The RSPCA faced scrutiny during the BBC’s latest Panorama programme, which looked at the charity’s governance and spoke to pet owners who felt they had been treated unfairly.
Reporter John Sweeney spoke to former staff members including Chris Lawrence, who was once the charity’s chief vet before becoming a trustee. Whilst he praised the charity as “essentially a great organisation” with “fantastic staff who work very hard”, Mr Lawrence said he had “real concerns about the way it was being run at a council level.
Similarly, Steve Carter, former national director for RSPCA Wales, said he believes the charity is currently “not fit for purpose” and its governance has remained largely unchanged since the 1970s. However, he added that the RSPCA is “overall a force for good” and the inspectors “do good work every single day.”
The programme revealed that two trustees ran the charity unpaid for two years while it didn’t have a chief executive. Andrew Hind, former chief executive of the Charity Commission, said that for a large charity this is “off the scale in terms of being so unusual”.
“I find it difficult to see how a large charity could properly run itself if it doesn’t have a permanent chief executive who is independent from the non-executive trustee team,” he added.
Sweeney also spoke to defence barristers who said they felt targeted by the RSPCA, and highlighted three cases where pet owners believe they were unfairly charged with animal welfare offences. However, the charity says 98 per cent of investigations are concluded without going to court, and it only prosecutes ‘as a last resort’, in cases where the mistreatment is serious and animal cruelty blatant.
In a statement ahead of the programme, the RSPCA said: ‘We understand that the programme will seek to portray an RSPCA that would not be recognised by its staff, volunteers, supporters or the many thousands of animals and people helped each year.
‘The programme will not recognise the frontline staff undertaking often difficult, distressing work twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. It will not recognise the family that have escaped domestic violence but whose animal is being fostered by us until they are settled in a new life.
‘It will not recognise the officers that abseil down ropes to rescue a stranded sheep or work in schools to educate young people. It will not recognise the thousands of animals given a second chance each year because of the compassion and commitment of our staff, volunteers and supporters.
‘It will not recognise these things because it has chosen not to.’
Although it says it does not accept the portrayal by Panorama, the charity stressed that it is ‘not complacent about any aspect of the working or leadership of the organisation’ and is committed to improving everything it does as an organisation.