Many of the Charities are now very good cash cows for the management and executive officers. Charities should be required to publish on the internet their accounts giving all costs, salaries and expenses to maintain their charitable status.
It would seem that the RSPCA has been hi-jacked by a group of extremely militant left wing vegitarians. They have said that they are not really interested in getting cats out of trees now but consider themselves to be a ‘Lobby Organisation’. They have spent several £million on an expensive new HQ and recruited several ‘Managers’ on grossly excessive salaries . They should now be rubbing shoulders with the the political elite. How many RSPCA donors voted for this or realised what was happening to this once respected organisation?
The RSPCA and a cruel abuse of your generosity. Also scroll down for the RSPCA charging owners of lost pets.
PUBLISHED: 23:54, 19 December 2012 | UPDATED: 00:31, 21 December 2012
Officially, the ‘P’ in RSPCA stands for ‘prevention’. It is — is it not? — the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
But might it not as easily be called the Royal Society for the Prosecution of Cruelty to Animals? Has one of Britain’s oldest and most-cherished charities become a branch office of the London legal profession, and a highly politicised one at that?
This week saw the conclusion of a legal case which the RSPCA brought against Oxfordshire’s Heythrop Hunt. Coincidentally or not, it is based in David Cameron’s Witney constituency and is a social magnet for some of Mr Cameron’s friends — the so-called ‘Chipping Norton set’.
RSPCA: Has one of Britain’s oldest and most-cherished charities become a branch office of the London legal profession, and a highly politicised one at that?
Much was made of this by Labour MPs yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions. Indeed, there are some people who say that the RSPCA picked on the Heythrop simply because it had a link with the PM and that would inevitably generate some publicity — which is always good for fund-raising.
The Heythrop was found to have erred under the anti-hunting laws introduced by the Blair government. Evidence against the hunt included a video, a brief section of which showed foxhounds ripping into the carcass of a fox.
Anti-hunt protestors opposed to the Cameron Government had filmed hundreds of hours of evidence, but it was only this tiny fragment that amounted to anything approaching conclusive evidence of wrongdoing.
Jeremy Carter-Manning QC, the expensive London barrister hired to prosecute the Heythrop, became almost poetic in his condemnation of the hunt after that video had been played. ‘The hounds converge in semi-circles and the screaming reaches a crescendo,’ he said. ‘The hounds are making a killing.’
But it has not been the hounds alone who have been making a killing. Lawyers have been doing much the same, earning fat fees from a charity whose funds come from donations and bequests from the public.
Among those lawyers is Mr Carter-Manning, an urbane fellow who is not infrequently found acting for the defence in money-laundering cases, and who once advised a potential defendant in the ‘Cash for Honours’ affair of the Blair years.
It is perhaps not surprising that faced by such a poohbah of the Bar, confronted by this most lugubrious and silken of silks, the legally inexperienced hunt followers from the Heythrop pleaded guilty at Oxford Magistrates Court before the case went any further up the legal foodchain.
Evidence: The footage which was shown in court shows a fox being killed by hounds during a hunt. It was only this tiny fragment that amounted to anything approaching conclusive evidence of wrongdoing
But how strong was the case against the Heythrop? Did the video really prove an intention by the hunt’s human members to pursue and kill foxes? Or did it merely catch the very natural behaviour of hounds doing what hounds do? That, in itself, is not a crime.
District Judge Tim Pattinson, who presided over the Heythrop case, noted witheringly that the £330,000 spent on the case by the RSPCA was ‘a quite staggering sum’. He said that he imagined ‘members of the public may feel that RSPCA funds can be more usefully employed’.
That £330,000 can be set against the costs of just £19,500 paid by the defendants.
Does Judge Pattinson not have a point? Do his remarks not illustrate something very unsettling about the modern RSPCA, namely that it has strayed a long way from its old image and its past concerns?
By strange irony, the RSPCA was founded in the 19th century by an MP, Richard Martin, who was himself a keen fox hunter.
Target? There are some people who say that the RSPCA picked on the Heythrop simply because it had a link with Cameron
His concern was for the mistreatment of cattle — something which should continue to trouble us today, though one seldom hears the RSPCA say so. But then, cattle offer less lurid headlines than foxes. Foxes are more political.
And political the RSPCA now looks, even though charity law prevents it siding (openly, at least) with any political party.
It edged on to dangerous territory a decade ago when it appointed a former Lib Dem MP, Jackie Ballard, as its top executive. Mrs Ballard had a pronounced record of attacking Tories over fox hunting.
Her place has since been taken by Gavin Grant, a politically savvy former PR man. He seems to be taking the RSPCA into more militant waters, not least in its policy on the Government’s cull of badgers (which may help stop cattle having to be slaughtered once they have caught TB).
As the RSPCA’s image changes, what does its public think? We cannot be sure, but support has been draining away at an alarming rate.
Income has fallen so badly that 90 of its 1,100 staff are being cut.
And yet the spending on lawyers is still enormous. Accounts from last year show that the RSPCA used £8.7 million of its outgoings of £120 million on prosecutions.
At what point does this stop being an animal welfare concern and start to become a subsidiary of London’s Temple?
RSPCA supporters include many Mail readers who have a proud and honourable record of supporting animal welfare causes. I myself used to give money to the RSPCA, and as a boy I was an avid reader of its magazine for youngsters, Animal Ways.
As the owner of two dotty terriers, I hope I could never be accused of being an animal hater. I do not hunt. I have ridden only a couple of times, one of which ended with me on my backside on terra firma after the pony in question kicked its hind legs in the air.
Love of animals is something plumbed deep into our British veins and that is no doubt why the Royal Family has, for more than a century, been happy to be associated with the charity.
Not that you will find much mention of the Royal Family (who, of course, are keen field-sports enthusiasts) in the RSPCA’s literature. It is rather bigger, these days, on mentions of ‘celebrity supporters’ such as the Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson and chatshow host Paul O’Grady, aka Lily Savage.
When we put our £5 notes (and much more in some cases) into those RSPCA collection statues shaped like waggy-tailed dogs, did we actually realise that the money was likely to be spent on long legal prosecutions?
Even if the answer is yes, did we expect the defendants (as happened in the Heythrop case when two hunt members were singled out alongside the hunt itself) to be elderly countrymen who plainly love horses and, whatever you might think about their attitude to foxes, clearly have a deep knowledge of animal husbandry?
Prominent friends of the RSPCA fear that the charity is in danger of going off the rails.
Conservative MP Bill Wiggin (Leominster), a former Shadow Agriculture Minister whose animal welfare work has been recognised by the RSPCA, says: ‘I have seen for myself some of the vital work the RSPCA does.
‘People want to think of RSPCA inspectors rescuing animals, especially dogs and cats, from cruelty and re-homing them. Donors would not want this sort of good work eclipsed by spending hard-won funds on lawyers.’
The editor of Dogs Today magazine recently said on the BBC that the RSPCA is finding it cannot uphold the Animal Welfare Act in the case of puppy farms — where some terrible allegations of cruelty have been made — because ‘they say they [the RSPCA] haven’t got the money to apply it’.
Should the RSPCA funds spent on the Heythrop prosecution, and on other cases harrying field-sports enthusiasts, not be devoted to harmless puppies rather than verminous foxes which (sorry, folks, but this is the truth of nature, red in tooth and claw) decapitate lambs and hens, not even bothering to lick the guts off their quivering bodies before loping away into darkness?
Although some animal rights professionals (and ‘professionals’ they often are) become highly vexed about fox hunting, are there not more serious problems for the RSPCA to address?
The problem of out-of-control dogs in cities, for instance, is something many MPs hear about from their constituents.
Bill Wiggin raises the recent, alarming rise in cases when blind people have had their guide dogs attacked in the street by savage ‘trophy’ dogs, often some form of pit-bull terrier. When this happens, guide dogs are not only often badly injured, but are sometimes left so traumatised that they can no longer do their work.
Is this not something for the RSPCA to spend its money on rather than the services of that bewigged scrivener at Furnival Chambers, London, that sophisticate of money-laundering law, Mr Jeremy Carter-Manning QC?
Why did the RSPCA shoot dead more than 40 sheep in a grisly dockside massacre? Mail investigates horrific slaughter of animals unloaded from French lorry
By Guy Adams
PUBLISHED: 00:59, 12 January 2013 | UPDATED: 00:59, 12 January 2013
With sweeping views of the English Channel and a 700-berth Royal Harbour Marina catering only to ‘the most discerning boaters’, the Kentish port of Ramsgate proudly sells itself as one of the south coast’s hidden gems.
Visitors are drawn by its ‘cosmopolitan cafes and bars’ and ‘picturesque waterfront’ — as well, of course, as the chance to catch a ferry to the Continent, 35 miles across the Channel. They return year after year — or so tourist leaflets claim — because of its ‘stunning location’ and ‘intriguing past’.
In recent months, however, Ramsgate’s ‘stunning’ seaside ambience has been shattered by the loud cries of animal rights protestors.
They come to lobby against the legal — but highly controversial — export of live farm animals through the port.
Clutching loudhailers, and watched by police officers, the demonstrators have been a fixture at the harbour-side for months, jeering as lorries filled with sheep and cows are loaded onto cargo vessels. ‘Whenever there’s a shipment, I’m there along with 60-plus protestors,’ says Mark Johnson, the group’s ringleader.
‘My people will turn out any time, day or night. It’s a barbaric trade, and we’ll be there as long as it takes to stop it.’
Many of Johnson’s fellow protestors carry placards that bear a singularly shocking image. It shows a pile of dead sheep, their bodies mutilated and their heads smashed. The white fleeces of the animals have been drenched in blood, which is liberally spattered over nearby walls.
This graphic photo was taken at Ramsgate on September 12 last year, when 46 sheep died after being unloaded from a French lorry.
It was released to the media by the RSPCA, which is mounting a vigorous campaign for a government ban on live exports. In public statements, Gavin Grant, the charity’s chief executive, cited the gory image as evidence that ‘there is no place in a civilised and compassionate society’ for live animal exports, saying it lays bare ‘this vile trade that causes so much suffering to animals’.
But one fact about the photograph of these bloody carcasses might surprise animal lovers — and even some of Ramsgate’s animal rights protestors. Almost every single one of the sheep was shot dead by an employee of Grant’s own RSPCA.
Their deaths remain the subject of a fierce dispute which has sparked multiple legal threats and seen vituperative criticism of Grant’s high-profile organisation. An official report on the matter was completed in October, but mysteriously it is still being blocked from public release.
The matter has become the latest flashpoint in the increasingly bitter row between the RSPCA and the rural lobby amid concerns that the charity has lurched towards an extreme political agenda under Grant — a vegetarian and former PR man.
Grant, who twice stood for Parliament as a Lib Dem (without success), and ran Nick Clegg’s leadership campaign, was last in the news before Christmas when it emerged that he had spent £326,000 of the charity’s money prosecuting four members of the Heythrop Hunt — which just happens to be David Cameron’s local hunt in Oxfordshire — for illegally killing foxes.
Two of the men were acquitted, but two pleaded guilty to four minor breaches of the hunting ban. They, and the hunt, were fined less than £7,000.
In court, the RSPCA attempted to keep the costs of its legal action secret. But its six-figure bill was revealed by district judge Tim Pattinson, who announced he found it ‘quite staggering’.
‘Members of the public may feel that RSPCA funds can be more usefully employed,’ he added.
The episode will certainly have given RSPCA donors food for thought. After all, the charity recently decided to shed 90 of its 1,100 employees, allegedly to save money.
While the RSPCA now spends around £8.7million a year prosecuting headline-making court cases, many of its day-to-day operations are woefully underfunded. Its Preston branch, which costs £600 a day to run, claims to be weeks from bankruptcy.
Figures uncovered last week revealed that the RSPCA rehoused 10,000 fewer animals in 2011 than it did in 2009, and that it now kills 44 per cent of the animals it supposedly rescues — which amounts to a shocking 53,000 animals a year. Of that number, 3,400 are destroyed for ‘non-medical reasons’, such as lack of space in underfunded catteries.
These grim statistics coincide with falling membership figures. A decade ago, the RSPCA had about 35,000 members, whereas today the charity has just 25,000. (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, by contrast, boasts one million).
Meanwhile, the Charities Commission has declared it the third most complained-about charity in Britain, behind the Jehovah’s Witnesses and a non-profit organisation called The HFSH Charitable Trust, devoted to faith healers.
Against this backdrop, the events of September 12 offer an interesting snapshot of Gavin Grant’s modern RSPCA.
The tragedy is detailed in an official report which currently sits on the desk of Farming Minister David Heath. Though completed in October, it remains secret owing to what DEFRA calls ‘legal reasons’.
‘There is no way those 43 sheep needed to be put down.’
But having talked to a number of local sources, including eye-witnesses at the dockside, I have nonetheless been able to gain a sobering insight into what really occurred.
Trouble began that afternoon when RSPCA inspectors, who were observing shipments with vets from the government’s Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), noticed that one of the 500 sheep aboard a lorry chartered by Kettering-based exporter Intra Agra had suffered a broken leg.
Normally, the exporter’s agent, Peter Ziolkowski, would have been required to board the four-tier French-registered lorry and put down the injured animal.
But according to Frank Langrish, a local spokesman for the National Farmers Union (NFU) who has investigated the incident, the RSPCA inspectors agreed with government vets that all of the sheep had to be unloaded.
‘This caused considerable argument,’ Langrish said this week. ‘There were no reasonable facilities for unloading animals at the port, so they decided to build a temporary pen between two buildings.
‘It was a big mistake, because at the back of the pen there was a large storm drain, and when the sheep entered the pen, its cover became loose.’
Six sheep fell into that drain. Four were saved by RSPCA inspectors, but two died.
David McDowell, a former RSPCA acting chief veterinary advisor, was astonished by the charity’s behaviour when I talked to him this week. Even if the RSPCA was acting in conjunction with government vets, he said, unloading sheep at the dockside contradicts accepted opinion on animal welfare.
‘Unless you have a proper pen to put them in, unloading a large number of sheep somewhere like that is a terrible thing to do,’ he said. ‘In fact, dropping them off a lorry at those docks is — and you can quote me on this — f****** stupid.’
For its part, the RSPCA insists the sheep had to be unloaded because the lorry they were travelling on was unsuitable — and that it had warned the Port authorities earlier that facilities were sub-standard.
But no sooner had the storm-drain calamity struck than a second problem emerged: 43 of the sheep, all of which had been pronounced fit and healthy by a vet prior to boarding the vehicle in Northamptonshire, were considered to be showing signs of lameness.
The government vets and RSPCA inspectors announced that all 43 of these lame sheep should be killed because they considered them unfit to travel.
This decision, too, has baffled animal welfare experts. ‘I’ve been in the business for 39 years and there is no legitimate reason to put down 43 sheep because they are lame,’ says Kent vet David Smith, a former RSPCA advisor.
‘Lameness and foot infections are very common in sheep and easy to treat. It’s a minor condition.’
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, which represents sheep farmers, is adamant: ‘There is no way those 43 sheep needed to be put down,’ he said.
A local farmer, Trevor Head, soon arrived at the port with a trailer to take the animals to an abattoir. But he was sent away: the officials claimed the sheep were too lame to be transported, and insisted they should be killed on site.
Over the next hour, in scenes an onlooker has compared to a ‘massacre’, the charity’s inspectors used a bolt gun to despatch the terrified animals, one by one.
The following morning, the RSPCA released the graphic picture of the slaughtered sheep via its website, claiming it laid bare the casual cruelty of an animal export industry which ought to be banned.
The pictures generated news stories around the world. Within days, they had become a symbol of the campaign against live animal exports. But the picture raised as many questions as it answered.
‘Anyone who knows anything about humane killing devices knows that if you use them properly, then you don’t get any blood,’ says the NFU’s Langrish. ‘They make a single piercing straight through into the brain and the animal dies.’
John Onderwater, the Dutch exporter whose firm, Barco de Vapor, was due to carry the sheep across the Channel, also has profound concerns. ‘How on earth was it possible that the pile of sheep, which the RSPCA displayed so proudly on its website, was covered with blood? And how did they get blood to spray a metre and a half up a wall?’ he asks.
Did the RSPCA botch the job of killing the sheep? Were the bolt guns working properly? It is not clear.
In a statement, the RSPCA said that ultimate responsibility for the day’s events lies with the AHVLA, whose officials were nominally in a senior role to the RSPCA inspectors at the port.
Yet the job of the actual killing fell to the RSPCA inspectors. The charity’s staff officer Dermot Murphy confirmed the animals were shot by RSPCA officers ‘trained in the humane euthanasia of animals’.
Whatever lies behind the tragic photograph, Grant is well aware of the power of a shocking PR image. During a previous stint at the RSPCA, as head of communications from the late 1980s, he was behind high-profile fundraising adverts featuring piles of dead dogs and horses dangling from hooks. The images, produced by modish ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers, certainly created a stir. But they also signalled a move by the RSPCA away from its traditional remit of caring for animals towards a more controversial role of running high-profile campaigns and prosecutions.
Grant left the charity in 1991, amid a minor office scandal involving his relationship with married colleague Liz Cook (who is now his partner), and set about making his fortune in the PR and lobbying business.
For most of the past decade, he was UK chairman of Burson Marsteller, a vast consultancy which has a mixed reputation in animal rights circles on account of its lucrative work for such corporations as Unilever, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, which test products on animals.
That chapter of Grant’s CV has been brushed under the table since he rejoined the RSPCA a year ago. In recent interviews, he has styled himself as a right-thinking man of principle, who ‘took a serious pay cut and had to sell his big house to take the job’.
Chief executives of the RSPCA are, nonetheless, paid around £120,000 a year according to its most recent financial report. And former colleagues say that, besides money, the public platform the job affords him is ample compensation to a man of Grant’s wealth and searing political ambition.
‘Today’s RSPCA is dominated by Labour and the Lib Dems, so Gavin fits right in,’ says Ian Johnson, a former RSPCA press officer who once worked under Grant.
‘In many ways, he’s a failed politician: he would have loved to be a member of Parliament. But, much like Alastair Campbell, he could never quite manage it, so is now doing the next best thing if the incident of the Heythrop Hunt is anything to go by — playing politics with people’s donations.’
A combative 57-year-old, who was raised on a London council estate and educated at grammar school, Grant has certainly been quick to employ the language of class warfare in his recent crusade against foxhunting, describing practitioners as ‘no different from badger baiters — apart from their accents’.
He also made waves in September with vigorous opposition to the Government’s proposed badger cull, telling dairy farmers who co-operate with the scheme that they face being named and shamed, and are ‘soaked in badgers’ blood’.
In coming months, Grant has meanwhile promised to set about trying to ban some of the ‘disgraceful’ slaughtering practices around halal meat.
The RSPCA has never previously dipped its toes in a religious dispute. And there are signs that this increasingly controversial tone may be alienating members of the public. The charity’s income from bequests fell £5million in 2011, the last year for which figures are available, and it now devotes more than 20 per cent of its roughly £100m annual expenditure towards fundraising.
Senior members of RSPCA staff have meanwhile been jumping ship. At Christmas, Leigh Grant (no relation), who had run the RSPCA’s popular ‘Freedom Food’ labelling campaign for nearly 11 years, announced his departure ‘by mutual agreement’.
Over the summer, Henry Macaulay, RSPCA’s head of media relations for seven years, also left. And in October, the charity’s head of prosecutions, Sally Case, handed in her notice.
The questions about the death of 46 sheep at Ramsgate on September 12 will not be cleared up until DEFRA’s report is finally released. Sources at the ministry expect that to happen in a matter of weeks.
What will it say? One person who almost certainly knows is Farming Minister David Heath. By co-incidence, he recently declared that Grant’s RSPCA ‘needs to make a choice over whether they are a fringe campaign group or a responsible organisation working with us in partnership on animal welfare’.
As things stand, he warned, ‘they cannot be both’.
The RSPCA tried to ruin my life, says top barrister: A decade of accusations – and a £1m legal bill to defend his good name
- Jonathan Rich, defended hundreds of people against RSPCA over 20 years
- Friend of Dawn Aubrey-Ward, 43, an RSPCA inspector turned whistleblower
- She accused the charity of destroying her character
- She was found hanged at her home this month
By Liz Hull
A leading barrister yesterday claimed he had been forced to stop working on cases involving the RSPCA because the charity tried to ‘ruin’ his life with spurious complaints.
Cambridge-educated Jonathan Rich, who defended hundreds of people against the RSPCA over 20 years, said he has spent almost £1million defending professional allegations made by the charity about his conduct.
He was a friend of Dawn Aubrey-Ward, 43, an RSPCA inspector turned whistleblower who also accused the charity of destroying her character.
Cambridge-educated Jonathan Rich, who defended hundreds of people against the RSPCA over 20 years, said he has spent almost £1million defending professional allegations made by the charity
She was found hanged at her home this month.
Yesterday Mr Rich, 46, said times had been ‘very tough’ and he might have suffered the same fate, were it not for his resolve and the love and support of his family.
‘I think the RSPCA were probably working on the basis that I wouldn’t be as strong as I proved to be,’ Mr Rich told the Daily Mail.
‘My insurers and I have spent a lot of money defending their claims and I’ve been through some very, very tough times, but I’ve got a fantastic wife who has been very supportive and my family have got me through.
‘Other people faced with what I have had to contend with might well have killed themselves.
‘I am not ashamed to say I have been treated for reactive depression as a result of my ordeal. Two years ago I nearly died from a stress-related condition.’
Mr Rich, a contemporary of the Prime Minister at Eton and a Tory councillor, said problems began around 2003 when the charity made the first of several formal and informal complaints linked to cases he was defending.
‘For two decades I had a superb track record, I won a lot of cases against the RSPCA, but it started to get vicious in the noughties,’ Mr Rich, a father of three, added.
‘I really believe everybody has the right to a defence and targeting a lawyer really is not a legitimate strategy. They set out to ruin me.
‘While I would love to carry on I am very, very tired of fighting them. I felt I had no choice but to stop taking cases involving the RSPCA for my own well-being and that of my family.’
Mr Rich’s comments will put further pressure on the charity, which has been criticised for recent high-profile, expensive legal cases and an aggressive publicity campaign.
It is currently being investigated by the Charity Commission over its stance against badger culling and live animal exports.
Last November Gavin Grant, chief executive of the RSPCA, wrote a Twitter message to Mr Rich, saying: ‘Please remind me why you no longer defend animal abusers against RSPCA prosecutions? We’ve +98% success rate as you know.’
The barrister, who also practises property and commercial law, said the tweet was indicative of an organisation that was concerned with animal rights ‘but has little regard for humanity’.
In the past ten years the charity has made two direct complaints of professional misconduct against Mr Rich to the Bar Standards Board, while another nine have been made by people working on cases involving the RSPCA. The charity claims it played no role in these.
Mr Rich, who has never had a single complaint made about his conduct by any other organisation or individual in 24 years at the Bar, said all had been dropped, dismissed or struck out and he had never faced a full hearing. Three remain active.
He and Miss Aubrey-Ward, whose character was publicly attacked by the charity after she accused it of putting healthy dogs to sleep because they were deemed not suitable for rehoming, became friends because of their treatment by the RSPCA.
‘We were both going through the same sort of nightmare with the same assailant,’ Mr Rich said.
‘It was a relief for me to find someone like her to talk to and she told me she felt the same. I feel a terrible sense of loss.’
A spokesman for the RSPCA said it made complaints only in ‘extreme circumstances and following established processes’.
She added: ‘The RSPCA has secured nearly 10,000 convictions in the magistrates’ courts in the past three years alone and, to our knowledge, Mr Rich is the only barrister the RSPCA has ever complained about in terms of professional conduct.’
Last December the RSPCA was criticised by a judge after it emerged it had spent a ‘staggering’ £326,000 on a magistrates’ court prosecution against the Heythrop Hunt, David Cameron’s local hunt in Oxfordshire.
Earlier this month another judge said it had wasted court time in a case concerning a hunt linked to a pro-hunting Tory councillor.
The legal action cost the charity £50,000 but resulted in two fines of just £300.
SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Five suicides. One common thread: They all fell foul of the RSPCA
By Guy Adams
The last person to speak to Clwyd Davies was his best friend, Michelle Crowther, who telephoned his ramshackle farmhouse just outside Wrexham at around 8pm on Sunday, April 7.
It was just two days after the 69-year-old horse breeder had stood before a magistrate for sentencing at the end of a long, harrowing and high-profile court battle with the RSPCA.
Distraught at the verdict — he’d been banned from keeping horses for five years — Davies was coming to terms with the imminent loss of a herd of animals that he would call his ‘children’.
‘Clwyd was very angry and unhappy, and upset,’ says Michelle. ‘Those horses were his life, and the thought of having to give them up left him deeply saddened. The outcome of the RSPCA case was a huge blow, and he felt persecuted.’
Missing: Clwyd Davies has been missing since April 7. His best friend Michelle Crowther, right, said he was ‘very angry and upset’ the last time she spoke to him
That night, Davies vanished, leaving the door of his home ajar, and his wallet, keys and overcoat on the kitchen table. He left no message to friends or family, and showed no sign of having planned a long trip.
His most treasured possession, a stack of photos of the prize-winning horses and ponies he’d bred over the years, was found in a bedroom.
Police have since used a search-and-rescue helicopter to comb local hillsides, and deployed dog teams in a fruitless effort to track Davies down. He’s now been officially classified as ‘missing’ for eight weeks.
‘It’s a long time. He’s a distinctive man, and he ought to have been noticed,’ adds Michelle. ‘I’m obviously very, very concerned about his welfare.’
Though still hoping for good news, Michelle admits she is preparing for the worst: she finds it ‘increasingly unlikely’ that Davies will ever be found alive: ‘I never thought Clwyd was the sort of person who would harm himself. I mean, he’d lived through some very tough times. But at this stage, I’m afraid, you have to treat suicide as a distinct possibility.’
An eccentric, bearded figure, Davies became known to millions of TV viewers as The Horse Hoarder, after Channel 4 broadcast a documentary in January about his gruelling court battle with the RSPCA.
The deeply moving film told how his life had spiralled out of control following the death of Hayley, his 18-year-old daughter, in a road accident. Suffering from depression, he’d thrown himself into breeding horses and ponies, keeping the animals first at his tenanted farm and later on a 75-acre plot on the outskirts of Wrexham.
The financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent recession dealt a heavy blow to the horse trade, however. By early last year, Davies was having difficulty selling his livestock and his herd had ballooned to more than 50 unsold animals.
Scraping by on a pension of around £100 a week, Davies was unable to afford to properly feed and care for his animals. Many looked underweight, and some were suffering from the effects of untreated parasites.
He duly contacted Michelle, who runs a nearby horse rescue centre, and she began helping him to reduce the herd to a manageable level by finding homes for some of his stock. By late last year, just 22 remained.
Tragedy: Dawn Aubrey-Ward, a former RSPCA officer, was found hanged after she had given an interview critical of the organistion
‘This summer, we’d have been able to get the number down, probably to a handful, which he could properly care for,’ says Michelle. ‘But, sadly, we never got the chance.’
The reason, she says, was the RSPCA. Early in 2012, before Michelle had begun to work with Davies, the charity had seized six of his horses, which had fallen ill. Later that year, it decided to charge him with 18 counts of neglect.
‘Clwyd didn’t need to be prosecuted, he needed help,’ says Michelle. ‘My work with him showed that. But the RSPCA seemed to treat the courts as a first, rather than a last, resort. From the moment it dealt with him, it was gathering evidence.’
However, the RSPCA says this is not the case. It prosecuted Davies only after giving him two warnings, one of which had a time limit extended.
On Channel 4’s The Horse Hoarder, RSPCA officers were shown shooting Davies’s horses with dart guns and loading them into the back of lorries. ‘They looked like police, acted like police, and Clwyd found the whole thing very stressful,’ says Michelle. ‘He was vulnerable, and it was sadly all too much.’
Last October, Davies later pleaded guilty to six of the 18 charges of neglect. He was asked to return to court six months later for sentencing.
That hearing, immediately before he vanished, did not just see him banned from keeping horses. He was also fined £500 and ordered to complete 200 hours of community service.
For Clwyd Davies, the sentence hadn’t been the half of it, either. Indeed, soon after the RSPCA’s charges were filed, he became the target of a sustained hate campaign from animal-rights extremists, who set up a Facebook page billing him ‘no better than a paedophile’.
Sioned Morys, the award-winning documentary maker behind The Horse Hoarder, says the tyres of his tractor and other farm vehicles were slashed and water was poured into the diesel tanks of machinery. Power cables at his home were cut.
At night, vandals began knocking on his door and waking his dogs. By day, mysterious figures would lurk in undergrowth, taking pictures of Davies and his animals, which were later uploaded to Facebook.
‘He wasn’t prone to self-pity, but I certainly felt sorry for him,’ says Michelle. ‘It felt like a vendetta. It was pure persecution.’
The harassment was reported to the police, yet it continued unabated for months.
There is, of course, no suggestion that these actions were carried out by the RSPCA, but were rather the by-product of the publicity that came with the charity’s action.
‘I don’t think anybody is prepared for the degree of hate that comes towards you when you are caught up in one of these RSPCA cases,’ says Clive Rees, the lawyer who represented Davies. ‘The only thing I would compare it to is the treatment of child molesters or murderers. It’s that extreme.’
Rees believes that the sentence handed down in April came as a huge shock to Davies.
‘There was never any suggestion that Clwyd ever did anything deliberate to harm his animals,’ he says. ‘He loved them and wanted to continue to look after them. We pleaded guilty to neglect because the Animal Welfare Act expects you to keep animals 100 per cent fit, 100 per cent of the time, and he obviously hadn’t.
‘But, in my opinion, the ban wasn’t justified.’
Spotlight: The case of Dawn Aubrey-Ward has put the high-profile legal cases and PR campaigns pursued by the RSPCA under scrutiny
Whatever its rights and wrongs, the Clwyd Davies case certainly throws an unforgiving spotlight on the RSPCA at a time of increasing scrutiny over its pursuit of expensive and high-profile legal cases and PR campaigns.
In May, for example, the charity faced a public image crisis following the death of Dawn Aubrey-Ward, a former RSPCA officer found hanged at her home in Somerset.
Aubrey-Ward — a mother of four, who left the organisation in 2010 — had given an interview critical of the RSPCA to the Mail on Sunday five months earlier.
Speaking to the newspaper, she had described her horror, during her time as an employee, at having to euthanise what she called ‘healthy animals’.
The comments sparked widespread controversy. In response, the RSPCA issued a statement which suggested that its whistleblowing former employee was a liar and a suspected criminal, who was motivated by malice.
It began: ‘Please be aware that Dawn Aubrey-Ward is a disgruntled former employee of the RSPCA who was subject to a disciplinary investigation for alleged theft of animals. She left the organisation with matters still pending.’
The RSPCA’s statement was then picked up and circulated by animal-rights extemists.
Over the days that followed, Aubrey-Ward endured a torrent of abuse on Twitter and Facebook, telling friends that she was struggling to cope with the tide of hate mail, death threats and abusive telephone calls from extremists.
On her own Twitter feed, she claimed that the RSPCA had ‘ruined my life’ and said that its PR statement was ‘evil’.
An inquest will soon rule on the cause of her death. Whatever conclusion it reaches, her case seems far from isolated.
Indeed, recent years have seen several documented suicides involving men and women caught up in disputes with the RSPCA.
Last year, for example, a Norfolk pig farmer called Stephen Brown shot himself in the head three days after the media was informed that the charity was investigating cases of animal cruelty on his property.
Pig farmer Stephen Brown was found dead three days after he was accused of animal cruelty
It would appear that animal-rights activists videoed evidence of abuse of animals on his farm and circulated the video on the internet. The RSPCA was appalled and began an investigation.
In 2010, Alan Brough, a Shetland pony breeder from Cumbria, hanged himself after the RSPCA confiscated his livestock. Recording a verdict of suicide, the local coroner said that, as a result of the raid, his ‘world fell apart’.
Also that year, a gamekeeper called Graham Key killed himself after being found guilty of firearms offences following an RSPCA and police raid on his home.
And, in 2008, a Cornish farmer called Richard Barrett died in what police called a suicide, the day after RSPCA and vets from the Department for the Environment, Food and Agriculture visited his property. The coroner recorded an open verdict.
Clive Rees — who in addition to Clwyd Davies has represented many defendants in cruelty cases brought by the RSPCA — believes these tragic deaths are only the tip of an iceberg. ‘There are too many other cases to list,’ he says. ‘A few years ago, for example, I represented a chap in Stafford on a dog case. He was acquitted, rightly, but within two months was found hanged. That never even made the news.’
Rees says lawyers can also find themselves in the firing line of animal-rights extremists. He’s had bricks thrown through his office window and paint daubed on his front door after acting for clients accused of animal abuse.
Others face more gruelling opposition. Take Jonathan Rich, a leading barrister who last month revealed that he has been forced to turn down defence work in cases brought by the RSPCA after a string of formal complaints were filed against him by the organisation and its supporters.
In total, he’s faced a dozen misconduct complaints to the Bar Council. None has ever been upheld (although three remain active) but defending them has cost him around £1 million.
Leading barrister Jonathan Rich has been forced to turn down casework after the RSPCA and it supporters filed a string of complaints against him
The experience might have driven him to suicide, Rich said, ‘were I not a person of more than average firmness, with a very loving and supportive wife and family’.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to be so robust. And many critics of the RSPCA believe that the number of reported suicides involving men and women in its firing line represents a trend.
The truth, it must be said, is likely to be less straightforward. Suicide is, after all, a complex phenomenon which tends to be motivated by a variety of factors.
The RSPCA also points out that it investigated 611,558 allegations of animal cruelty between 2009 and 2012.
Yet RSPCA interventions and PR statements about people certainly seem to set off a tirade of abuse on Facebook or Twitter and other potentially distressing actions by animal-rights extremists (acting independently of the RSPCA) against the subjects of the charity’s actions, which may well be a core factor.
Asked about the issue, the RSPCA said in a statement: ‘It is deeply saddening to hear of someone taking their own life.
‘However, we are appalled at any suggestion that the RSPCA is responsible for the tragic deaths of individuals. In the wake of recent events, it would not be appropriate for the RSPCA to discuss the circumstances of personal matters and specific cases beyond the information already in the public domain.’
With regard to the charity’s prosecution policy, the statement added: ‘The RSPCA will investigate any allegation of abuse or neglect and, if appropriate, prosecute those responsible for animal abuse.’
The charity also said prosecution is always a last resort and that it tries to help vulnerable people.
That policy is, nonetheless, the subject of growing controversy. In January, MPs held a debate on the subject. Its sponsor, Simon Hart, a Tory MP, pointed out that in 2012 the charity secured 3,000 convictions at a cost of £8.7 million.
That is more than twice the number of prosecutions it brought in 2008. The charity, Hart claimed, has become ‘possibly the most prolific private prosecutor in the UK’.
As to the Clwyd Davies case, it will return to the public eye on June 12, when a follow-up to The Hoarse Hoarder is due to be screened by Channel 4. The film seems likely to make uncomfortable viewing for supporters of the nation’s largest animal charity.
‘I was at Clwyd’s house the day after he went missing,’ says Sioned Morys, the programme’s director. ‘While I was there, an RSPCA inspector turned up to talk to the police. She offered to assist in looking for his body.
‘At that very moment, I realised that it was the only time, in all my time covering Clwyd’s case, that I’d seen someone from the RSPCA offer to actually help.’