THOUSANDS OF fox hunting supporters have joined the RSPCA as part of an organised attempt to hijack the animal-welfare organisation's annual meeting this week. They want to use their numbers and voting power to force the RSPCA, which has been in favour of a hunting ban since 1976, to drop its opposition to blood sports.
The RSPCA, which has consulted lawyers about the blood sports infiltration, expects around 700 pro-hunting members to attend its AGM on Saturday. It believe the hunting lobby will outnumber ordinary RSPCA members by two to one.
Among those who have applied for tickets for the annual meeting in Leicester are several prominent masters of foxhounds as well as high-profile supporters of the pro-blood-sports lobby, including Baroness Mallalieu, Lord Mancroft and Olympic gold medal winning eventer, Richard Meade. They all belong to the Countryside Animal Welfare Group, an organisation headed by Mr Meade. It has 4,000 members and is linked to the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance.
The RSPCA's annual meeting usually attracts just 300 of its 51,000 members with full voting rights, who watch the distribution of awards - to the public for kindness to animals and to RSPCA inspectors for exemplary behaviour. But on Saturday the society will also vote on a motion asking for the Government to stop private members bills, such as those banning fur farming and fox hunting, from being blocked in Parliament by pro-hunting MPs.
The RSPCA council, which includes Celia Hammond, the 1960s model, has instructed security to remove anyone who disrupts Saturday's meeting.
"We are determined that we are going to have a civilised, constructive and well ordered AGM. Any one who causes any trouble will be asked to leave immediately," said a spokesman. "These people may have a right to attend the AGM because they are members but they will not be allowed to disrupt the legitimate business of the RSPCA."
MPs are so worried about the plot that they plan to table a motion condemning the hunting lobby's actions in Parliament this week.
The motion will be tabled by Michael Foster, MP for Hastings and Rye, whose private member's bill in November 1997 banning hunting gained a majority in the Commons but was talked out by opponents. "It's an appalling act to do this to an institution like the RSPCA which is loved by millions," he said. " To see it hijacked by people who enjoy chasing and killing animals is just perverse."
Ian Cawsey MP, Labour chairman of the Associate All Party Animal Welfare Group, also condemned the attempt to turn the RSPCA into a pro-blood sports body. "It will be a very perverse AGM of the RSPCA if it is full of pro- hunting people," he said. "The pro-hunting lobby are trying to buy influence because they can't win the argument. They are trying to use financial muscle because they have no intellectual muscle."
Infiltration of the Society has become so serious in the last few years that the RSPCA has spent thousands of pounds consulting lawyers and the Charity Commission about legal ways of expelling people who hunt.
A letter sent in February to hunt supporters on Countryside Alliance- headed paper asked them to "enrol five new members of the RSPCA". It included a pre-paid postcard, addressed to the Countryside Alliance, to confirm when the RSPCA application was made.
The letter from Richard Meade says "I wrote to you on the16th of December about the huge threat that all country sportsmen are facing from the RSPCA. We can only change the RSPCA from within, and in my letter I asked you to enrol five new members of the RSPCA. Many people have responded magnificently to this request ... For those of you who have not yet done so, I would like to reiterate the importance of this initiative. It is crucial that we succeed."
Mr Meade said of his approach to members asking them to attend the RSPCA's meeting: "We have written to all of them to say please turn up. It's a meeting where I think some of our supporters will speak," said Mr Meade. "I really admire the work of the RSPCA. But I think there are a lot of us who feel that their money should be spent on animal welfare and not campaigning on a political issue."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies