The RSPCA is being accused of pursuing a political agenda after launching an unprecedented prosecution against the Heythrop.

The animal charity has long spent large sums campaigning against hunting, but now – in a case that is expected to cost over £1million – it has issued summons on 52 charges against four officers of the hunt.

The Heythrop as a whole has also been summonsed to face 10 charges – the first time this has happened since the ban came into force in 2005.

Those charged – in relation to alleged incidents in the 2011-12 season – are recently retired senior master Richard Sumner, joint-master Nessie Lambert, kennel-huntsman Julian Barnfield and whipper-in Duncan Hume.

Mr Barnfield is already being prosecuted by the RSPCA on two charges relating to the 2010-11 season. They all deny the charges.

Tim Bonner, campaigns director of the Countryside Alliance, told H&H that the case was an “abuse of the court system“.

“It should be for the police to investigate alleged crimes and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring cases – not for campaigning organisations to use the courts to make political points,” he said.

The Heythrop is the only pack hunting in the Prime Minister’s constituency.

Mr Bonner added: “The expenditure of such huge sums of money on a political campaign by a registered charity – especially one that is claiming to be at ‘breaking point’ [financially] – is highly questionable.”

The RSPCA is currently consulting on 130 redundancies.

A spokesman for the charity defended its actions.

“Any agency can bring a prosecution,” she said. “It just happens that we have been provided with the evidence on this one and have taken the decision to prosecute.”

Nessie Lambert told H&H that the hunt “firmly rejected” the allegations.

“We are amazed that the RSPCA has the staffing, money and time to pursue what is clearly a politically motivated campaign against a hunt that happens to operate within David Cameron’s constituency,” she added.

This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (10 May 2012)