In the aftermath of the RSPCA's successful private prosecution of the Cotswolds' Heythrop Hunt – which saw an entire hunt charged, for the first time, and two prominent members also fined – the charity has come in for quite a drubbing. It is time, then, for a show of support.
First come accusations of political motivation, on account of the Heythrop being David Cameron's local hunt and the Government having backed off from the Tory-promised free vote on a repeal of the ban. The RSPCA denies the allegation, claiming – entirely reasonably – that the hundreds of hours of video footage constituted compelling evidence of illegal hunting with dogs. On several counts, the court agreed. Moreover, the charge of playing politics is one that cuts both ways; after all, one of the fined Heythrop huntsmen is now considering taking the matter to the Prime Minister, in the latter's role as local MP.
But the censure does not end there. The charity has also been sharply criticised on the grounds of cost. Indeed, no less a figure than the presiding judge himself (rather ill-advisedly) described the RSPCA's £330,000 outlay on the case as "staggering".
Why, the argument runs, should donations made by the public for the purposes of ensuring animal welfare be used to pursue high-profile law suits? Why, indeed. After all, the hunting ban has been in place for nearly eight years now. It should hardly need a private prosecution to enforce the legislation. Yet the RSPCA's recent success can only suggest that, whether from lack of resources or lack of interest, traditional enforcement channels are not proving wholly effective.
The simple fact is that the Heythrop Hunt has been breaking the law. No amount of smearing or sneering will change that. Full marks to the RSPCA.