has such an obsession with banning hunting with dogs and why so many senior members listen to the League Against Cruel Sports, apparently accepting whatever it says almost without question? The answer lies in a series of events omitted from the film.

Shortly before the general election in 1979, the League made a donation of £80,000 to the Labour Party. A ban on hare coursing and deer hunting had been included in its manifesto. Of the amount given, £30,000 was for the promotion of animal welfare and £50,000 for general funds. The move outraged some Conservative voting members of the League who started a legal action to have the monies returned. By sheer coincidence the case concluded less than a month before the 1983 general election and the court ordered that as the £50,000 given for general party use had been outside the League’s objectives, it had to be returned plus interest of a further £25,000… and all this in the run-up to the 1983 polling day.

Access to Labour Party conferences proved to be no problem for the League

Access to Labour Party conferences proved to be no problem for the League

The late Richard Course, then executive director of the LACS and a Labour councillor, was furious and promised to give, “more than £100,000 to the Labour Party” in recognition of the party’s pledge to ban hunting. This was duly done through payments to individual constituency parties and all that was required was a line about improving animal welfare inserted in one of the election leaflets of the respective candidate. The process was repeated for the 1987 general election, but the actual details of both series of payments were deliberately concealed within the League’s annual accounts under the heading of  general ‘political campaigning’.

Further problems had arisen in 1983. Before the court ruling, the League had ordered the printing of 6 million campaigning leaflets for the Labour Party, but with only 2 million referring to animal welfare. The other 4 million had already been distributed, but were now not permitted to be funded by the LACS. The whole fiasco nevertheless cost the LACS £14,000.

Yet those in charge of the League still saw the money as being well spent. What is interesting are the names of the candidates in the local parties that received these donations – names that will be familiar to many as some of the most vociferous anti-hunt MPs: Alun Michael, Gerald Kaufman, Peter Hain, Tony Benn, Paul Flynn, Graham Allen, John Denham, Roy Hattersley, Hilary Benn and the list goes on.

The 1980s was a period when the League and the Labour Party cemented their relationship. Exactly how much money was given to the Labour Party by various means during this time will probably never be known. However, it all turned sour when Richard Course was forced to leave the League following his unruly behaviour. He wrote to the Department of Trade and Industry saying that political candidates had been funded without the knowledge of LACS’ members and that accounts had been faked to conceal the transactions. The subsequent investigation by the DTI certainly revealed wrong-doing, but appeared to point the finger at Mr Course himself.

During those years the League was almost seen as an off-shoot of the Labour Party, with committee members, president, vice-presidents and staff members pretty much exclusively Labour supporters. No criticism of the party was allowed in the League’s journal. Attendance at the Labour Party conference was a priority, with little or no attempt to attend other political party events.

How the story of fraudulent payments broke

How the story of fraudulent payments broke

When I became executive director of the League in 1988 I tried to change that ethos and certainly no money was given to any political party during my time. Nevertheless, many committee members were determined not to allow the organisation to widen its political appeal. “No bastard Tories on this committee” was a comment I distinctly recall being made at a committee meeting when a Conservative MP’s name was put forward as a possible vice-president.

While it’s clear that there are Labour supporters who see the anti-hunting campaign by their party as divisive and possibly costly in terms of rural votes, many do not see it that way and cling to simplistic class war-type views. It’s only when detailed questions on the validity of the Hunting Act and the party’s position in defending it are raised that the cracks show and the hypocrisy becomes apparent.

Why is it that the Labour Party leadership seems not to be able to see this, just as it can’t see the anomaly in the League’s position regarding the recent proposal to make the Hunting Act in England and Wales the same as the ban in Scotland? Does it not see the duplicity in the praising one law while condemning the moves that would create the same law south of the border? Why does the Labour Party play the same point scoring game as the League in pretending that such a move was “repeal by the back door” when they and the LACS know full well that the process of a statutory instrument cannot overturn the original purpose of an Act? Why does it not support the eminently sensible proposal from Labour Peer and former minister Lord Donoughue to make genuine cruelty to all wild mammals a criminal offence? Why does the Labour Party use the same child-like language as the LACS – “We love animals and want to save them, you just kill them for sport” - in demonising those who are engaged in wildlife management and wish to use selective scenting hounds in that process? What, indeed, does the Labour Party accept as being the best way to achieve healthy wildlife populations? Once again, just like the LACS, we know what they dislike, but hear precious little about what they support.

Has the League reverted back to its old ways? There are some who would say it has and in more ways than one. This might explain why the relationship between the Labour Party and the League Against Cruel Sports, despite the latter now being a charity and thereby non-party political, appears to be a little too cosy.

 

 

The recent media debate about how animals destined for the food table are slaughtered revealed some interesting parallels.

It was reported that some of Britain’s well-known restaurants, supermarkets and some schools are selling and serving meat produced by the Islamic (halal) or Jewish (shechita) methods of slaughter and that many consumers are unaware of this.

In its purest sense, halal slaughter requires the animal to be conscious at the time of death in order that the person killing the animal can recite a prayer five times while looking into its eyes “until its soul departs”. However, it’s reported that some 88% of animals destined for various tables are pre-stunned and yet can still considered to be ‘halal’. The Jewish form of slaughter also requires the animal to be conscious and to be killed with a swift single cut to the neck, severing vital arteries and veins to render the animal unconscious as soon as possible, thereby making the meat ‘kosher’.

Is it really so difficult to properly label meat?

Is it really so difficult to properly label meat?

While some of these religious groups argue that their methods of slaughter are just as humane, if not more humane, than the normal pre-stunning method, the British Veterinary Association begs to differ. The BVA argues that without stunning animals are likely to suffer and concern has understandably been raised about the remaining 12% of animals not pre-stunned.

A second debate stems from the fact that this change to eating habits has all been done without really informing the majority of the British public. In a world where people rightly demand to know how their food is grown, what’s in it, where it comes from, how far it has travelled and who was paid to produce it, there seems to be a reluctance to indicate the method of slaughter. There has been a remarkable silence from certain animal rights groups and it makes one wonder just who is behind such a calculated change – the religious groups, the supermarkets or the ‘politically correct’?

Part of the answer may lie with the left-wing press, who seem to argue that all this has been prompted more from a desire to whip up dislike of certain religious groups, rather than for animal welfare reasons. But that’s using a tired old tactic – playing the ‘race card’ or the ‘Islamophobia card’ – often employed to shut down any debate on certain controversial matters. It’s certainly noticeable how the Labour Party seems to pick only those comfortable issues that suit it when it comes to championing animal welfare.

In a recent article for the Fabian Society, former Labour MP Ian Cawsey argues that animal welfare might hold the key to winning the next general election. So what could Labour offer in 2015 that could win that 14 per cent of the electorate who could deliver the keys to Downing Street?” he asks, while avoiding the millions upon millions of animals involved in factory farming and the rather touchy subject of halal and kosher methods of slaughter. “Already Labour has been strong on the futility of the badger cull and the need to follow the science when tackling bovine TB…A strong message that Hunting with Dogs will be enforced, not repealed would also play well with those who care about animals.”

Evidence shows that few people vote solely on animal welfare issues

Evidence shows that few people vote solely on animal welfare issues

Yet when it comes to voting for the next government, the public tend to talk about the things that directly affect them and usually, unless prompted, animal welfare comes way down the list. Hunting with dogs hardly registers at all. This doesn’t stop the ‘politically correct’ using hunting as a campaigning issue, as can be seen from previous elections and more recently Labour’s ridiculous, class-ridden party political broadcast.

Of course that class-war nonsense could backfire on the Labour Party if the hunting world in the shape of Vote OK decides to mobilise against anti-hunting candidates. For all the talk about 80% of the population being against hunting, it is the number of feet on the ground that could make a big difference here and there are far more hunting supporters than animal rightists willing to pound the streets delivering leaflets.

Some would argue that the way in which an animal dies to provide food is a matter of choice. As the law stands, that’s true in the case of those who wish to eat halal or kosher meat. I made my choice many years ago back in the 70s not to eat meat, but surely those who do should have the right to know how the animal died? Now, in the case of halal and kosher meat, that decision appears to be made for the public by some restaurants, supermarkets and schools. Yet, in being so ‘politically correct’, it is a move that specifically ignores the rights of another religious group – the Sikhs – who are barred from eating meat from an animal that has been ritually slaughtered.

Earlier this month, Shipley’s Conservative Philip Davies put forward an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill calling for the method of slaughter to be made clearer on all meat sold in the UK – a move that also finds some agreement with the leaders of Islamic and Jewish groups. This is the second time Mr Davies has tried to get halal and kosher meat labelled. A few years ago he tabled a private members Bill to this effect, but it was talked out by MPs led by anti-hunting Sir Gerald Kaufman.

For a number of years now the Countryside Alliance has been calling for all food to be properly labelled in order that consumers may make their own personal choices on a variety of aspects. It’s worth noting that the Chair of the Alliance, Labour’s Kate Hoey, was one of the few MPs who supported the Davies amendment, which sadly was lost, while some prominent anti-hunters either voted against the amendment or abstained. The government argued that the issue was complex, but how hard is it to state “Slaughter method: pre-stunned” or “Halal” or “Halal: pre-stunned”?

Isn’t it odd that we know far more about what goes into a packet of cornflakes than we do about the method a sentient animal was killed?

 

News that charities may have to publish the salaries of senior employees on their websites might be more than a little unsettling for certain groups like the RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports. Such a move might give these organisations’ respective memberships something to think about.

A recent National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) report shows that some charity chief executives receive more than £250,000 per annum. The NCVO argues that the publishing of remuneration levels in charities with over £500,000 turnover would be a step to “put power into donors’ hands” in order that they can properly decide which organisations to support and to give transparency on how their money is being spent.

163557-charity-collection-can-box-shaker-generic-good-qualityLet’s get one thing clear – some charities and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) need paid staff if they are to operate in any meaningful way. Of course unpaid volunteers are vitally important to some groups, indeed the vast majority of charities have no salaried staff at all. However, the larger organisations do require salaried staff. Some argue that such work should all be voluntary and no one paid, but that’s simply unrealistic. The two most relevant questions in this regard concern the percentage of a body’s income going on salaries and the amount of remuneration individuals receive. The answers will differ depending upon the nature of an organisation’s needs and work, but is it not legitimate to ask why, for example, the chief executive of the RSPCA requires a salary greater than that of the Prime Minister?

In a way, I’ve been reluctant to delve into this field as it’s a distraction from the central debate surrounding wildlife, its management and its welfare, but I feel such a departure is justified due to accusations made by some anti hunt people. I have been accused of changing my view on hunting solely for personal financial gain, rather than the welfare of wildlife. To some, being enticed away from the LACS’ view that all hunting with dogs is beyond the pale can only be explained by the offer of vast sums of money, rather than a genuine desire to see a better, workable way forward. So, to set the record straight, here are a few facts.

Sold: LACS' former  London HQ

Sold: LACS’ former
London HQ

My salary on leaving the League in 1995 was £28,000. Such a salary today, without any incremental rise other than inflation, equates to around £45,000, a figure higher than I currently earn and one that is nowhere near the present salary of the LACS’ chief executive.

So perhaps now only the mathematically illiterate will continue with their spurious accusations.

It’s worth mentioning that back in 1995, the League’s membership stood at over 18,000, with a further 22,000 supporters who paid a reduced subscription. The land holdings consisted of the freehold of a four storey office building in central London and significant buildings in the West Country, along with approximately 2000 acres of sanctuary land.

Now LACS’ membership numbers appear to be something of a secret (a recent request from a journalist was denied), but examination of current accounts puts it at about 3000.

The London headquarters building has gone. Numerous sanctuaries have been sold off, together with the main sanctuary building complex known as St Nicholas Priory. Also sold is the sanctuary known as the Silk Mill at Holford in Somerset. Situated in the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it was made famous by Bryan Adams, who used the site as a backdrop to a video accompanying his multi-million selling song (Everything I do) I do it for you – the theme to the Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

However, none of this has prevented what some might see as a disproportionate increase in salaries. For example, in 2008 – the year the LACS became a charity – the position of Head of Communications and Campaigns attracted a salary of up to £38, 500 per annum (approximately £43,5000 in today’s money), but now the salary for that same position stands at over £80,000 per annum. One might think that it is surely legitimate for LACS’ members to ask why remuneration for this position has almost doubled in the space of six years. Bear in mind that fewer than 1% of charities employ a member of staff earning £60,000 or more.

Sold: the Silk Mill, Holford

Sold: the Silk Mill, Holford

It begs the question what is the current chief executive being paid? Well, the latest annual report filed by the LACS (2012) showed one employee receiving between £90,000 – £100,000. His predecessor apparently was on a salary of between £120,000 – £130,000 per annum. The League Against Cruel Sports is a charity and, like all charities, benefits financially through donations and tax concessions. Yet I wonder if members, now vastly diminished in number, and other donors are aware of precisely how their subscriptions and donations are being spent and indeed what has happened to the considerable assets that had been accumulated since the organisation was formed.

Shortly after the Hunting Act was passed, the money spent by the three main anti hunting organisations (the RSPCA, LACS and IFAW) was calculated to be just short of £30 million. That figure will have risen dramatically since then and can be added to the enormous cost borne by the public purse through police and court time.

Animal welfare is important. It demands and deserves considerable resources to address deliberate and genuine cruelty to animals, both domesticated and wild. Yet these vital resources are limited, so how they are used is absolutely central to the whole debate about the way in which animals are treated. Recently we’ve seen vast amounts of money spent on futile legal cases against hunts, some of which failed and with the costs falling on the taxpayer.

Sold: St Nicholas Priory, Baronsdown

Sold: St Nicholas Priory, Baronsdown

It’s almost the case that once a donation or legacy has been received, certain groups feel that this money is theirs to play with as they wish. Certainly some charity trustees have doubtful backgrounds and the activities they sanction can hardly be classified as ‘charitable’ and thereby for the public benefit.

The real irony here is that, regardless of the pro/anti hunting debate and the way in which they were managed, the sanctuaries could be argued to be of some public benefit. Yet now that the League has become a charity, much of that land has been sold off to sustain high salaries for officials and to pay for “investigators” to crawl around in undergrowth filming hunts.

So maybe LACS members and supporters will welcome the NCVO suggestions, which are:

  • that the precise remuneration, job titles and the names of their highest-paid people, and that those charities with a gross income of over £500,000 is published
  • that this should be accompanied by a summary of the arguments used by the board of trustees to justify the amounts involved and explain how they reflect the charity’s ethos and values
  • that all this information should be brought together, not only within the (sometimes hard-to-access) annual accounts, but also on the charity’s website no more than two clicks away from its home page

These recommendations and guidance have received the backing of the Charity Commission, itself the subject of a government consultation regarding its powers.

Hopefully the proposals of the NCVO will be implemented, a move that will make the charitable sector more transparent and accountable as far as paid staff are concerned. On a second front, with Charity Commission powers strengthened, there should be fewer dubious activities posing as ‘charitable’.

At the very least, in future when a controversial step is taken by a charity we should know how much those responsible are being paid to take it.

 

 

 

Charlie Pye -Smith is a journalist and author specialising in environmental and conservation issues. He has written numerous articles for the Daily Telegraph, Financial Times and New Scientist, researched television documentaries for Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel and has undertaken assignments for the Department for International Development (DFID). Charlie has been a presenter for the BBC World Service and has written books on agriculture, agroforestry and conservation topics in this country and around the world. The debate surrounding hunting and animal welfare prompted Charlie to write two booklets on the subject and the more comprehensive Rural Rites: Hunting and the Politics of Prejudice. Charlie Pye-Smith now writes about his latest project – explaining the purpose and the need for wildlife management.

There is scarcely an acre of Britain which is truly wild. Farming, forestry, hunting, water extraction and urbanisation have all had a profound effect on our flora and fauna. Some of our top predators, such as lynx, wolf and brown bear, have been lost; many other species have been introduced, frequently with disastrous consequences for livestock, crops and indigenous wildlife.

Since the 1960s, the population of red deer in Scotland has increased from 150,000 to around 400,000, and during the last 20 years the number of muntjac deer in England has almost doubled. There are now twice as many magpies as there were in 1970, and the population of overwintering cormorants has risen from 2000 to around 35,000. The number of badgers has probably doubled during the last two decades, and there may now be more badgers in the country than foxes.

These and other dramatic demographic changes have had a significant impact on wildlife, farming and even human safety. Every year, there are 70,000 deer-related vehicle accidents, responsible for 20 human deaths and 1200 injuries, as well as the death of some 10,000 deer. In many parts the British uplands, the survival of ground-nesting birds is threatened by a variety of predators, including foxes, badgers and crows. One study in Northumberland found that when predators were removed there was a threefold increase in golden plover, lapwing and curlew.

In some upland areas, foxes, badgers and ravens are responsible for heavy losses of spring lambs. More troubling for the farming community – and the British taxpayer – is bovine TB, transmitted to cattle by badgers. By the 1980s, bovine TB had been almost eliminated, thanks to a strict programme of badger control. Legal protection subsequently led to a significant rise in badger numbers, and this has led to an increase in bovine TB. Since the 1980s, 300,000 affected cattle have been slaughtered at a cost of £500 million.

Then there are the problems posed by invasive species. It is estimated that 9% of the vertebrates which have UK Biodiversity Action Plans – these include red squirrel, otter, pine marten, water vole and mountain hare – are threatened by non-native species. Among the many natives to have suffered is the red squirrel, whose numbers have been reduced by 50% over the last half century. The grey squirrel, a 19th-century introduction, out-competes red squirrels for food and transmits the squirrel poxvirus, which is lethal to reds. Grey squirrels also cause an estimated £50 million worth of damage to coniferous plantations each year. The overall cost of invasive species to the British economy is estimated at £1.7 billion a year.

Effective management of wildlife means controlling certain species in order that the majority can thrive. However, many of those who determine what happens in the countryside, including politicians and local decision-makers, are afraid to face the facts. Out of ignorance or squeamishness, they cling to the status quo; and for as long as they do, biodiversity will continue to suffer, and so will many farmers. That’s why Brian Fanshawe, James Barrington and Lewis Thomas have asked me to research and write a short book about this contentious – and fascinating – subject.

The Facts of Rural Life will be published by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management in Spring 2015. The book will draw heavily on interviews in the field with scientists, farmers, conservationists, vets, gamekeepers and others involved in the study and management of wildlife. To give a flavour of the project I will post occasional blogs and interviews, together with photographs from field trips. They are filed under ‘The Wildlife Management Project’.

Richard Course, a former Chairman and Executive Director of the League Against Cruel Sports, has died. Steve Taylor, the LACS’ former Head of Communications from 2009 -2011, sees more than a little hypocrisy in the way he is remembered.

 

News reached me via Twitter this week of the death of Richard Course, for more than a decade the chair and executive director of the League Against Cruel Sports. The news came from Chris Williamson, Labour MP for Derby North and a long standing trustee and committee member of the League. He described it as ‘sad news’, adding that Dick, ‘played a pivotal role in … the 70s and 80s that led to a ban on hunting with dogs’.Steve T & Chris W.

That work was something that Dick came to regret, saying (in 1998), “After 13 years of discussing and debating this issue I found it impossible to ignore the truth and facts about hunting. I have come to despise the League Against Cruel Sports, even though I was its Chairman and Chief Executive, simply because these people know as well as I do that the abolition of hunting will not make any difference to the welfare of foxes, hares or deer.”

Given Dick’s volte face, Chris’s tribute was a surprise. The one and only time I’d heard him talk of Dick was in a League board meeting in 2010, when he described him as a ‘scumbag’ and as one of the ‘traitors’ who’d gone to the other side. In the same meeting, the then chief executive, Douglas Batchelor, described Dick as a ‘shapeshifter’. Other comments were less polite, and certainly couldn’t be published here.

Of course, that list of traitors, scumbags and shapeshifters seems to increase regularly. In particular, whenever someone stops to think about the issue. Dick Course, Graham Sirl, Miles Cooper, James Barrington, Mark Halford, Liz White and myself, to name just a few. We haven’t leapt on the back of a horse, nor had a crash course in hunting calls, but what we all have – or had – in common was the ability to see the wood for the trees, and beyond the intellectually vacuous, anthropomorphic analogies that are the staple diet of the animal rights world; analogies and arguments that don’t need rehearsing here, yet again.

Anyway, as I’m not yet forty, and relatively healthy, perhaps there’s time for me to be rehabilitated and, by the time I fall off the coil, they may even have nice things to say about me.

Perhaps it’s time to invest in a rabbit’s foot for good luck.

 

So now we know; the Scottish hunting ban is “unenforceable”.

The League Against Cruel Sports has finally had to come clean about the effectiveness of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and despite all the hype and bluster at the time of its introduction, this law is now regarded by the anti-hunt group as severely flawed.

Any admission about getting it wrong is certainly a rarity as far as the LACS and other anti hunting organisations are concerned, so it’s worth looking at the reason for this confession and what was said at the time the Scottish legislation was passed.

Labour MSP Mike Watson kicked off the campaign when he introduced his bill to ban hunting in the newly devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999. It was a hard fought battle, not least as it was seen as a rehearsal for the bigger campaign south of the border where there were many more hunts. LACS staff lobbied MSPs and were eager to claim the victory that eventually followed in 2002 when the law was passed.

Here’s what was said in the LACS’ magazine Wildlife Guardian in 2002, “League staff attended every Parliamentary committee meeting and briefed MSPs about the dangers of dozens of pro-hunt amendments. Many hunters’ proposals were so bad that even the Rural Affairs Committee rejected them. Others were accepted by the pro-hunt majority on the committee, even where it accepted that they ‘wrecked’ the Bill; but these amendments were set to be overturned by the full Parliament in February.”  So there can be no doubt that the final Act produced at the end of this process was what the LACS wanted. As far as the law being enforceable there were no misgivings because this legislation, “bans fox hunting, hare coursing and fox baiting. And, despite the claims of the Scottish hunters, there are no gaping loopholes or flaws.”

But that was 12 years ago and perhaps views might have changed since then? Well, no, not really. Here’s what was said just last month when LACS celebrated the anniversary of the Scottish ban, “The Protection of Wild Mammals Act is a hugely important piece of legislation, as it seeks to protect foxes and other mammals from the sickeningly cruel blood sport of hunting.”

Now we have the current debate about the two dog flushing exemption in the Hunting Act possibly being amended by the statutory instrument process. (see http://jamesbarrington.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/amendment-of-the-hunting-act/)  A similar exemption exists in the Scottish law, but permits any number of dogs. Both exemptions require the mammal to be shot as soon as possible and the only difference is the number of dogs used. So making the English and Welsh law the same as the Scottish law would seem to make sense, especially given that a scientific study shows the whole process would be more efficient and shorter using a larger number of dogs.

The Scottish hunt ban - still being celebrated?

The Scottish hunt ban – still being celebrated?

One might have thought that making the Hunting Act work, as well as shortening the flushing period, would be welcomed by the LACS, but that would be to make the mistake to think that improving animal welfare comes before preventing hunts. In their latest statement they say, This is not some minor amendment, but would effectively legalise hunting again and would have driven a coach and horses through the current legislation, rendering it effectively useless and unenforceable.”

Quite apart from not being able to appreciate that a statutory instrument cannot overturn the main aim of a law, the League was faced with a dilemma; either the Scottish law has banned hunting and is good legislation or it has not banned hunting and is flawed legislation – it cannot be both.

There are important aspects to this situation.

Numerous front bench opposition MPs have chosen to listen to the LACS, IFAW and the RSPCA regarding this amendment and made their opposition to it clear. Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said, “The hunting of wild animals belongs in the dustbin of history and any attempt by this Government to repeal or amend the Hunting Act by the back door will be vigorously opposed by the Labour Party. With Britain facing a cost of living crisis, David Cameron’s obsession to hold another vote in Parliament on fox hunting shows how out of touch he is with people’s day to day lives.”  In fact, Labour politicians have raised questions about hunting a total of 134 times since 1997 and Ms Eagle conveniently forgets that 700 hours of Parliamentary time – ten times longer than the debates on invading Iraq – were taken up to finally pass the Hunting Act.

“I was proud to vote for the Hunting Act in 2004 to prevent the brutal killing of foxes to satisfy the blood lust of a few brainless toffs.”  writes that champion of the class war John, now Lord Prescott – never one to let a good opportunity to vent his spleen pass and to show his full understanding of an issue. “The only reason for amending the fox hunting ban is to give pleasure to a bunch of ruddy-faced toffee-nosed twits.” 

These politicians are deliberately ignoring the limitations of a statutory instrument process and are blatantly playing politics with the livelihoods of farmers and animal welfare.

When politicians base their policies on the spurious and conveniently altered claims of campaign groups, it is inevitable that they too will be seen as disingenuous.

 

Gavin Grant, the controversial Chief Executive of the RSPCA, has stepped down due to ill health. Jamie Foster considers his leadership and looks ahead to the choices the charity now faces.

This has been a time of upheaval for those with unusually radical views. The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, is struggling to hold on to her political career after the Mail exposed links between the organisation that she used to work with, the NCCL, and PIE, a group that campaigned on behalf of paedophiles. It appears that while leader of the NCCL, Patricia Hewitt, the ex Labour Health Minister, may have supported moves to lower the age of consent to ten years old. Some people have tried to defend this position on the basis that the NCCL fearlessly stood up for civil liberties in the face of extreme opposition. That argument loses much credibility when you consider that the NCCL turned into Liberty, an organisation notable by its silence on the issue of the civil liberties of the hunting community leading up to the Ban.

Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt are not the only people in the news following a dalliance with extremism. On 25 February Gavin Grant announced he was stepping down as CEO of the RSPCA due to ‘ill health.’ This was not unexpected to those of us who had been following his career since January 2012. There were various moments when we became concerned for his health. One such moment was when he stood up at the Game Fair and announced that he was very happy for people to eat what they hunted, “like coarse fishermen who always eat everything they catch.” I hope that is wasn’t meals of fried chubb and tench that made him feel unwell.

Gavin Grant was also well known for suggesting that farmers who participated in the badger cull should be ‘named and shamed’. This was oddly on the basis that shooting badgers was cruel due to the suffering that they would experience. Odd because in the run up to the Hunting Act it was the RSPCA’s position that shooting foxes would end up with no possibility of wounding whatsoever. Not content with making enemies of farmers he also venomously attacked the hunting community calling them animal abusers and calling for the sentence for someone convicted of hunting to be raised to five years. While he was calling for things he also called for Becher’s Brook to be removed from the Grand National and for all live animal exports to be stopped. Opening up conflicts on so many fronts was a definite reason to question the state of Gavin’s health.

Gavin’s campaign to halt the export of live animals was also a reason to question his judgment. He stated publically that it was ‘a vile trade that must be halted.’ It would appear that, as part of his relentless campaign to achieve this he met with representatives of Thanet Council in order to try to find a way to expose the lack of facilities for loading and unloading animals at the Port of Ramsgate and damage the live export trade fatally. On 12 September 2012 the lack of facilities were exposed when the RSPCA insisted that a consignment of sheep were unloaded due to one of them having a broken leg. This resulted in a situation where two sheep drowned and more than 40 were shot. Strangely this was claimed as a victory by Animal Rights campaigners.

It would be disingenuous to claim that the RSPCA’s move towards the Animal Rights agenda and away from their traditional core belief in Animal Welfare began with Gavin Grant. The process started in the 70s and 80s with people like Richard Ryder and Andrew Linzey starting the RSPCA reform group. Ryder and Linzey were both ‘radical intellectuals’ of the type that emerged during the 70s. They believed in ‘speciesism’ and objected to animals being called ‘pets’ because it was demeaning. Ryder went from being Chairman of the RSPCA to being part of Political Animal Lobby with Brian Davis who founded IFAW. PAL gave Tony Blair £1M as an incentive to bring the Hunting Act into law.

So to be fair Gavin didn’t create the problem that the RSPCA is facing but he was certainly a major symptom of it. Gavin came from the lunatic fringe of the Liberal Democrats for whom believing that a cat had the same rights as a child was not a stretch of the imagination. During his tenure as CEO the RSPCA spent £327,000 on a day in the Magistrates   Court to prosecute the Heythrop and managed to alienate a large proportion of the animal loving British public. No mean feat.

Now it seems the RSPCA is having a long hard look at itself. I have spoken to Stephen Wooler, the man who is conducting the review of the RSPCA’s prosecution policy, because he approached me to provide a perspective on the difficulties surrounding the RSPCA. It will be fascinating to see what he reports, but whatever conclusion he comes to it will not be for lack of being told what the problems are.

In fairness the RSPCA are not unaware of their difficulties themselves. A leaked memo from their current Chairman Paul Draycott began, rather aptly in the current circumstances, to warn the RSPCA to learn lessons from the Crimean War. The Charge of the Light Brigade, Mr Draycott pointed out, was a disaster because the person in charge was not aware of the full facts, and couldn’t see the dangers he faced. Ironically it was not long between the memo being put to the Board and the person in charge of the RSPCA going off to spend more time with his family. The memo identified that the RSPCA was in financial crisis and that the new ‘political’ direction of the Society was not likely to help that situation.

I wish the RSPCA well in their current introspection. I would advise them to consider other changes of personnel. They know who the Animal Rights enthusiasts are within their number and they ought to consider whether those people might have a brighter future with one of the more extreme fringe groups like LACS or Animal Aid. They might also consider whether Brian May’s health is everything it used to be. A continued association with a man who compared the Bader Cull to the Holocaust may not be entirely profitable. I would also advise that the Society to embrace any suggestions they may get from Mr Woller and others to consider passing on their evidence to the CPS and standing back from prosecution, and any suggestions that proper oversight of their activities is vital to regain any public confidence. I would counsel against listening to the yapping voices of those dyed in the wool fans of the Society who have that wool pulled firmly over their eyes when it comes to recognising the problems that the Society is facing. Finally I would wish Mr Grant a speedy recovery and hope that maybe he considers a return to public life by bringing his PR skills to another organisation that would benefit from his particular abilities.

Any chance of masterminding the Lib Dems election campaign in 2015 Gavin?

 

Jamie Foster is a Partner in the solicitors firm of Clarke Willmott. He is a Solicitor-Advocate with Higher Rights of Audience in all courts. He specialises in regulatory law, advising and representing clients involved in environmental prosecutions, health and safety prosecutions and animal welfare cases.

The above article will also appear in the forthcoming issue of Countryman’s Weekly http://www.countrymansweekly.com/

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