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Viewpoint: Charities

The filming or photographing of children without their parents’ permission is a big no-no. This is understandable, even if it does seem a bit over-the-top at times, such as when you find you cannot video your own child at the school pantomime. I suppose we have all heard of instances where the law (or rather, the interpretation of it) seems to have taken leave of its senses.

Given this, I was appalled to read in The Sunday Times that the League Against Cruel Sports has a film of a three-year-old kicking a football in the vicinity of a dead stag and allegedly uses this footage against the wishes of the child’s parents.

The League happens to be a registered charity. You might have thought that the Charity Commission, which is supposed to police charities, would come down like a ton of bricks on this sort of thing. But apparently it does not.

I find this sadly predictable. One of the core functions of the Charity Commission is to ensure that public confidence in charitable status is not undermined by the behaviour of any registered charity. Yet, time and again, we fi nd that the Commission seems to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to animal rights.

Thus it took no effective action against the RSPCA, even when that charity was caught using inflammatory language about boycotting farmers who allowed pilot badger-culls on their land. The widespread examples of arguably inappropriate behaviour on this and other topics seem to count for little with the Commission.

Nor does it take any interest in animal rights group Animal Aid, which is not a charity but says it acts like a charity in some respects. I am not accusing Animal Aid of deliberately misleading the public. However, I am fairly sure that some folk who donate money to its causes believe they are entrusting their hard-earned dosh to a charity. This is not surprising, given that some newspapers — the Guardian is a prime example — sometimes assume that Animal Aid is a charity. You would have thought that the Charity Commission would be interested in ensuring there is no room for confusion.

The Badger Trust, on the other hand, most certainly is a registered charity, but look on its website and you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled on a hard-core animal rights organisation. For example, take the legal statement it carries about the injunction obtained by the National Farmers Union against “persons unknown” who might try to harass farming families in their own homes. The statement includes the following words of advice to badger cull protesters:

“The police do not enforce injunctions. The police deal with the criminal law. An injunction is a civil matter.” “Using ordinary rights of way, footpaths, tracks, walking up someone’s path are perfectly acceptable. In addition, if someone walks on land without permission in almost every case no enforcement action would be taken unless a person refused to leave when asked.”

“If a badger patrol takes ordinary photographs and is concerned about unlawful culling and passes these to the police there will be no criticism and no breach of an injunction.”

To get a full sense of the advice you’d have to read the entire statement, available on the Badger Trust’s website. You must decide for yourself what you think of the lawyer’s carefully crafted phrases. I am not saying they amount to anything like incitement — far from it, the purpose appears to be to prevent protesters from falling foul of the injunction. I merely note the Badger Trust does not seem to be acting in a kindly or tolerant fashion towards hardpressed farming families who see legal badger culling as the only way of safeguarding their livelihoods. Charities, it seems, are not always particularly charitable.

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