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RSPCA criticised by judge for overstepping the mark

A judge in Truro County Court has restored a local man’s gun licences and criticised the actions of an RSPCA official and a police officer who had tried to force their way into his home.

Stephen Curnow, who runs a shoot near Crowlas in Cornwall, had his shotgun and firearms licences revoked after he was accused of aggressive behaviour when RSPCA inspector Michael Reid and Nick Hills, a constable with Devon and Cornwall Police, tried to enter his home.

Mr Reid had called PC Hills to assist him after being refused entry to investigate an anonymous report of mange in one of Mr Curnow’s dogs – a report that was later found to be untrue.

Mr Curnow again refused to let Mr Reid in, but in the words of the judge, he “would not take no for an answer”. PC Hills, who had no warrant for entry, produced, but did not use, his Taser.

Mr Curnow admitted having then told the constable to “piss off” but said he had not been aggressive towards him. He was arrested and, though he was later released without charge, his licences were revoked.

Upholding Mr Curnow’s appeal against the revocation, Judge Christopher Harvey Clarke QC said: “If he [Mr Curnow] did show anger, that anger was justified. It was a case of the RSPCA inspector going too far in trying to persuade the officer to force an entry for him.”

This latest case of judicial criticism of the RSPCA comes at a time when the charity’s policies on bringing prosecutions are being reviewed by former HM chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service Stephen Wooler. Mr Wooler’s appointment was prompted by the Attorney General late last year following a number of cases in which the RSPCA’s practices had been criticised.

Mr Wooler told the Daily Telegraph last week that he had yet to reach any conclusions, but that options to address the problem currently included removing the charity’s right to prosecute as well as investigate cases; limiting the amount of chargeable costs that could be claimed; and appointing an independent regulator to supervise the charity’s activities.

The RSPCA’s activities are currently regulated by the Charity Commission, which itself came in for criticism this week from MPs – a report by the cross-party Public Accounts Committee found that the Commission was not “fit for purpose”, that it used its enforcement powers too rarely, that it was failing to pinpoint and take action against misdeeds by charities, and that it “too willingly accepted” charities versions’ of events when looking into allegations of abuse.