Trouble at the RSPCA Panorama


Download Subtitles

SRT

ASS


Trouble at the RSPCA

Current affairs programme. John Sweeney meets people who accuse the RSPCA of being heavy-handed and asks why an RSPCA branch rehomed dogs imported from Europe.


Similar Content

Browse content similar to Trouble at the RSPCA. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!

Transcript


LineFromTo

This programme contains some scenes which some

0:00:020:00:03

Tonight the animal owners who claimed that one of our best loved

0:00:040:00:12

charities is being too hard on them. It is the way they handle things. It

0:00:130:00:18

is their away or the highway. The British public backs the RSPCA to

0:00:190:00:22

prosecute animal cruelty, but does it always get it right? To be told I

0:00:230:00:27

was mistreating birds of prey has left me feeling absolutely broken.

0:00:280:00:34

And is the charity so determined to succeed it ignores the human cost?

0:00:350:00:40

It went on for years and years, and it ground me down. I still feel

0:00:410:00:47

injured. Former RSPCA insiders worry there is chaos at the top. I

0:00:480:00:52

personally think that the RSPCA commentary is not fit for purpose.

0:00:530:00:58

We ask is the world's oldest animal charity doing its best to keep

0:00:590:01:00

public trust? We love our animals. My dog is

0:01:010:01:29

called Bertie. Shall we go for a run? He is going to be my sidekick

0:01:300:01:35

on this investigation. Or is it the other way around? Where is the

0:01:360:01:43

stick, Bertie? He's half toy poodle and half with it, so he will keep me

0:01:440:01:52

on my toes. -- half whippet, so he will keep me on my toes.

0:01:530:01:57

Sometimes... It feels like he's the master and I'm the dog. Woofety woof

0:01:580:02:06

woof woof. Some animals don't get love and affection like Bertie. That

0:02:070:02:12

is why we need the RSPCA. The RSPCA has a full-scale rescue service...

0:02:130:02:18

It has been standing up for animals since 1824. The RSPCA gets more than

0:02:190:02:23

?100 million per year in donations and legacies. Its inspectors see

0:02:240:02:30

some extremely distressing sights. From stray dogs shown in this

0:02:310:02:37

campaign video, outright cruelty. All of these dogs, filmed by an

0:02:380:02:44

inspector, died. Many of them are in rigor mortis already. The RSPCA

0:02:450:02:51

prosecuted the dog breeders who did this. They didn't go to jail but

0:02:520:02:54

were banned for life from owning dogs. The charity's most powerful

0:02:550:03:06

weapon in protecting animals is bringing private prosecutions. But

0:03:070:03:13

some animal owners complain it is being too heavy-handed. This is the

0:03:140:03:21

RSPCA headquarters here in Sussex. Critics say the charity has long

0:03:220:03:26

been too quick to prosecute animal owners and too aggressive. Three

0:03:270:03:30

years ago in independent report took the charity to task over the way it

0:03:310:03:35

prosecutes people. How much has changed? Good morning. This is

0:03:360:03:52

Bertie. Hello, Bertie. Steve Rainton has been displaying birds of prey

0:03:530:03:56

for 20 years. He has now helped by his partner, Natalie. -- he is now

0:03:570:04:02

helped. Amazing, we've had her for five years. Stand well back... Last

0:04:030:04:10

year Steve and Natalie faced getting criminal records when they were

0:04:110:04:19

prosecuted by the RSPCA. Good girl. Steve said it all started when

0:04:200:04:23

somebody he knew took four birds from his farm. Worried the rest of

0:04:240:04:30

the birds were at risk Steve took them home in cages for temporary

0:04:310:04:38

safekeeping and rang the RSPCA. Originally we asked the RSPCA for

0:04:390:04:42

some help. Where we were keeping the birds wasn't safe and we needed

0:04:430:04:46

somewhere else to keep the birds. What Steve didn't know was that the

0:04:470:04:50

RSPCA had received a complaint about him mistreating the birds. When

0:04:510:04:55

inspectors called at his home he let them in. He wished he hadn't. Once

0:04:560:05:03

they were in they started taking photographs, you know, trying to

0:05:040:05:07

gather evidence against me. And that's the way I felt bullied by the

0:05:080:05:15

RSPCA. RSPCA inspectors do not have powers of seizure, so they called

0:05:160:05:19

the police who took Steve's birds away. Steve was charged by the RSPCA

0:05:200:05:26

with eight animal welfare offences. Natalie, who does not own the birds,

0:05:270:05:34

also faced eight charges. They used my partner. They basically said they

0:05:350:05:38

would drop all charges against my partner if I took the rap,

0:05:390:05:42

basically. I'd never broken the law. I've never been in trouble. To be

0:05:430:05:45

told I was mistreating birds of prey, it just left me feeling...

0:05:460:05:55

Absolutely broken. Earlier this year magistrates cleared Steve and

0:05:560:06:01

Natalie of two charges. The other 14 were dismissed. The RSPCA says it is

0:06:020:06:07

because of police mistakes. The whole thing of them being there to

0:06:080:06:14

help you come in my case, wasn't the case. Up until the day they knocked

0:06:150:06:18

on my front door while we saw them as a good charity. -- to help you,

0:06:190:06:25

in my case. The RSPCA said it acted properly and lawfully throughout.

0:06:260:06:29

There was sufficient evidence. And that it was in the public interest.

0:06:300:06:37

It says it prosecuted around 800 people last year, down by 50% in

0:06:380:06:45

four years. If an RSPCA inspector investigates a complaint of cruelty,

0:06:460:06:50

that person has less than one chance in 200 of being prosecuted.

0:06:510:06:54

Certainly not trigger-happy. Most of it is now dealt with by way of

0:06:550:06:59

advisory notices and warnings. In fact most of it is dealt with by a

0:07:000:07:02

reasonable conversation on the doorstep. Giving reasonable advice.

0:07:030:07:05

Reasonable people take reasonable advice. The RSPCA and its inspectors

0:07:060:07:14

do good work. No question. And criticising a much loved animal

0:07:150:07:18

charity may not make me popular. But what can happen to an animal owner

0:07:190:07:23

if there is no reasonable conversation on the doorstep? If no

0:07:240:07:24

advice is given? Gwyn Protheroe farms over 5000 sheep

0:07:250:07:40

in mid Wales. These sheepdogs are working animals. Without them he

0:07:410:07:45

cannot do his job. Last year the RSPCA prosecuted Gwyn

0:07:460:08:05

following the death of one of his dogs. She was a working dog. It's

0:08:060:08:10

not clear why she died. But she was thin and had been a small dog from

0:08:110:08:17

birth. From the vet's report and postmortem done by the RSPCA they

0:08:180:08:19

found a problem with her liver and her heart. The dull blade unburied

0:08:200:08:27

for two days. She died while Gwyn was working 60 miles away. An RSPCA

0:08:280:08:33

inspector called the police, who removed the dog and two are the

0:08:340:08:40

sheepdogs. -- with the dog lay unburied. The RSPCA said he hadn't

0:08:410:08:47

done enough to prevent the death and that living conditions were poor. He

0:08:480:08:51

was charged with three animal welfare offences. It's the way they

0:08:520:08:59

handled things, you know? It is their way or the highway, basically,

0:09:000:09:05

you know? The case took a year to come to court and had a big effect

0:09:060:09:10

on the family. What was it like when he was charged? Scary. It wasn't a

0:09:110:09:18

nice feeling. I felt really bad for dad because he isn't a bad person.

0:09:190:09:26

He didn't really, like, deserve it. What did you say to them? That it

0:09:270:09:40

would all be all right? Which it was proved, wasn't it? I'm sorry...

0:09:410:09:54

A judge dismissed the case, saying Gwyn has considerable expertise as

0:09:550:10:01

an animal owner and acted reasonably. How did you feel when

0:10:020:10:08

that verdict came through not guilty on all counts? Relieved. A sense of

0:10:090:10:18

justice. Because he was cleared the dogs should have been returned. But,

0:10:190:10:24

extraordinary as it seems, they were not. RSPCA staff asked if they could

0:10:250:10:32

keep the dogs and re-homed them. I got a phone call, she asked the

0:10:330:10:36

question again, the people in the kennels have got attached to the

0:10:370:10:40

dogs. The RSPCA said it kept hold of the dogs while it considered to

0:10:410:10:48

appeal. It would be two months before they found out if they would

0:10:490:10:52

get their dogs back. I couldn't work out why they wanted to keep, again,

0:10:530:10:58

prolonging the process of us getting the dogs back. You keep thinking

0:10:590:11:01

everything is coming to a close. But it was like they were ripping the

0:11:020:11:09

wound open again. The RSPCA says it was right to prosecute. And while

0:11:100:11:13

some cases don't succeed 92.5% of its prosecutions are successful.

0:11:140:11:22

There is very, very rigorous process by which the evidence is checked to

0:11:230:11:27

make sure we meet the evidential test. When we get the expert in we

0:11:280:11:31

depend on an independent better in every opinion as to the degree of

0:11:320:11:35

suffering. Once the matter goes to court it is for the magistrate to

0:11:360:11:43

convict or acquit. -- independent vet opinion. Fighting animal cruelty

0:11:440:11:46

is important but has the RSPCA sometimes gone too far? Barrister

0:11:470:11:53

Jonathan Rich stopped defending RSPCA cases nine years ago. I gained

0:11:540:12:01

a firm impression that I was really being personally targeted. It

0:12:020:12:07

reached a stage where my involvement in cases was actually not helping my

0:12:080:12:12

clients, because they would throw significant resources at any case in

0:12:130:12:19

which I was involved. He also faced a number of professional misconduct

0:12:200:12:23

complaints linked to animal welfare cases. Two from the RSPCA. I have

0:12:240:12:29

seen a lot of the rough and tumble of the bar. But this was in an

0:12:300:12:35

entirely different league. And it went on for years and years and

0:12:360:12:41

years, and it ground me down. I still feel today, I still feel

0:12:420:12:49

injured. None of the complaints succeeded. One from the RSPCA took

0:12:500:12:53

eight years to be fully resolved. I got pretty low. I was treated for

0:12:540:13:02

depression. I'm not embarrassed to say that. Do you still defend animal

0:13:030:13:10

cases? If the RSPCA are involved I will not be appearing as an

0:13:110:13:14

advocate. Which is a great shame, given the expertise I believe I

0:13:150:13:20

brought. Barrister Sara-Lise Howe believes she has been singled out,

0:13:210:13:25

too. She says the CPS was warned she wanted to undermine RSPCA private

0:13:260:13:32

prosecutions. I have no doubt that they have been targeting me. I was

0:13:330:13:41

16 years in court, I'd never had these accusations. Just trying to

0:13:420:13:44

represent my client. To get the court to look at the law. The RSPCA

0:13:450:13:50

says the criticism to the CPS about Sara-Lise Howe was made in error and

0:13:510:13:57

not at their request. It respects and upholds the vital role played by

0:13:580:14:00

defence lawyers in testing the prosecution's case. For the RSPCA to

0:14:010:14:13

do its job properly it must be well run. This June the Chief Executive

0:14:140:14:20

Jeremy Cooper resigned. The second to do so in three years. Trouble at

0:14:210:14:26

the top should be a worry for any charity. If I am a donor I want to

0:14:270:14:32

know my money is going to be well spent. And the chances are

0:14:330:14:38

significantly higher that my money as a donor is going to be well spent

0:14:390:14:43

if the charity is well governed, well led, sound decisions are made.

0:14:440:14:52

The RSPCA staff are overseen by 25 unpaid trustee is called the

0:14:530:14:56

council. They are supposed to keep an eye on things, not run the show.

0:14:570:15:03

One of the key rules, really, is that trustees in a large charity

0:15:040:15:08

shouldn't really dabble in operational matters. That is for

0:15:090:15:15

paid staff. But we've discovered that's what's been going on at the

0:15:160:15:22

RSPCA. Chris Lawrence used to be the charity's chief vet before he became

0:15:230:15:30

a trustee. The RSPCA are essentially is a great organisation. Fantastic

0:15:310:15:34

staff who work incredibly hard. But you come to a point where you have

0:15:350:15:38

to say enough is enough, I can't any longer support the way this is

0:15:390:15:42

happening. I had real concerns about the way the RSPCA was being run at

0:15:430:15:48

council level. He's never spoken publicly about leaving the charity

0:15:490:15:49

he loves. The Council found it really

0:15:500:15:58

difficult to properly delegate. What does that mean? It means almost

0:15:590:16:03

micromanagement. Chris Laurence resigned as a trustee last year. His

0:16:040:16:08

fellow trustee, David Canavan, is still there. The RSPCA spends ?50

0:16:090:16:16

million a year responding to complaints from the general public

0:16:170:16:22

about abuse of animals. He's speaking to MPs about fundraising.

0:16:230:16:27

The two years, the RSPCA allowed him and another trustee to run the

0:16:280:16:30

charity on paid, while it was without a chief executive.

0:16:310:16:36

For any charity, doing both jobs at the same time, for such a long time,

0:16:370:16:41

would be a no-no. For a large charity, that is off the

0:16:420:16:48

scale, in terms of being so unusual. I find it difficult to see how a

0:16:490:16:54

large charity could properly run itself if it doesn't have a

0:16:550:16:59

permanent chief executive who is independent from the nonexecutive

0:17:000:17:08

trustee teamer. -- team. This is the Manchester Animal Hospital, the

0:17:090:17:15

RSPCA's busiest. It provides extremely subsidised neutering,

0:17:160:17:20

micro-chipping, vaccinations, to quite a poor -ish area within

0:17:210:17:27

Manchester. Three years ago, Steve Carter was asked to look at

0:17:280:17:31

redistributing some of its vet services to branches across the

0:17:320:17:34

North of England. Among them, Rochdale, 60 miles away. -- 16 miles

0:17:350:17:42

away. It was a branch that struggled financially. It tried to do the best

0:17:430:17:49

it could, but it overextended itself. Steve Carter says getting

0:17:500:17:54

more vet services could have helped Rochdale's finances and says David

0:17:550:17:58

Canavan was keen on the move. At the time, he was also an unpaid trustee

0:17:590:18:03

of the Rochdale branch. That's a conflict-of-interest, isn't it? I

0:18:040:18:09

believe it is. I made it very clear to trustees and two senior

0:18:100:18:12

management that this was not a decision I could support in any way,

0:18:130:18:18

shape or form. Steve feared it could have meant closure for the

0:18:190:18:23

Manchester Animal Hospital. I did not want to see that provision

0:18:240:18:28

deteriorate in any shape or form. That was one of the main reasons

0:18:290:18:33

that I decided I had to leave the RSPCA. The RSPCA says it did discuss

0:18:340:18:38

its Northern operations. No changes were made and there was never any

0:18:390:18:42

suggestion the Manchester hospital would close. It says there was no

0:18:430:18:50

improper interference by David Canavan and as acting chief

0:18:510:18:54

executive he oversaw a period of stability and sound management.

0:18:550:19:07

Brighton, a stone's throw from RSPCA HQ. We've been told that what

0:19:080:19:12

happened here reveals more cracks behind the scenes. Nationally, the

0:19:130:19:19

RSPCA has a policy against anyone importing dogs for commercial

0:19:200:19:24

purposes. But here in Brighton, the local

0:19:250:19:29

branch was re-homed scores of dogs from Spain and Portugal in apparent

0:19:300:19:38

conflict with that policy. Around 150 dogs over three years

0:19:390:19:42

were imported by another animal welfare organisation, and brought to

0:19:430:19:46

these RSPCA kennels. They were then re-homed. The Brighton branch had

0:19:470:19:53

lots of British Staffies, which are hard to home, and was keen to offer

0:19:540:19:59

a mix of breeds. The RSPCA said the dogs were not being imported for

0:20:000:20:04

commercial purposes. The RSPCA told us the Brighton

0:20:050:20:08

branch didn't profit from re-homing these animals, but we found out the

0:20:090:20:14

issue did worry some staff. They couldn't support others transporting

0:20:150:20:17

animals hundreds of miles across Europe, when there were plenty of

0:20:180:20:24

British dogs to help at home. Trustee David Canavan got involved

0:20:250:20:29

in 2014. At the time he was also effectively running the charity.

0:20:300:20:35

We understand that David Canavan told the branch that so long as 40%

0:20:360:20:38

of the dogs in my kennels were brought to them by inspectors, they

0:20:390:20:42

could fill the remaining space is how they wanted, providing the

0:20:430:20:46

trustees and legal department didn't object.

0:20:470:20:54

The RSPCA said any suggestion David Canavan acted contrary to its

0:20:550:21:01

policies is completely untrue. He referred the matter to the Chief

0:21:020:21:06

Vet and the RSPCA revised its policy, so the branch had to get

0:21:070:21:12

permission on a case-by-case basis. It says the branch was trying to

0:21:130:21:17

help as many unwanted dogs as it could, and its main focus remains

0:21:180:21:22

local animals. At the top is the RSPCA a smoothly

0:21:230:21:29

running organisation? I personally think that the RSPCA,

0:21:300:21:35

currently, is not fit for purpose. I think it stems from the background

0:21:360:21:40

of counsel. I don't think the government process and structure has

0:21:410:21:42

moved on much since the 1970s. Wipe-out this is the headquarters of

0:21:430:21:53

the Charity Commission, it's the body charged with making sure our

0:21:540:21:58

charities are up to snuff. It told Panorama that the RSPCA's governance

0:21:590:22:03

is below the standard it would expect from a modern charity. It is

0:22:040:22:07

monitoring the trustees' role in leading change will consider

0:22:080:22:11

regulatory action if the required improvements aren't made quickly

0:22:120:22:17

enough. The RSPCA says its trustees are working with the Charity

0:22:180:22:22

Commission to implement the recommendations of a recent

0:22:230:22:23

independent review. The RSPCA has its own reform agenda.

0:22:240:22:38

It wants for more powers to investigate, so it has to rely less

0:22:390:22:43

on the police. Its supporters say only the charity has the necessary

0:22:440:22:47

expertise and resources to prosecute. Critics argue it should

0:22:480:22:52

be left to the police. The type of cruelty that the public disapproves

0:22:530:23:00

of is obvious. It doesn't require a specialist organisation to

0:23:010:23:01

prosecute. I'm on my way to see one of

0:23:020:23:14

Sara-Lise Howe's clients. Sarah Mellanby lost her appeal against

0:23:150:23:18

conviction for seven animal welfare offences earlier this year. That

0:23:190:23:25

some of my cats there. That's Leonard and Elmo. Puff Daddy, Thomas

0:23:260:23:31

O'Malley and that's Hubert. Sarah used to a large home to shelter

0:23:320:23:37

unwanted cats. So who have we got here? That is Lionel Blair. LAUGHTER

0:23:380:23:45

I know, super hair. Dennis the Menace, Charles Worthington. Some

0:23:460:23:48

people would say looking at this that you are a mad cat lady. Yes,

0:23:490:23:55

they probably would. Are you a mad cat lady? Guests. Where are your

0:23:560:24:01

cats? I don't have any. Four years ago she had more than 60. You had 60

0:24:020:24:11

cats, 62 cats. Isn't that a bit crazy? Well, I'm too soft, I'm just

0:24:120:24:19

too soft. They were unwanted cats and I was homing them. Some of the

0:24:200:24:23

cats she took and had cat flu, which is contagious and can be nasty. I

0:24:240:24:29

kept them and kept them comfortable. It's not good, but they were alive,

0:24:300:24:36

they were as well as they could be. The RSPCA, which made repeated

0:24:370:24:42

visits, disagreed. It says some were emaciated, as well as cat flu others

0:24:430:24:45

had problems with their eyes and teeth. And it says she failed to

0:24:460:24:52

seek appropriate care from a vet. All her cats were removed and Sarah

0:24:530:24:59

was tried and convicted. I think a lot of the people who have

0:25:000:25:05

had problems with the RSPCA are people who would be described as

0:25:060:25:08

vulnerable. The mad old lady who takes into many cats, they have got

0:25:090:25:13

themselves into a mess for caring, because they care too much. I think

0:25:140:25:16

that is a big difference from someone who delights in seeing an

0:25:170:25:23

animal suffer. The RSPCA tried to help and advise Sarah. The appeal

0:25:240:25:27

judge said she was deaf to that advice and the idea that the RSPCA

0:25:280:25:32

were treating her harshly was not supported by the evidence. But he

0:25:330:25:38

did reduce her sentence, so, after four years, 21 cats could come home.

0:25:390:25:45

A vet who supported Sarah throughout, is no fan of the RSPCA.

0:25:460:25:52

What does somebody like Sarah do with cats that are left on her

0:25:530:25:57

doorstep? Take those cats in or discard them, shut the door and

0:25:580:26:01

leave them to die? What's the options? Yes, we know that a lot of

0:26:020:26:05

these cats were chronically infected with cat flu. They have been and

0:26:060:26:11

they will remain that way. The RSPCA asked the court to make

0:26:120:26:19

Sarah pay some of their costs. She now has a ?100,000 charge on her

0:26:200:26:24

home, to be paid to the RSPCA when she sells it.

0:26:250:26:33

My heart's been broken. They've just warn me down and I've been

0:26:340:26:37

depressed. They're just like this giant machine that just crawls

0:26:380:26:42

through people's lives and they've got no way of getting out of it. The

0:26:430:26:47

RSPCA says it prosecuted as a last resort. It was endorsed by the

0:26:480:26:53

appeal judge and the Crown Prosecution Service. The costs were

0:26:540:26:58

high because it took so long to conclude the case, and this was not

0:26:590:27:06

the RSPCA's fault. The RSPCA says it only prosecute

0:27:070:27:11

when mistreatment is serious, cruelty blatant and when other ways

0:27:120:27:15

to help animal and owner have been exhausted.

0:27:160:27:23

Back in Wales, the Protheroes are still waiting to hear if they'll get

0:27:240:27:25

their sheepdogs back. Three days after Panorama wrote to

0:27:260:27:36

the RSPCA, the dogs were finally returned. Can one if you open the

0:27:370:27:44

door while I left her in, please? Outside the Protheroes'

0:27:450:27:47

solicitors... It's a big relief. It's nice to see

0:27:480:28:00

them. They're looking OK, aren't you? Hope they'll be as happy to be

0:28:010:28:04

home as we are to have them home. The RSPCA says the delay in

0:28:050:28:10

returning the dogs was lawful and proper, while it decided whether to

0:28:110:28:11

appeal. For many, including its critics, the

0:28:120:28:30

RSPCA remains a great British charity.

0:28:310:28:36

I think the RSPCA is overall a force for good. The inspectors do good

0:28:370:28:41

work every single day, there are out there in all conditions.

0:28:420:28:47

Charity fight the RSPCA depend on more than donations, they also need

0:28:480:28:54

public support. Public trust and public confidence

0:28:550:28:57

in the work that charities do will only be sustained if charities are

0:28:580:29:02

seen to be doing the right thing. That means behaving in a

0:29:030:29:05

responsible, transparent and accountable way.

0:29:060:29:12

The RSPCA says it is committed to continually improving everything it

0:29:130:29:18

does. But to its critics, it stands accused of being a charity that

0:29:190:29:23

sometimes lacks charity - to humans.

0:29:240:29:27

The RSPCA, which has been rescuing and protecting animals for almost 200 years, is one of the best-loved charities in England and Wales. Last year it secured nearly 1,500 convictions for animal welfare offences. Now Panorama's John Sweeney - and his dog Bertie - meet people who accuse the RSPCA of being heavy-handed by prosecuting them and taking away their animals when help or advice would have been more appropriate. He also asks why an RSPCA branch rehomed dogs imported from Europe. Following the RSPCA chief executive's sudden resignation in June, John investigates what's going on at the top of the charity and meets former senior insiders who have concerns about the charity's governing council.