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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/

Moveable goalposts

There’s been some talk lately about badgers moving goalposts , but it’s clear they aren’t the only ones capable of this feat.

While the debate about bovine TB has been ongoing for some years, the arguments about hunting have lasted a lot longer and over the decades we’ve heard a wide variety of reasons why people should not hunt with dogs. They range from a kind of pseudo morality to how useless the practice is in pest control terms; from the ‘Mafia-like’ way in which hunts oppress poor country folk to claims that, “Among hunters there’s a high proportion of child abusers and wife beaters.” (Precisely what evidence that last comment is based upon was not explained by the writer).

So we know what the antis don’t like, but what we rarely hear is what do they like…or at the very least find acceptable.

Here’s where those voices become muted and for good reason. There are considerable differences of opinion within anti-hunting organisations as to what, if anything, should fill the vacuum left by the absence of hunting with dogs. Should more “humane” methods be used or should it all just be left to nature? One way or the other, policies that spell out the realities in too great a detail are bound to upset or alienate one section or other of these groups’ memberships. So maybe keeping things vague and moving goalposts when necessary is the best way forward.

That position is fine when writing propaganda to convince members of the public, who generally pay little attention to the complexities of hunting, or when dealing with politicians who want to use a hunting ban as a vehicle for their prejudices. But when the time comes for ideology to be put into practice, certain situations have to be faced and the run-up to the Hunting Act was just such a time. Something had to take over from hunting, so shooting was argued to be the most acceptable form of wildlife control if it had to be done; after all what does the public and indeed most politicians know about shooting, apart from that which they see on television?

Was shooting always seen as such a pancea? Shortly after the Second World War, two bills were introduced into parliament in an attempt to ban hunting, but the post-war Labour government saw things differently. An inquiry was set up under the chairmanship of John Scott Henderson (the Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals) and instead of concentrating solely on hunting, its remit was to examine the whole range of control methods used at the time – the only sensible way to properly address views on cruelty. Following evidence from the RSPCA, the Scott Henderson Report, as it became known, stated “It is significant that the RSPCA consider that the cruelty involved in shooting foxes is such as to make it an unsatisfactory substitute for hunting, and that they would therefore prefer hunting (to which they are naturally opposed on ethical grounds) to continue if its abolition were likely to lead to an increase in the amount of shooting.”  Nothing has changed since that time…except the position of those goal posts. The RSPCA now sees nothing wrong in spending enormous amounts of money campaigning and enforcing a law that has no evidential basis and has caused greater animal suffering.

While shooting was now publicly claimed by certain organisations to be preferable to hunting, was it really regarded by these groups as the acceptable alternative? Here’s a comment made to me by Lord Burns during his inquiry into hunting with dogs. He was slightly puzzled and surprised at a statement made by a League Against Cruel Sports official when he visited a LACS’ sanctuary in the West Country. Yes, shooting deer was argued to be the better option in deer control, but, Lord Burns was told, when hunting is banned shooting would be next.

The National Trust AGM saw through the LACS' duplicity

The 2006 National Trust AGM saw the LACS argue against its own Hunting Act

Yet another example of a somewhat flexible position held by the LACS was indicated shortly after the Hunting Act came into force. In the late 1990s and prior to the Act becoming law, the National Trust had banned all deer hunting on its properties following the Bateson Report. The Hunting Act was then passed in 2004, but with an exemption in the law allowing the use of two dogs for the rescue of a wild mammal that is or may be injured – an obvious animal welfare measure. The then director of LACS proposed a motion to the National Trust that no such use of this exemption be allowed, in effect arguing against this welfare-based clause in the law that he and others had helped draft. Thankfully, the National Trust’s membership saw through this duplicity and overwhelmingly defeated his motion.

The same duplicitous attitude still exists within LACS today, as can be seen by the reaction to the call from hill farmers for a relaxation of the two dog/flushing exemption for pest control reasons, the inclusion of which was also agreed by those anti-hunting groups who helped draft the Hunting Act. Scientific research has shown that the use of more dogs would not only be more efficient, but also more beneficial in welfare and rescue terms. It would bring the Hunting Act into line with the Scottish law, making the situation equitable for hunts that operate on both sides of the border. The League’s response?  A report that states killing does not control fox numbers – a claim that questions why the original exemption in the Hunting Act was agreed in the first place.

The LACS, RSPCA and other groups seem to have no compunction about shifting their remits and policies whenever it suits them. All these groups argue against what they see as ‘killing for sport’. Odd then that the one exemption in the Hunting Act for the use of dogs underground to flush out a fox is not for the purpose of protecting farmers’ livestock, nor even to save a rare ground-nesting bird. No, its to protect birds that are to be shot…for sport. Looks like another goalpost moved.

Quite why the LACS is involved in the bovine TB debate is unclear; the badger cull, whatever one’s view of its effectiveness, was not undertaken as a “cruel sport”. Indeed, bovine TB has blighted both farming and wildlife and should be addressed in a spirit of co-operation rather than confrontation. The RSPCA should have become involved only if and when the shooting of badgers was shown to cause an unnecessary degree of suffering. But then that argument would be hard to make, considering they and the other anti-hunting organisations claimed shooting foxes was humane. Yet when goalposts are moveable, why should it matter?

Perhaps the most difficult argument for the antis to make is a case against a new wild mammals welfare law – a law that would prohibit all unnecessary suffering to all wild mammals in all circumstances. It’s not even such a radical idea, as the Scott Henderson Report back in 1951 suggested that the welfare of all wild animals be brought under the provisions of the law. The report also recommended outlawing the gin trap, something it describes as a “diabolical instrument” and which was indeed banned a few years later.  It’s open to speculation that had some groups not been so obsessed, blinkered and bigoted with their campaigns to ban hunting with dogs, that this wildlife protection measure might also now be law too.  On the face of it, such legislation would be infinitely preferable to the illogical Hunting Act, given its scope and the fact that prosecutions would rely on sound evidence – something antis say exists in abundance against hunting with dogs. Instead, what we get is a rather strange response from the LACS, The problem with that suggestion is that someone would actually have to be cruel to the animal before they could be charged with any offence.”

This statement actually reveals a crucial admission on the part of the anti hunting groups, which is that while they hold to the view that hunting with dogs is inherently cruel and have their Hunting Act to support that position, they know they do not have the evidence to prove it in a court of law. This is something every genuine animal welfare supporter should seriously consider, as the whole anti hunting case rests upon the outcome in this choice.

To claim to have the best welfare interests of wildlife at heart and yet to stand in the way of a far better and more comprehensive wildlife welfare law, while clinging to a discredited and illogical piece of legislation, is the height of hypocrisy.

To avoid giving clear and workable solutions to real wildlife issues is the most obvious and dishonest shift of the goalposts.

2013 was not a good year for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

It had really started the previous year when what was supposed to be a landmark case against the Heythrop Hunt backfired spectacularly. It was the “staggering” cost of £330,000 which the society had to bear that brought the media spotlight onto the RSPCA.

From that time onwards, story after story hit national headlines reporting on the way in which the charity operates. Of course there were many positive animal welfare activities that were covered by local press, but it was the national press, which was virtually all negative, that set the tone.

Hunts - in the RSPCA sights for prosecution.

Hunts – in the RSPCA sights for prosecution.

The society’s prosecutions policy prompted a debate in parliament. Concerns were expressed by senior politicians not only about the number of prosecutions taken by this private body, but that numerous cases, often those taken against hunts, had failed for lack of sufficient evidence and the cost then borne by the taxpayer. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) came into being precisely to separate ‘investigators’ from ‘prosecutors’ in order to allow a detached view to be made on the merits of any case. Many wonder why this doesn’t apply to the RSPCA if their evidence is as sound as they claim.

The heavy-handed way in which some people were treated by officers of the RSPCA was given extensive press coverage to the extent that it became the subject of a BBC investigation.  Concerns about the RSPCA’s lack of action taken against certain farms that are part of the ‘Freedom Food’ scheme have been raised by other animal welfare groups, in particular Hillside Animal Sanctuary (www.hillside.org.uk).  Just recently evidence obtained by Hillside supporters found appalling conditions on a pig farm belonging to the scheme, but the RSPCA chose not to prosecute.

The RSPCA was formed to prevent cruelty to animals, yet when plans were announced by the government to cull badgers in attempts to curb bovine TB – a serious problem that has meant the slaughter of tens of thousands of cattle, a miserable death for badgers with the disease and a cost to the taxpayer of over half a billion pounds – the RSPCA opposed it for what can only be described as ideological reasons. The society went into top gear to prevent such a process, even though the shooting of badgers would be undertaken by marksmen in controlled circumstances. Yet during the debates in the run-up to the passing of the Hunting Act, the shooting of foxes by virtually anyone with a shotgun or rifle was deemed acceptable by the RSPCA and other anti hunting groups.

Disabled iig on a 'freedon Food' farm living in its own filth. RSPCA will not prosecute. (Photo: Hillside Animal Sanctuary)

Disabled pig on a “Freedom Food’ farm living in its own filth. RSPCA will not prosecute.
(Photo: Hillside Animal Sanctuary)

RSPCA officials sit on The Deer Initiative and the society accepts the culling of hundreds of thousands of deer every year. So oddly the society’s policy seems to be the culling of healthy deer is fine, but the culling of diseased badgers is not. The duplicity of officials when addressing some issues, choosing to ignore or demand scientific evidence whenever it suits them, is blatant. Even in the current debate on amending the Hunting Act to allow for more efficient fox control by hill farmers, the RSPCA has shown a stunning disregard for the science that backs such a call – and this despite the charity agreeing to the relevant exemption in the Hunting Act at its time of passing into law.

However, during 2013 things got worse. In numerous meetings around the country what should have been a calm and considered debate in support of efforts to curb bovine TB, was instead turned into to a campaigning issue. Public feeling was deliberately whipped up by the RSPCA, resulting in a call for a boycott of milk from farms that permitted the cull and for farmers and shooters taking part to be publicly “named and shamed”.

The RSPCA’s ‘solution’ is vaccination, even though a vaccine proven to be effective against bovine TB in badgers in the field does not exist, but that minor point didn’t stop an emotive advertisement stating, “Vaccinate or exterminate” being placed in the national press. The advert was later banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for being misleading.

Recently, it’s been revealed that the RSPCA sought details of the cull sites via a series of letters to DEFRA. Coincidentally, policing costs for the cull have just been released (£2.4 million) and it’s ironic that this cost has been criticised by the very people who encouraged protesters to invade the cull areas.

Worryingly, it was discovered that the RSPCA had access to information on the police computer. Through a Freedom of Information request, the Countryside Alliance discovered that details of firearms licences held by individuals have been passed to the RSPCA. Quite how this often sensitive and personal information is used is open to question and perhaps even more worrying is who, precisely, has access to it.

All this media attention inevitably led to questions surrounding the issue of salaries paid to a range of charity chief executives and senior officials, many of whom receive far more than any Member of Parliament and some of whom are paid more than the Prime Minister. The government is now considering strengthening the powers of the Charity Commission.

Little wonder then that the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, declined to become the society’s Vice Patron, a position that had been willingly accepted by his predecessors.

With such an onslaught of bad publicity and with some local RSPCA branches closing for lack of funds, it’s not surprising that officials within the organisation expressed concern.

A leaked memo written by Deputy Chairman, Paul Draycott, was highly revealing. Mr Draycott spoke of finances in decline, contracts with large businesses being put at risk due to the society being seen to be “too political”, having to “fight off the Charity Commission“, low morale and “disillusionment” amongst the staff, a “lack of confidence in senior management” and concerns about future legacies in the light of so much negative publicity. Mr Draycott makes an important point when he suggests training for some trustees who may not fully understand their role and the responsibility they carry.  Remember, these are the people – not a statutory body – to whom the RSPCA is directly accountable.

So the next time we hear a public statement from an RSPCA official about how things are all fine and that money is pouring in, bear this memo in mind.

2013 ended with the Countryside Alliance’s Executive Chairman, Sir Barney White-Spunner, referring to the RSPCA as, “sinister and nasty” and looking at the above, one can fully understand why.

The headlines throughout 2013 have been invariably bad.

The headlines throughout 2013 have been invariably bad.

So much of the RSPCA’s work is to be highly commended and some will argue that such criticism of the society is an attempt to destroy it. That could not be further from the truth and there is no pleasure in seeing how this change from an animal welfare organisation to an animal rights group is slowly killing a once great institution.

Glyn Davies MP, in saying that he had previously been a strong supporter of the society, summed it up perfectly during that parliamentary debate last year, “I want my RSPCA back”.

 

Boxing Day 2013

Boxing Day is always a time for hunts to put on a show of strength and this year was no different. National and local newspapers were full of stories covering hunt meets.

The Daily Telegraph carried an extensive interview with Countryside Alliance’s Executive Chairman, Sir Barney White-Spunner, covering a range of issues from the RSPCA to the BBC’s view of rural matters.

One issue that has been running virtually throughout 2013 is the how the RSPCA operates and in particular the charity’s attitude towards hunting and tackling bovine TB.  Referring specifically to the way in which certain inspectors have acted, the dubious prosecutions taken and the enormous waste of charitable money, Sir Barney said that the society had become “sinister and nasty”. It’s a description that many who have suffered at the hands of the RSPCA might recognise.

Bobi, rescued from starvation in Bulgaria.

Bobi, rescued from starvation in Bulgaria.

The latest example of the society’s heavy-handedness involves a small disabled dog called Bobi, brought to this country from the gutters of Bulgaria. One might think that this abused animal, given his tough life up to now, might just deserve a few months or years in a caring environment – something that was being arranged for him. But that was not the view of the RSPCA, who took him, saying that he should be put down. Thankfully, due to a high-profile publicity campaign, Bobi will now be cared for by K9 Rescue.

Sir Barney’s views sparked a number of comments, not least on Twitter, where the usual suspects yelled about how evil hunting people are, how they are ‘vile psychopaths’ and how they love to “torture foxes”. Green MP Caroline Lucas defended the RSPCA against Sir Barney on the BBC’s Radio 4 PM programme, during which she claimed that their policies were “based on scientific evidence.” There was precious little of that produced before or after the Hunting Act was passed, while validated research on wounding was simply dismissed by the RSPCA because it didn’t suit their argument.

The same degree of duplicity was evident in a public opinion poll commissioned by the RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports to coincide with Boxing Day. It showed on average 80% of those asked did not want the Hunting Act to be repealed. What was not made clear was the fact that the questions asked compared hunting with badger baiting and dog fighting, as if somehow these obscene ‘sports’ are the same as hunting and might also become legal once more. This is not the only time such deliberately confusing questions have been included in polls to achieve the desired result and yet this was the basis of Caroline Lucas’ argument when being interviewed.

And she’s not the only MP to rely on doubtful information. Here’s another example. What should one make of the claim by Bassetlaw MP John Mann, in which he describes an appalling incident he says he has witnessed?  A ‘baby deer’ was locked in a pen by a hunt, who then set their dogs on it. Clearly such an act not only infringes hunting rules, but is also against the law, given that the wild deer had become captive and thereby protected. Surely the RSPCA or CPS would prosecute on the basis of evidence from such a reliable witness? But I don’t recall any such case and I would gladly have supported a prosecution. However, as you can see from the image, it’s very easy to say such things, but a little harder to provide evidence. I have no idea if this incident really did take place, but the anti hunting case is built upon such nonsense and so many people believe it.

Truth or deception?

Truth or deception?

The fact is, the RSPCA, the LACS and certain MPs know that all they have to do is portray hunting in a kind of  ‘we antis love animals, those hunters hate them’ manner, knowing that many members of the public, who generally don’t think too deeply about hunting and certainly don’t see it as a political priority, will swallow anything they say. What these groups definitely don’t like is an alternative view being put and worse, an alternative law being proposed that would make their precious Hunting Act redundant. This is why there was a flurry of outraged comments from antis when the Countryside Alliance announced that I do talks to schools and colleges.

The very thought that schools have the audacity to want to know about hunting, wildlife management and life in the wild is so annoying to some people that they can hardly contain themselves. They scream that this is indoctrination, hunting is likened to rape and murder, parents should be worried, complaints should be made, teaching unions should be contacted and there was even a veiled implication of possible paedophilia, such was their hysterical reaction.

The outrage is palpable and the obsession with banning all things to do with hunting (and using any and every excuse to attack it) is almost laughable, or it would be if it were not the case that some of these people are in groups influencing politicians. The anti voice is the only one that is allowed to be heard. The good news is that many teachers do not agree and are happy to extend an invitation to speak, allowing their students to make up their own minds. The responses might be surprising to those who believe that 80% of the British public back their anti hunting views.

Hunt supporters at a Boxing Day meet this year. Psychopaths and animal haters?

Hunt supporters at a Boxing Day meet this year. Psychopaths and animal haters?

It might also be an education to attend one of the many Boxing Day hunt meets and witness the friendly atmosphere, food and drink being passed around and the numerous children and pet dogs running about. Hardly a gathering of ‘psychopaths’.

So once again another Boxing Day passes under the Hunting Act, with 250,000 hunt supporters attending meets up and down the country – something the dwindling memberships of both the RSPCA and LACS put together could never achieve. If their claims of genuine support were true, demonstrators would easily outnumber hunt supporters many times over.

I remember shortly after leaving the LACS, a former colleague saying to the press that six months after hunting had been banned it would all be forgotten and everyone would wonder what all the fuss was about.

Funny, I always thought propaganda was written to convince others…not the writer. Happy New Year.

 

Merry Christmas

A short note to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone who has contributed to this blog throughout 2013, both pro and anti alike.

As a result some very informative, interesting and funny views have been expressed, often prompting responses that give an insight into the thinking of the writer. The important thing is that there is proper dialogue in place of a rather infantile stream of insults, as so often happens in social media.

I must also thank the Conservatives Against Fox Hunting (the “Blue Foxes”) who, in writing an article for Conservative Home, gave me a platform to submit an alternative view.

The comments on each article make interesting reading.

http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2013/12/lorraine-platt-of-bluefoxcafh-why-it-would-be-wrong-to-scrap-the-ban-on-hunting.html

http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2013/12/from-jimbarrington-why-the-hunting-act-doesnt-work-and-should-be-replaced.html

 

Thank you all and enjoy your Christmas…and Boxing Day.

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