'Rumpole' comes out of retirement to defend Olympian in RSPCA case

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The Independent Online

The author and retired barrister Sir John Mortimer will return to the law for one last case tomorrow when the RSPCA attempts to expel the Olympic equestrian Richard Meade from its membership.

Sir John, 78, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey and a supporter of fox hunting, has drafted a defence for Mr Meade, who is alleged by the animal welfare organisation to have orchestrated a campaign to overturn the society's policy on blood sports.

Sir John retired from the law 14 years ago after a career that included representing the publisher Richard Neville in the 1971 Oz obscenity trial. His last case was defending a Singapore politician accused of misusing party funds. The Meade case is his first since he decided to hang up his wig and gown to concentrate on writing.

The private hearing in south London at which Mr Meade's case will be considered follows a High Court ruling last year that gave the RSPCA discretion to veto applications for membership that the society believed to be part of an "infiltration campaign". Mr Meade will also be represented by a barrister from the chambers of Cherie Booth QC.

In April the society announced it had rejected 500 of 600 applications that had been held in abeyance after the court's ruling. Supporters of blood sports claim this amounts to a "postcode selection policy" as most of those rejected lived in the country.

Sir John said the thrust of Mr Meade's defence would say: "People who take part in country sports know more about animals than urban animal welfare rights people. Richard Meade is a three-time Olympic medallist and the RSPCA should be proud to have him."

He said his written defence, for which he was not being paid, "represented a note of sanity" in the whole affair.

Sir John said that because of his age, the barrister Hugh Tomlinson, a close friend of George Carman QC, who died earlier this year, would perform the advocacy. He doubted whether anything again could "induce me to put on my wig".

The society argues that pro-hunting groups have tried to infiltrate the RSPCA as part of a "campaign to preserve hunting with dogs rather than to promote animal welfare".

Yesterday the RSPCA declined to discuss tomorrow's meeting of its ruling council, which will hear the case against Mr Meade. But in April when the society decided to refuse 500 applications, its chairman, Malcolm Phipps, said: "The RSPCA is a democratic organisation but clearly concerted efforts to join the society for any overriding reason other than animal welfare makes a mockery of this democracy."

After the High Court's decision 600 new applicants were asked to supply further information to show that they were not part of the campaign or their applications would be refused. According to the society most failed to reply.

Mr Meade, a former member of the RSPCA council, left in 1976 after the organisation voted to oppose hunting with hounds.

He rejoined the organisation in the 1990s and is one of the society's most prominent supporters. He won gold medals in three-day eventing at the 1968 Games in Mexico City and the 1972 Olympics in Munich.