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(Updated 02/02/01)

RSPCA seeks court ruling to exclude hunters

THE RSPCA claimed victory in its High Court battle last to prevent pro-hunt campaigners from joining the society and infiltrating its ranks, writes Nick Mays.

However, the Court advised the charity not to introduce its preferred method of excluding anyone it believed had suspicious motives, but to give them the opportunity to explain their reasons for joining.
The RSPCA sought guidance from the High Court to clarify its membership rules after deciding that it needed to block the influx of pro-hunting campaigners. It delayed confirming the memberships of around 600 potential new members who, it said, appeared to belong to the pro-hunt Countryside Animal Welfare Group.

The CAWG is chaired by the Olympic gold medallist equestrian Richard Meade, a member of the society since 1970. He was represented at the court hearing, together with two applicants whose membership had not been confirmed, to oppose the RSPCA move.

The society, which has opposed hunting with dogs since 1976, told Mr Justice Lightman that any infiltration campaign to bring about a change of the official policy was damaging. The judge said the society did have the right to exclude or remove members under its rules but to do so meant every case would have to go before the full 25-strong council.

Ironically, the society had consistently rebuffed any attempt to oppose hunting prior to the mid 1970s, but was itself ‘infiltrated’ by anti-field sports campaigners who assumed positions on the ruling council and within the grass roots ranks.

The RSPCA had asked the judge to approve a scheme allowing it to exclude anyone who fell within categories it thought indicated they were joining to promote hunting with dogs - without giving them a chance to deny this. But the judge said applicants must be given the chance to explain their motives “to meet the real risk of injustice arising from wrong categorisation”.

This would effectively prevent any ‘Star Chamber’ decisions by officers of the society.
One leading pro-hunter, who declined to be named said; “It’s quite amusing that the RSPCA cry ‘foul’ when things don’t go their way. It’s fine for anti-hunters to infiltrate their ranks some years ago, but not for pro-hunters to do it now. This is a clear case of ‘they don’t like it up ‘em!