Sunday, 25 March 2012


A growing number of animal sanctuaries are closing due to an inability to cope with an increase in abandoned pets and growing bureaucratic pressure from the RSPCA.

For 27 years, Veronica and Rye Mepham ran an animal sanctuary taking in thousands of abandoned pets, injured wild animals and unwanted livestock.
Run from a smallholding near Benfleet, Essex, their centre was so well regarded it even provided owls for use in the Harry Potter films and squirrels for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
But their life's work came to an abrupt end after the RSPCA visited on a routine inspection and accused them of animal cruelty.
Although they denied all the charges, they did not have the resources for a costly court case. To their continuing anguish, they agreed to close down the sanctuary and get rid of all the animals, in exchange for the case being dropped.
Their experience highlights a growing divide in the animal welfare world.
On the one side are the small-scale animal sanctuaries – often run by couples, like the Mephams, on shoestring budgets and with rudimentary facilities.
On the other is the RSPCA, the country's leading animal charity, which handles more than a million phone calls a year from members of the public concerned about incidents of animal cruelty.
Both sides say they are driven solely by the desire to help animals. Yet they are increasingly coming into conflict about how best to achieve this aim, with a mounting number of sanctuaries closing under pressure from the RSPCA.
Most sanctuaries have an open-door policy and find it hard to turn away any animal in need – and in the economic downturn, with a rise in abandoned pets, they are seeing increasing numbers.
But the RSPCA believe this can all too easily lead to problems, as it becomes too difficult for sanctuary owners and volunteers to provide suitable care to their growing menageries – the cleaning, the health checks, the feeding and watering.

David Bowles, head of communications for the society, said: "There is a thin line between people wanting to do their best for animals and them getting into difficulties.
"When these places are set up, they get a reputation locally and get more people giving animals to them. Things can spiral out of control very quickly. That is when we tend to get called in.
"A lot of people may have run sanctuaries for a long time. They are getting old. They can no longer raise the funds that they used to raise. They can no longer feed the animals they used to feed."
He said the society was supportive of well-run sanctuaries, and tried to offer advice before taking firmer action. But that is not how the Mephams feel their case was handled.
The couple started with just a few sick animals but as their reputation grew they began to take in more and more.
When Mr Mepham received a redundancy payout from his job as a medical engineer, they used the money to set up their site. Later they moved into a mobile home on the smallholding to be near their animals.
At their peak, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the couple looked after around 200 creatures, including horses, pigs, owls, dogs, fox cubs, and squirrels – mainly handed in by the public.
Their clash with the RSPCA began in August 2010 when they were reported to the society by a council inspector. They were arrested and charged with 18 counts of "animal cruelty".
Among the allegations were that they kept a fox and fox cub in unsuitable conditions, failed to stop a duck from suffering preventable injury, and failed to give a wood pigeon adequate food and veterinary care.
But Mr Mepham, 66, said they could have defended themselves against all charges. "The foxes were in the on-site hospital, which was always clean and tidy, so I never understood what the RSPCA were complaining about.
"The duck came to us with the injury so I really can't see how we could have done anything to prevent it. We were merely trying to nurse it back to health. And with the wood pigeon, we fed and watered it in the evening, as we always do.

"Then the RSPCA came the next morning. They wouldn't allow us into the pens to feed or water the animals, so the fact that they were unfed was the RSPCA's fault."
He added: "It's a sanctuary, so the animals come to you when they are in a bad way. Of course you are going to find some that don't look very healthy. Our job is to restore them back to health. We don't put down the animals, unlike the RSPCA."
More than 1,000 people signed a petition in support of the couple and many offered witness statements to assist them, including their vet.
The couple were due to appear before magistrates last year but the charges were dropped before the trial, after the couple signed a legal agreement to shut down. All the animals had to be re-homed. The couple now have only five pet dogs.
Mrs Mepham, 72, a former funeral director, said: "The sanctuary has been our life for almost 30 years. We've put everything we have into it. We've been deeply traumatised and our health has even suffered because of it."
The lack of financial resources – either to take on the RSPCA in court, or to meet its demands for changes – is a common reason given by sanctuaries closing down.
Dawn Critchlow, 44, last year shut the "Animal Haven" sanctuary, in Sheffield, which she had run for 22 years and which looked after dozens of dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, rabbits and guinea pigs.
When RSPCA inspectors told her she needed new kennels costing £12,000, she felt she had no choice.
"The RSPCA offered no help whatsoever. You would think they would want to support little organisations like this one. Everything we do is for the animals, not for ourselves. It broke my heart having to give up but there was no other way," she said.
But Mr Bowles said: "If you are running a sanctuary, like any business, you have to have the money to make sure it is operating properly and to the standards demanded by the [animal welfare] legislation.
"If some of these places do not see themselves as businesses then that may be the issue. They may just be animal lovers who have taken on more than they can handle."
In some cases, animals have been seized from sanctuaries and later destroyed by the RSPCA.

Three dogs – Stocking, Diesel and Clarke – were put down by vets accompanying RSPCA officers in a raid on the Rosedene Animal Rescue Centre, in Walsall, last year.
The animals were deemed to be too aggressive – a claim which was strongly contested by volunteers from the centre who regularly walked them.
Around 1,000 people joined an internet campaign in support of the centre, which looked after around 25 dogs, and it eventually reopened after the council returned its license.
Currently, anyone can set up a sanctuary and there are no regulatory checks. The RSPCA wants sanctuaries to have clear policies on their capacity, accommodation, staffing levels and staff-to-animal ratios.
Partly in response to these difficulties being faced by sanctuaries, a new organisation is being set up, to represent their interests: the Federation of British Animal Sanctuaries.
Sue Burton, who runs a horse sanctuary in Essex and is behind the new group, said she would endorse a "measured tightening up" in the rules, but warned: "The RSPCA need to understand that the smaller sanctuaries do not have millions of pounds in their bank accounts but work hand to mouth - so any changes need to be reachable targets.
"This is about sanctuaries getting together to help each other out. There is no one speaking for them with a powerful voice and that is the idea behind the federation. Centres need advice and help on the law."

While there is no register of sanctuaries, it is thought their number could extend into the thousands.
John Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley, said he would investigate the emerging threat to sanctuaries.
He said: "The RSPCA don't seem to care about killing animals, but they do care if they are overcrowded.
"Sanctuary owners are animal lovers who don't like the idea of stray animals. Most are very responsible and simply want to look after animals."

  • Commenter's avatar
    From it looks like the RSPCA ethanization (kill) count for dogs is 50% of ones adopted out, and in the case of cats they "manage" to adopt out 3 times as many as they kill. Whoop-de-doo!
    Page 19 - consolidated financials - makes interesting reading too. And they spend nearly as much on prosecutions as they do on Animal Centers!
    The amount for "Inspectorate" is horrifying - $31 MILLION.
  • Commenter's avatar
    The RSPCA are becoming increasingly fanatical. They seem to relish pursuing well meaning people who have fallen short in some (often trivial) way. Going after animal sanctuaries like this seems to be more about wiping out competition than animal welfare. I used to donate but never again.
  • Commenter's avatar
    A friend is a veterinary nurse whose practice now tries to have as few dealings as possible with the RSPCA as they're utterly unhelpful.
    One starts to wonder what the RSPCA is useful for, as it seems more interested in making life hell for people than in helping animals. I now refuse to give them a penny and would much sooner support sanctuaries run by people who genuinely care for animals.
  • Commenter's avatar
    26 minutes ago
    I can only echo your comments. My wife is involved with animal rescue - she shares your disdain for the RSPCA. Bureaucratic and unhelpful at best, obstructive at worst.
  • Commenter's avatar
    52 minutes ago
    When you say " All the animals had to be re-homed", no doubt you mean, re-homed by the RSPCA in the cold, cold ground!
  • Commenter's avatar
    RSPCA, RSPB-too much say , too much power, too much eye on membership income. Hypocrites all.
  • Commenter's avatar
    The RSPCA should lose its charitable status and also its quasi legal status and be replaced by an arm of the police and the governments vets. officers. They are quite right to draw attention to the shambles of many so called sanctuaries-those who claim to love animals are often the least suited to to look after them correctly. But the RSPCA has failed to address the real problem and that is unfettered pet ownership. They and animal rights organisations have consistently targeted cages and penning in farming yet have failed to call for a ban on keeping caged rabbits, birds and reptiles or for a dog licence with compulsory tagging and insurance, or for a licence to keep a horse with proof of suitable accommodation. Farm animals have birth to slaughter paperwork, horses now have paperwork incase they enter the food chain,but any fool can buy one and keep it on dog biscuits in a back garden.
    I have long doubted the training and expertise of RSPCA inspectors and wondered about the objectivity of directly employed RSPCA vets.
  • Commenter's avatar
    Today 10:33 AM
    Adequate food and veterinary care are mentioned here.This goes without saying, but whether this is really possible, is another thing. Both can be very expensive, particularly the latter.
    Sanctuaries, let alone those who have domestic pets all have to face these continually rising costs. Frankly, I don't know how they continue to do it. As a family we had dogs and cats as family pets in the past and even then Vets bills could be high - but not as high as now - and then there were more affordable insurance plans. Now, we would really think very carefully about taking on such a commitment again. It's a pity, we would love to take on another pet but it is a long term commitment - very long, in some cases.
  • Commenter's avatar
    The RSPCA shelter on the Wirral was begging for money or it had to close down yet they have millions in the bank to fight small sancturies.I have given up giving to the stasi RSPCA.
    They are too fond of the money and getting people to court yet happily put down thousands of animals every year.
    It is all about money now.
  • Commenter's avatar
    Today 10:39 AM
    I've just noticed your comment, some friends of ours were going to leave some money to the same organization but have now decided not to, for similar reasons as your own.
  • Commenter's avatar
    The RSPCSA used to be a good organisation but for several years now has been a politically motivated campaigning outfit with no regard for animals - in fact animals are really just the tool they use to extract money from a well-intentioned but gullible public.
    If anything should close down it is the RSPCA - but perhaps for a start they should be stripped of the "Royal" part.
  • Commenter's avatar
    Today 09:26 AM
    Another shower of self appointed know better than everyone else pc jobsworths.
    Tell them to f-off, all they see are others doing their job for them and doing it better and at no cost.
    Therein lies the problem with the UK, useless expensive quangos,run by useless expensive jobsworths of no use to society with their own pc objectives and a barrefull of spite and vindictiveness.
    Note i no longer give to this charity lke many more people because of their twisted logic and large salaried senior staff
  • Commenter's avatar
    The RSPCA has overstepped it's mark. They are only interested in big personal bank accounts. Instead of critizing the small sanctuaries why don't they help out a bit more? They also seem to have a high kill rate of animals in their care for the merest of reasons.
    It's an excellent idea for all the small sanctuaries to get together under one umbrella and try to regulate their businesses.
    We should give more support to these small sanctuaries who do so much for needy animals without thinking of fat salaries.
    Shame on the big animal charities.
  • Commenter's avatar
    "Big personal bank accounts". Indeed it would be interesting to know the levels of remuneration for executives in the RSPCA. I would bet that some at least are on six figure salaries.
  • Commenter's avatar
    When the RSPCA condemn animal shelters what exactly are the problems they are seeing? A few rough buildings, maybe? What would the animals use as shelters in the wild? Perhaps old pottery bowls used for food and water instead of stainless steel? Again, what would the food come in in the wild?
    Veterinary treatment is available at these shelters. Many vets reduce their charges in cases like this. That's more than would be available in the wild where the animals may well suffer a slow, painful death.
    Yes, of course animal rescuers should provide good conditions, and most do to the best of their ability. Much of the daily care is done by volunteers, not well paid RSPCA officials in their nice uniforms no doubt paid for out of our contributions. What I find worrying in this report is that the RSPCA didn't take into account the word of the independant witnesses that the rescued animals were being well cared for, and that in another case the council saw fit to relicense one refuge, so they obviously believed the owners were capable of doing a good job in spite of what the RSPCA said.
    The RSPCA rehome a lot of animals with refuges. They have some nice facilities of their own, too, but then they are a huge organisation which is well publicised nationally and they get a lot of money from the public. They still euthanise a lot of healthy animals every year though.
  • Commenter's avatar
    Today 09:08 AM
    The RSPCA, RSPB, WWF and others have lost their original sense of purpose. They now appear to be run for the personal ambition of a highly paid few, whose sense of self worth is only satisfied by the expansion of bureaucracy and power. They know best in all matters and must use this knowledge to dictate what is good for the rest of us.
  • Commenter's avatar
    Today 08:33 AM
    When did the RSPCA acquire these draconian powers?
    I can see that animal sanctuaries could easily become overwhelmed, but how on earth have we reached the stage where a charity has become an arm of the government?
    Personally, I stopped giving money to the RSPCA years ago, as I disliked their dictatorial attitude, but I hadn't realised they'd become bad.

Thursday, 15 March 2012



What law allows individuals employed by the RSPCA to use Police facilities - Custody suite, holding cells, interview rooms - and participate in interviews - and often effectively run the interview?
This question has been raised with Police officers ranging from Constable to Chief Constable, Solicitors, Barristers and QC's - but none have been able to answer the question witha definitive law.

Thoughts and comments please.

Also, bear in mind that one Chief Constable, unable to answer the question satisfactorily, has withdrawn usage of Police facilities from the RSPCA.
I know that the rabid bunny huggers on the site will be up in arms that I have the temerity to question the legality of the actions of their favourite charity - but I consider it is a fair legal question.           
Of course, and I agree that it's important that officers at least have a basic understanding of it. My issue is not with the prosecuting of offenders, and I have no issue with the RSPCA launching private prosecutions, as that is their right. I just don't think that the RSPCA should have a monopoly created by their apparent official status (which doesn't actually exist), aided by the fact that public organisations such as the police allow them to utilise their facilities. If someone from Wildlife Aid (for example) wanted to conduct an interview with a suspect in a police station that you had arrested for an animal cruelty offence, would you (or your force) allow them to?

I respect your opinion (although I don't agree with it) with regard to the officer, and I suppose the very fact that the prosecution was presumably successful disproves my public interest argument. With regard to leaving dogs in cars, I rescued a dehydrated dog from a car once and called the RSPCA for assistance, and they weren't in the slightest bit interested in coming out to collect the dog (let alone deal with the offender).

The RSPCA are not a public body and are therefore unaccountable, I just really feel that the use of police facilities adds to an air of 'they're official', when the fact is they are not. I'm sure the individual RSPCA inspectors work hard and do their best, but I think the organisation as a whole could do a lot better.   

"In answer to your point about the police having the power to interview a suspect, they do have that power, and that's why they can arrest people, for prompt and effective investigation of the offence (so they can carry out a tape recorded interview). Also how they interview is governed by PACE codes of conduct. Police staff who carry out interviews are working on behalf of the police force, not some private enterprise such as the RSPCA, and also have specific powers such as the power to make secondary arrests (in a police station) should further offences come to light. "

The problem that I am trying to find an answer to is what law enables the RSPCA employees to not only attend interviews in Police Staions, but to actually take over the interview. have seen numerous transcripts and listened to tapes where not only are the RSPCA present but actually conductiing the interview.
I have no problems with a Police Officer interviewing someone in a Police Staion Interview room under caution and the interview taped - they have full legal entitlement to do so enshrined in law - but there does not appear to be any comment within English (& Welsh) Law that allows a Charity employees to utilise the facilities of a Police Station (Custody Suite, Holding cells and Interview Room) for the use of their own Private Prosecutions. In the absence of any law specifically allowing them the use of the facilities then the presence of any civilian not employed by the Police Force in an interview room and interviewing a suspect should be deemed to be illegal.         

Monday, 12 March 2012


Wednesday, 7 March 2012



I first had my doubts about the RSPCA when I was visiting one of their centres, Millbrook Farm, in Chobham, Surrey. In 2008, the centre had taken in five of the 111 horses rescued from the notorious Spindles Farm – where a further 32 were found dead in the most appalling conditions.
It was my job to report on how brilliantly the horses and ponies had recovered from their ordeal, but I couldn’t help but wonder why the RSPCA had taken so long to intervene. It turned out there were numerous staff to look after just these five horses. Plans were afoot to build a brand new stable block, when to me the one already there looked immaculate.

Last year, while looking round a farm that was up for sale, I came across two collies in a cage. They had no bedding, not much space and were sitting in their own excrement. Their water was green and slimy. When I got home, I called the RSPCA. They promised an officer would inspect the farm and call me back. No officer ever did call me.

 A friend then told me how a young boy had reported a Staffie pup being kicked by a soldier, watched by his Army mates. The boy called the RSPCA, but they refused to take the puppy away. I think the soldiers should have been court-martialled, ‘heroes’ or not.
Only last week, I got an email from a lady called Barbara: ‘An 82-year-old friend went into hospital. Her son was supposed to look after her six cats but he didn’t turn up. I told the RSPCA but they weren’t interested.’
Before that, at the end of January, I received a letter from Margaret in Hayes, Middlesex. She said she had called the RSPCA emergency helpline on nine occasions – reporting that her neighbour was beating and torturing his dog in sessions that lasted for between 30 and 40 minutes.
Another neighbour also called the RSPCA four times.
Distressing: The RSPCA never called back after a report of two collies sitting in their own excrement inside a cage on a farm (file picture)
Distressing: The RSPCA never called back after a report of two collies sitting in their own excrement inside a cage on a farm (file picture)

Margaret said this man beat his small dog with a stick and a metal rod, then held him down by his neck and repeatedly punched him. ‘I could hear him grunting with the effort he was putting into each punch!’ she later wrote in a letter of complaint to RSPCA customer services. She told me that, despite her calls, nothing happened.
Finally, she rang the police. She said their attitude was very different, showing compassion and a willingness to help. They listened, but said the only people empowered to deal with the complaint were . . . officers from the RSPCA. The police called the RSPCA on her behalf and received the same daft questions: ‘Where were the punches landing?’ and ‘Were bruises visible?’
The RSPCA took three-and-a-half months to finally respond to the call for help and unfortunately, by then, the dog had disappeared and another met a similar fate. Which makes me wonder how the charity is spending its money: £115,288,000 was donated in 2010, the latest figure available. In the South East region there are only six officers in total.

Ill-treatment: The RSPCA took in some of the 111 neglected horses rescued from the notorious Spindles Farm, pictured, but it took time for them to intervene
Ill-treatment: The RSPCA took in some of the 111 neglected horses rescued from the notorious Spindles Farm, pictured, but it took time for them to intervene

While much is made of the salaries of our top bankers, I wonder what salary the new chief executive, Gavin Grant, is on (the chief press officer wouldn’t tell me). I hate giving animal charities a bad press because most of them don’t deserve it.
There was a report in the papers recently accusing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in the US of putting to sleep ‘more than 95 per cent of adoptable dogs and cats last year’. PETA tells me it releases its euthanasia figures every year to draw attention to the animal population crisis. Most of the animals it accepts (it is not a rehoming centre) are severely injured, aggressive or otherwise unadoptable. It is a shelter of last resort.

Ignored reports: The RSPCA did not save a puppy that was being kicked by soldiers in the Army and they 'weren't interested' in six abandoned cats

But this story was seized on, attributed to research done by the Center for Consumer Freedom. What the news stories failed to mention was that the CCF is funded in part by Kentucky Fried Chicken, Outback Steakhouse and cattle ranchers. All were keen to smear an animal-rights group that had, in 2004, exposed the awful abuse of chickens, with rogue workers at KFC supplier Pilgrim’s Pride slamming them against walls and using them as footballs. But mud sticks, unfortunately.
When I phoned the RSPCA about the collies and Staffie pup, they said they would investigate. We shall see. But Barbara and Margaret who, from their correspondence with me, seem meticulous and caring members of the public, were not offered anything, not even a piece of advice on the telephone.
So, yes, I could hold back from criticising the RSPCA, as at least they do something to help animals. But on behalf of every little old lady who picks up the phone over an animal in distress, or donates some of her pension each week, or leaves behind a legacy in her will, I really do feel it could do an awful lot better.


ANIMAL welfare activists swarmed to the RSPCA headquarters in Southwater last week to ‘express dissatisfaction’ at the Freedom Foods scheme.

Campaigners known as the Essex Animal Defenders donned chicken outfits and wielded dead pig signs outside the Wilberforce Way office on Friday morning.
The group have scrutinised the scheme - a farm assurance and food labelling initiative focusing on improving the welfare of farm animals reared for food - and argue reared animals have been subjected to poor conditions. It follows the release of secret footage last year allegedly showing cruelty to animals at Cheale Meats abattoir.
Protesters had the opportunity to put their concerns to the chief executive of the RSPCA Gavin Grant. A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said: “Gavin Grant was happy to meet with members of Essex Animal Defenders and listen to their concerns as we share a lot of common ground in other areas of animal welfare.
“Just like Essex Animal Defenders the RSPCA was shocked and appalled by the footage filmed at Cheale Meats abattoir last year. The abattoir was suspended from the RSPCA’s Freedom Food scheme immediately. Cheale Meats re-joined the Freedom Food scheme following a very rigorous reassessment process in which it had to demonstrate that previous animal welfare failings had been addressed.
“The abattoir has been monitored closely by both the RSPCA and Freedom Food since being readmitted to the scheme. It has already undergone an extra three unannounced visits by RSPCA staff. Any breaches of the RSPCA welfare standards will lead to immediate action being taken.”


A farmer targeted by animal rights activists has been found dead days after evidence of horrific cruelty on his farm was revealed.

Stephen Brown, 52, is believed to have shot himself in a field after saying he was ‘absolutely gutted’ about the shocking exposé.

An undercover animal rights activist secretly filmed a worker on his Norfolk farm beating a pig to death with an iron bar, kicking piglets and smashing a live animal’s head on to a concrete floor.

Still photographs showed a worker aiming a powerful rifle at a sow and the apparently lifeless body in its pen.

The RSPCA described it as one of the worst cases of animal abuse it had seen and launched its own investigation after the secret footage was released by campaign group Animal Equality last weekend, and welfare and standards group Red Tractor suspended the farm from its quality assurance scheme.

There was no suggestion that Mr Brown was directly involved in the cruelty, but the film included footage of apparent long-term neglect and showed animals with large open sores and festering wounds.
Mr Brown gave an emotional interview to the BBC on Monday in which he said he was hit ‘very hard’ by the film, but claimed it had been ‘dramatised’.

He and his wife Fiona had been due to take their two daughters on a half-term ski trip but cancelled it after the video was released.