Archive for September, 2012

Questions for the League

There was a time when his name and his comments were all over the League Against Cruel Sports website, media reports, radio interviews and on his favourite social media outlet – Twitter. But look for it now and, apart from a few exceptions, the name of Steve Taylor has been all but deleted from the League’s history.

Taylor was the League’s Head of Campaigns and Communication and always quick to ‘spin’ any story to his and the League’s advantage and if that meant including insults, childish comments or fabricated events, well so be it. “The hunters are the only group of criminals in society who flirt with this idea that they are in some way victims of the law, rather than transgressors of it.” was a typical Taylor comment, yet last week it contained more than a hint of irony.

For someone who was always keen to condemn the “criminals” of the hunting world, Friday 7th September 2012 must have been a devastating day for Steve Taylor, who was jailed for 16 months after pleading guilty to fraud. During a 22 month period he used a League credit card over 300 times to pay for travel, accommodation, food and goods bought online. Even the ‘office whip round’ for retiring chief executive, Douglas Batchelor, was pocketed by Taylor and the gift – an iPad – then purchased using the credit card. In total, a sum of almost ₤15,000 was illegally removed from League coffers.

So, for all the condescending talk from LACS of ‘criminality’ and ‘immoral actions’ within the hunting world, here we have a senior spokesman involved in both. While the jailing of Steve Taylor, a relation of  strongly anti-hunting Lord Clark of Windermere, is indeed a serious matter for the League, this situation gives rise to even more important questions.

The League Against Cruel Sports became a charity in 2008 following the introduction of the Charities Act 2006, although part of the League’s operation had obtained charitable status in 2003. The new law lists the charitable purposes to which organisations seeking to become a charity must adhere, one of which is animal welfare, but a further condition is that the work of the organisation must be “for the public benefit”. The Charity Commission, the body governing charities, states in its guidance, “A charity can campaign using emotive or controversial material, where this is lawful and justifiable in the context of the campaign. Such material must be factually accurate and have a legitimate evidence base.”

It is hard to see exactly how the public benefits from the main part of the League’s work, namely its campaign against hunting with dogs. And despite numerous requests, the “legitimate evidence base” has never been produced, none of the anti-hunting groups having the courage of their convictions (no pun intended) to commission research into how the Hunting Act has improved the welfare of wild mammals. Despite the numerous claims by such groups that this is a “really successful piece of legislation”, the limited information we do have indicates that wild animal welfare has deteriorated. Instead of addressing this situation, we see the League and other anti-hunting groups choosing to ignore validated science and standing in the way of genuine animal welfare proposals for no other reason that it would make their Hunting Act redundant.

Therefore the League’s charitable status on the basis of improving animal welfare through its main campaign is highly questionable.

However, even putting that view to one side, there are further concerns about other aspects of the way in which the League now operates and uses what is in effect its publicly subsidised funding.  It is incumbent upon a charity to ensure that it has “robust internal financial controls in place to protect funds from misuse and to show potential donors and beneficiaries that the charity manages its property efficiently.” Before working for the League, Steve Taylor had previous convictions and had served a term in prison for obtaining property by deception and forgery, so was this known to those who employed him… and if not, why not?

Charity Commission rules state, “Segregation of duties – A key feature of internal financial controls is to ensure that no single individual has sole responsibility for any single transaction from authorisation to completion and review. How was it that a sum nearing ₤15,000 could be spirited away by one man for almost two years? It was only when an expenses claim for mileage was queried that this was discovered. Who signed off Taylor’s expenses claims?

After Taylor was sentenced, the current League chief executive, Joe Duckworth, said, “We were the unfortunate victims of a crime that was committed through a fundamental breach of trust.”

That may be the case, but it does not answer the questions posed above, which raise issues that should concern everyone, whether they be pro- hunting, anti hunting or just tax payers.


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