Each year the RSPCA spend around £8 million in court costs, prosecuting people for offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. As a result they have become the biggest private prosecutor in the country, bringing around 15,000 cases every year. They proudly refer to themselves as “criminal enforcers,” claiming a 94% successful prosecution rate. Although that figure is questionable, there is no doubt that animal welfare has become secondary to the RSPCAs aims. Rather than animal protectors they have become a politically motivated left wing pressure group staffed with militant animal rights extremists who are intent on banning horse racing, shutting down pet shops and giving police dogs the same legal status as their uniformed handlers.
It’s true they have in the past brought some worthwhile prosecutions against serial animal abusers but these are the exception rather than the rule. Most of the criminal prosecutions that the RSPCA bring are show trials, designed to create newspaper headlines, which in turn promote the RSPCA as a force to be reckoned with and attract even greater donations. They are also keen to seek out easy targets, and will routinely go after the elderly, the vulnerable, livestock owners and small animal protection leagues who the RSPCA consider competition for charitable donations.
In some instances they will seize an animal for the most trivial of reasons: dog was tied up, cat looked too thin, pet was ‘obese’, animal ‘appeared’ to be in distress – and then refuse to return the animal while they perform a lengthy investigation. Those animals that are seized and not returned, are nearly always destroyed by the RSPCA. In 2016 it was estimated that the RSPCA destroyed 53,000 animals – 44 per cent of those they took in – despite the fact they receive around £120 million each year in charitable donations.
Their profile as public prosecutor is so great that many people mistake them as a department of the police service. Hardly surprising when they dress their inspectors up in police-like uniforms, and give them ranks of “Chief Inspectors,” “Superintendent” and “Chief Superintendents.” But the RSPCA are not a police force. They do not have any statutory authority or powers of arrest. They cannot enter your home or land without your consent to inspect your pets or livestock. They cannot insist you answer questions or sign documents. They cannot issue fines or penalty notices. They cannot obtain warrants (not without the help of the police), nor can they detain you or insist you escort them to a venue of their choosing. What they can do is bring a private prosecution against anyone they suspect of having committed a criminal offence. A right that is open to us all, but few of us have the means to pursue.
The Animal Police at Your Door
The offence of animal cruelty largely arises from offences under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006:
4 Unnecessary suffering
(1) A person commits an offence if—
(a) an act of his, or a failure of his to act, causes an animal to suffer,
(b) he knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that the act, or failure to act, would have that effect or be likely to do so,
(c) the animal is a protected animal, and
(d) the suffering is unnecessary.
(2) A person commits an offence if—
(a) he is responsible for an animal,
(b) an act, or failure to act, of another person causes the animal to suffer,
(c) he permitted that to happen or failed to take such steps (whether by way of supervising the other person or otherwise) as were reasonable in all the circumstances to prevent that happening, and
(d) the suffering is unnecessary.
Nothing within that Act, or any other legislation, gives the RSPCA exclusive powers over that of the ordinary citizen.
If you are ever confronted by an RSPCA official on your doorstep you must remember that they are NOT law enforcement, they are a charity. They have no more right to force their way into your home to inspect your animals, then Oxfam do to force their way in to inspect your clothes. Don’t be intimidated by them and don’t listen to any of their threats. Just like TV Licensing, the vast majority of the RSPCA’s private prosecutions are brought due to admissions made on the doorstep by the very people they intend to prosecute.
RSPCA officers will routinely ask police officers to be in attendance in the hope that their presence will give the misleading impression that an arrest will be imminent if the property owner doesn’t comply. Even if they are accompanied by the police, you are under no obligation to allow them access to your property.
The police do have certain powers of entry under section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, in respect of offences relating to the prevention of harm to animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but they must have reasonable suspicion that such an offence is taking place. The mere allegation that an animal is being harmed on the premises is not reasonable suspicion, but the RSPCA will visit a property simply because an anonymous allegation has been made to their animal welfare hotline. Many of the calls to action that the RSPCA receive are malicious, trivial and exaggerated in a bid to punish the owner, rather than rescue an animal.
If you are in any doubt whether or not you must allow the police access, ask to see a warrant. If they don’t have one, ask them to clarify which authority gives them the power to force entry into your premises. If the police cannot articulate a reason or state the proper authority, they have no powers to enter. Any subsequent entry gained by threat of force, or actual force, would be unlawful, which would mean you could sue both the RSPCA and the police for trespass.
Never give the RSPCA or the police permission to enter your property and inspect your animals or livestock unless they have legal authority to do so. No matter how well you think you are caring for your animals, the RSPCA will have a very different attitude. They take allegations at face value and you will have a very tough time convincing them you have done no wrong, even it is plainly obvious that your animals are in good health. In some cases, the inspection officials will just assume you have the evidence well hidden and they will expand their search in the hope they will find something that will justify them being there. They are not on your side and they are not looking to exonerate you. Unlike the Crown Prosecution Service, the RSPCA do not have to ensure that a prosecution is in the public interest or that they stand a realistic prospect of conviction. The RSPCA routinely prosecute people without having the necessary evidence to secure a conviction, knowing that most people will plead guilty if it means escaping the onerous prospect of being dragged through the courts.
If the RSPCA arrive at your door, ask them why they are there. If you genuinely are causing harm to animals then the police (if they are in attendance) will have good grounds to enter your property by force. However if your pets or livestock are being properly cared for then you should be rightfully mistrustful of the RSPCA and the police. Do not speak with them and do not answer any of their questions. Close the door and seek legal advice.