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Call for witness coaching to end

THE SELF Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA (SHG) is challenging the Crown Prosecution Service to review every RSPCA prosecution following startling revelations of witnesses being ‘coached’ by RSPCA officials prior to the cases coming to court.

Two recent RSPCA prosecutions – one of which was reported on by OUR DOGS last week in which a young kennelmaid accused of cruelty was acquitted - have collapsed following admissions by the RSPCA that they:

• Routinely hold case conferences involving lay and expert witnesses,

• Effectively ‘coach’ veterinary experts with the use of an extremely negatively worded pro-forma document

During the trials:

• District Judge Grey at Harwich Magistrates’ Court expressed ‘grave concerns’ about what had happened,

• Magistrates at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court were highly critical of the RSPCA’s conduct and methods of investigation,

• The Chairman of the Magistrates, Mr. Jim Morrison, stated that the RSPCA should change their practices in future,

• Magistrates made serious criticisms of RSPCA Inspector Janet Edwards’ failure to explain what offences were being investigated.

• Magistrates Chairman, Mr. Jim Morrison, stressed that in future the legislation must be explained to suspects and the RSPCA must tell them they have a right to have their own solicitor present during an interview,

• The RSPCA must not imply any adverse inference will be drawn if there is an adjournment for this reason.

The revelations did not become known until the trial was under way because the RSPCA’s solicitors steadfastly refused to disclose relevant documents to which the Defence were entitled.
Ernest Vine of the SHG said ‘We have seen transcripts of RSPCA conferences from other cases, so this is not an isolated incident. In fact we have one transcript from as long ago as 1999. This should raise alarm bells with all of the relevant authorities about the safety of every previous RSPCA conviction. Indeed, it is likely that many people have erroneously pleaded guilty on the basis of the RSPCA prosecution veterinary reports alone.’

‘The SHG has been campaigning for the CPS to use their powers to quality control RSPCA prosecutions for some time and we wonder how much public money donated for animal welfare, and how much court time is going to continue to be wasted before the RSPCA is brought under the control of the laws that apply to everyone else in this country.’

Anne Kasica of the SHG concluded: ‘We told the government that proper protection for the public were needed in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 during the consultation exercise. We warned them that such abuses of the human and civil rights of animal owners would be inevitable if they failed to implement such protections.’

‘How many innocent people are going to be convicted, or put through the agonies of a highly public prosecution that fails, because the RSPCA is out of control and the relevant authorities are doing nothing to protect the public?’

Responding the SHG’s claims, an RSPCA spokesman said: ‘The RSPCA routinely provides guidance for vets about how to write a complete report for use as evidence in court. In this case the first report provided by the vet didn't give all the information needed, and so a second one was written in accordance with the guidance. This is not out of the ordinary - the evidence did not change, just the details that were included.

‘The Society strives to improve animal welfare through advice and education and only prosecutes individuals as a last resort. But, as your readers would expect, the RSPCA takes legal action when necessary.’