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Sharpshooter: The RSPCA

The Times recently broke a story revealing that the RSPCA had been demanding the confidential details of badger cull pilots at the same time that the charity’s chief executive was openly denigrating the people involved.

Credit must go to NFU Wales for exposing this fascinating insight into the RSPCA’s behind-the-scenes activity through a Freedom of Information Act request to DEFRA. The results showed that as the time for the pilot culls approached, RSPCA boss Gavin Grant repeatedly wrote to environment secretary Owen Paterson asking for all sorts of details. According to The Times, Grant claimed that the RSPCA should be treated differently because it had “a uniformed inspectorate… providing first responders to emergency calls from the public reporting animals in distress.”

Grant certainly has a brass neck, doesn’t he? I wonder if his organisation mounts special “wounded rat patrols” when the local pest controllers are tackling an infestation of those highly sentient mammals…

In his self-righteous quest for details, Grant tried every angle — even deploying my favourite: health and safety. On 22 August last year, Grant demanded to know the location and timing of the pilot culls. “As an organisation with major operational activities within the proposed cull zones, there is a health and safety concern for our staff operation in those areas and in those times,” he claimed. He needed this highly confidential information because his workers had “to conduct themselves appropriately to mitigate any risks of injury to the public or themselves, for example, being shot.”

In response, NFU Wales pointed out that the culling of foxes and deer manages to go on in the countryside all the time, without any need for the RSPCA to be given privileged access to confidential information.

Lest we forget, Grant was the amiable, tolerant charity worker who, when interviewed on the Panorama TV programme in 2012, said: “The spotlight of attention will be turned on those marksmen and on those who give permission for the cull to take place. They will be named and we will decide as citizens of this country whether they will be shamed.”

The NFU Wales’s Freedom of Information Act spotlight has revealed that the RSPCA accused the environment secretary of putting the charity’s inspectors at risk, writing: “It would be inappropriate and dangerous for the cull to start while this information has not been provided.”

You do have to wonder how life would be for the people involved in the cull if animal rights activists obtained their identifying details, but don’t worry, the RSPCA won’t tell. We know this because the RSPCA gave assurances that “the information would not be shared beyond staff who needed to know it to ensure their safety”. By coincidence, on the same day that this particular letter was written, the NFU won a High Court injunction preventing protests close to the homes or businesses of anybody involved in the cull.

The irony, as the NFU has been quick to point out, is that when the pilot culls were first planned, the government invited the RSPCA to monitor the pilots, but the organisation flatly refused. In response to the revelations, an RSPCA spokesman has claimed that the organisation felt that its presence could have been seen by some as endorsing the culls, and in any case, the badger cull was different in scale and intensity to other culling.

You can make of all this what you will. My own personal opinion is that the RSPCA has been exposed, yet again, as a charity with a distinctly nasty side. We can all agree that most of its frontline staff do excellent, worthwhile work. But as I have said before, the officer class of the RSPCA is out of step with the decent majority and appear to exploit the charity’s status in pursuit of a hardline agenda.

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