Gavin Grant, the chief executive of the charity, admitted to a BBC investigation that there was “a link” between high-profile prosecutions and increased donations, but denied that court cases were used to increase income.
The RSPCA is the second-biggest prosecutor of criminal cases in England and Wales, after the Crown Prosecution Service. Unlike the CPS, which handles cases investigated by the police, the RSPCA acts as both investigator and prosecutor.
Jonathan Rich, a barrister who has defended people prosecuted by the RSPCA, said: “The RSPCA needs to stop prosecuting. It needs to put cases together and present them to the CPS.”
David Smith, a vet, said: “I can only think they are after publicity and they think they are going to get more money into the charity.”
In 2010, the RSPCA had 1.63 million calls to its cruelty hotline and secured 2,441 court convictions. By last year, convictions had risen to 4,168 despite calls remaining static. In the same period its charitable income rose from £101 million to £112 million, and the salary of its chief executive increased from about £105,000 (when he was the only member of staff earning more than £100,000) to about £155,000 (when he was one of four staff paid more than £100,000).
Mr Grant told Radio 4’s Face the Facts: “There is a link [between prosecutions and donations] in the sense that a large number of people applaud and are enthusiastic that the RSPCA is prepared to bring animal abusers to justice and are prepared to fund our work.”
But he denied that prosecutions were being used as a shop window for fundraising, saying: “They are a direct way of saying to people out there you should treat animals with compassion and respect.”
The Countryside Alliance has said the charity is becoming increasingly “militant” in its use of prosecutions, many of which were “politically motivated”, such as cases brought against hunt members. Barney White-Spunner, the alliance’s executive chairman, said: “Surely we have a Crown Prosecution Service precisely to prevent that sort of abuse?”
The BBC also claimed that the RSPCA tried to discredit defence witnesses. Mr Grant said there was “no place for smears or innuendo” in the charity.