The RSPCA’s only pending prosecution of a hunt was dropped yesterday (Wednesday 18 March) due to lack of evidence.
Will Bryer, master and huntsman of the Cattistock Hunt in Dorset, had been charged with one offence of hunting a fox with dogs. The incident was alleged to have taken place on 2 December 2014.
A hearing was due to take place at Weymouth Magistrates Court on Friday (20 March).
However, the RSPCA has written to Mr Bryer’s solicitor Jamie Foster, stating it would not be pursuing the prosecution as there is no evidence on which they could legitimately continue.
The RSPCA had initially relied on video evidence collected as part of a covert surveillance operation by another animal rights group, the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
“In the 10 years since the Hunting Act came into force no one involved with the Cattistock Hunt has been convicted of breaking the law,” said Mr Bryer.”I am very pleased that the RSPCA has finally seen sense and dropped the case against me, but there was never any justification for it in the first place.”
Last year an independent review into the RSPCA’s policy suggested that the charity needed to consider the significant costs of mounting such prosecutions.
The report, carried out by former chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Stephen Wooler, made 33 recommendations on the charity’s investigation and prosecution activity.
It advised that the RSPCA should continue its role as prosecuting body, but the organisation accepted it needed to adapt its approach to law enforcement.
One of the criticisms levelled at the RSPCA was the amount of money spent on prosecutions under the Hunting Act.
Tim Bonner, director of campaigns for the Countryside Alliance (CA), added: “This was the only outstanding prosecution of a hunt by the RSPCA and we hope it will be the last time the charity involves itself in such a case.
“There is a clear conflict of interest in a political campaigning organisation bringing prosecutions of this sort and the RSPCA should take the advice of its own independent reviewer and leave such allegations to be independently considered by the police and CPS.”
CA’s figures show that in 2013 — the last year the RSPCA carried out prosecutions of hunts before this case — 79% of the summonses issued by the RSPCA against hunt staff and supporters failed, costing more than £100,000 of tax payers’ money.