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RSPCA summoned to meet head of charity watchdog after controversial David Cameron hunt prosecution
Senior figures at the RSPCA have been summoned to see the charity watchdog to defend their decision to spend £326,000 on prosecuting David Cameron’s local hunt, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
The RSPCA was reported to the Charity Commission by MPs and peers last month for controversially funding the successful prosecution against the Heythrop Hunt. Mr Cameron is a local MP in the area where the Heythrop hunts.
Now it has emerged that the charity's senior executives have been called in by William Shawcross, the Commission's chairman, for "an early meeting" to discuss its "prosecutions in general and the case in particular".
The hunt and its members were fined £6,800 after admitting four charges of unlawfully hunting a wild fox with dogs last month.
But District Judge Tim Pattinson drew attention to the fact that the cost of the private prosecution was nearly ten times more than the defence costs of £35,000.
The group, which included Lord Heseltine and Tory MP Simon Hart, reported the RSPCA’s 18 trustees to the Commission for breaching a “duty of prudence” which governs the actions of all charity trustees under charity legislation.
They told the watchdog that they had “concerns about the motivation for bringing this prosecution” and questioned why the RSPCA engaged three barristers as well as firm of specialist insurance solicitors when it had its own in-house legal team.
In a reply to the letter sent on Tuesday this week, Mr Shawcross said: “Given the concerns raised by the judge, by yourselves and by others, we are seeking an early meeting with the RSPCA to discuss their approach to prosecutions in general and to this case in particular.”
He continued: “The RSPCA is an independent charity and has a long history of bringing prosecutions in furtherance of its purposes. This is permitted under the charity’s governing document.
“In carrying out their duties, all charity trustees must act reasonably, in the best interests of their charity and in accordance with its aims and purposes.
“When considering prosecutions, trustees must always consider whether bringing a prosecution is a reasonable and effective use of the charity’s resources, what are the prospects of success and whether the public interest is served.
“The exercise of the duty of prudence, to which you refer in your letter, embodies all the responsibilities of trustees.
“So long as trustees act in accordance with these requirements, their decisions would not normally be a matter of regulatory intervention by the Commission.”
The “duty of prudence” is a duty to conserve the property of the trust. It is not a duty set out in the Charities Act 2006 or any other statute, but reflects principles defined through cases dealt within the courts.
Last night Mr Hart, who is a former chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “I am pleased the Charity Commission is treating this with the seriousness that it deserves.
“Our complaint has never been about how the RSPCA behaves but how it exercises its powers.”
Mr Hart said he was planning to organise a Commons debate examining the RSPCA’s prosecutorial role and its political and commercial objectives.
Last night a spokesman for the RSPCA said: "They (the Charity Commission) are not investigating the RSPCA, nor do they have regulatory concerns about our work."