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RSPCA targeted by hunt activists

PRO-HUNTING activists are being told to step up protests against the RSPCA and to concentrate on board members and executive officers of the charity in the fight to save their sport and livelihoods.

The order to focus on one of the country's most respected animal welfare charities appears on a new website set up by hardliners in the hunting community known as Real Country Action (RCA).

The RCA is angry that the RSPCA has played a leading role in the anti-hunt campaign and many are even lobbying the Charity Commissioners for it to lose its charitable status, on the grounds that, as a Charity, the Society should not be taking such a political stance on the issue. This will not be the first time that the RSPCA has been referred to the Charity Commissioners on similar complaints, although none of these have been upheld.

The mood against the charity among hunt supporters hardened even further when Jackie Ballard, the former prominent anti-hunt Liberal Democrat MP, was appointed its Director-General. Her opposition to hunting saw her lose her West Country seat in the last election.

In a separate move that may have a more immediate impact on the Government, farmers and landowners around Salisbury Plain, Northumberland and Yorkshire have closed the countryside to the Army. This campaign to ban military training from private land started in Wales two weeks ago. Josh Stratton, who runs a 3,500-acre farm at Codford, Wiltshire, said that in the Salisbury Plain area, one of the main Ministry of Defence exercise centres, nearly 30,000 acres had been withdrawn from military use.

He said: "We don't want to inconvenience the military but we think this is a good way of showing our frustration with the Government. What is going on in the House of Commons is pure class war and has nothing to do with animal welfare."

The Ministry of Defence is still assessing the scale of the revolt by landowners, but it is clear that the farmers’ action is a major inconvenience to the military.

Meanwhile, the Masters’ of Foxhounds Association has started a disciplinary inquiry into the dumping of a dead horse, bullock and two calf carcasses in Brighton last week. Stuart Trousdale, 33, huntsman with the Isle of Wight Hunt, faces suspension after admitting helping to dump the dead animals. He has also admitted causing a public nuisance and is bailed to return to Sussex Police on October 13.

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Senior hunting figures, however, want to know who knew about the plot and if those involved are linked to any other organisation. Mr Trousdale was one of the protesters who suffered head wounds during clashes with police in last month's Parliament Square protest.

The public statements from the RCA, however, will further trouble the hunting hierarchy, which is desperate to rein in hotheads and keep its protest firmly within the law.

Edward Duke, RCA spokesman and a former chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, defended the list of targets including the RSPCA which, with the League and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, runs the main anti-hunt group, the Campaign for the Protection of the Hunted Animal.

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said that the charity would not be put off by the campaigners’ tactics and commented: "The ban will go ahead and those who break the law must face the consequences."

The RSPCA is fighting an internal battle against a move to oust the Queen as the charity’s patron, and to even remove the word ‘Royal’ from the charity’s title.

According to a report in last weekend’s Sunday Express, even moderate members of the RSPCA are now supporting the stance by more militant members to drop the Queen as patron, due to the Royal Family’s support of hunting and other blood sports.

One individual, identified as ‘a committee member’ is quoted as saying "A growing number of members feel the Royal Family’s support for hunting is incompatible with the society’s aim – which is to prevent cruelty to animals.

"They feel the Queen should be dropped as figurehead. But committee members have been warned if they speak out on this matter, they will be thrown out. The RSPCA wants to retain the Queen for whatever reason."

The matter was raised earlier this year at a closed meeting of the RSPCA’s ruling council, following the election of five new council members, some of whom were ‘hard-liners’ against hunting.

The trustees allegedly discussed a proposal to call for the Queen, as patron, to publicly condemn hunting and shooting. The move was supposedly dropped due to fears that it could jeopardise the Government’s plans to frame legislation to ban hunting.

However, another anonymous individual quoted by the newspaper – apparently a Trustee – said: "They held back for tactical reasons, but are planning to launch a campaign to oust the Queen when the foxhunting issue is resolved."

An RSPCA spokesman who said dismissed the claims: "There are no plans to drop the R from RSPCA. The Queen supports the objects of the Society, to prevent cruelty and promote kindness."

Meanwhile, Buckingham Palace said the Queen would continue to support the RSPCA in its "primary role of animal welfare."