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A BBC Panorama investigation into how the RSPCA is run sparked a strong response from the charity – before the programme had aired.

Journalist John Sweeney looked into allegations that the RSPCA had been heavy-handed and investigated the situation at the top of the charity in last night’s (3 August) show.

He met people involved with a small number of prosecution cases, former senior insiders who shared concerns about the charity’s governing council and barristers who claimed they had been singled out by the RSPCA.

The charity pre-empted the show with a strongly-worded statement. It claimed the allegations Panorama was set to broadcast “will not be a fair representation of the work we do or how we do it”.

On the programme, former director of RSPCA Wales Steve Carter said he thinks the charity is “not currently fit for purpose”.

“I think it stems from the background of council,” he said.

“I don’t think the governance process and structure has moved on much since the 1970s.”

Mr Sweeney met with people who accused the charity of being heavy-handed in prosecutions against them.

Explaining the charity’s prosecution record, Kevin Degenhard, RSPCA chief inspectorate officer from 2012-2015, told Panorama that anyone being investigated by the RSPCA has a less than one in 200 chance of being prosecuted.

“They are certainly not trigger happy,” he said. “Most of it is now dealt with in terms of advisory notices, warnings, in fact most of it is dealt with by a reasonable conversation on the doorstep giving reasonable advice.”

He added there are “rigorous evidential tests” that the RSPCA goes through when deciding whether to prosecute or not.

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Barrister Sara-Lise Howe, who has acted in defence in prosecutions brought by the RSPCA, claimed the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was warned she wanted to undermine RSPCA private prosecutions.

“I have no doubt that they have been targeting me,” she said. “I was just trying to do my best to represent my client, to get the court to look at the law.”

The RSPCA responded, saying the criticism about Ms Howe to the CPS was made in error and not at the charity’s request.

“The RSPCA fully respects and upholds the vital role played by defence lawyers in testing the prosecution’s case,” a charity spokesman told Panorama.

Former chief vet and former trustee Chris Lawrence said there are “fantastic staff who work incredibly hard”, but added he has “real concerns” about the way the RSPCA is being run.

The pre-emptive statement from the RSPCA said it does not accept the “intended portrayal” by Panorama, but is not “complacent about any aspect of the working or leadership of the organisation”.

“We’re committed to continually improving everything we do as an organisation because we know that is the best way to achieve our charitable objectives of helping animals and people,” it read.

Click here to watch the programme and here to read the RSPCA’s statement in full.

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