The animals know that when the Countryside Alliance and the National Farmers’ Union give a backslap of approval to an animal charity appointment, it’s time to duck back down behind the barricades because they are in deep trouble.
And Jeremy (Jez) Cooper’s appointment as new CEO for the RSPCA has been warmly welcomed by both. Here’s what Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner has to say:
“Jeremy Cooper has a huge job ahead of him and we wish him every success in refocussing the organisation on its core roles of improving animal welfare and rescuing those animals that are suffering. It will not be easy to rebuild confidence in the charity after the damage the extreme agenda of his predecessors has done to its reputation but if he can keep the RSPCA focussed on real animal welfare issues he will have everyone’s full support.”
And spokesman for the NFU, Gary Ford chipped in:
“We have met Jeremy and his team on several occasions in his capacity as CEO of Freedom Food and have developed a close working relationship over that time based on mutual trust and honesty. We wish Jeremy well and look forward to continuing that relationship in his new role as CEO of the RSPCA.” My underlining, of course.
Mr Cooper appears to have the right track record to please the CA & NFU, having been CEO of the RSPCA’s infamous Freedom Food scheme for the past three years. The NFU and Cooper hand in glove? No, surely not! If you can bear it (I can’t) take a look at this video made during an Animal Aid investigation into an FF-approved farm – another catastrophic failure for this ‘welfare assurance’ label.
Could Mr Cooper’s rebranding of Freedom Food to “RSPCA Assured” in 2014 have anything to do with the disrepute FF had fallen into, I wonder?
Mr Cooper’s fans – the CA (in the shape of the hunt) and the farmers – have both formerly found themselves on the end of criminal charges brought by the RSPCA. Their chief gripes with the charity recently have been what they consider its overzealous pursuance of law-breaking fox hunts, and its opposition to the badger cull.
Only last year the RSPCA was urging the government to call off the cull, and encouraging supporters to sign its own stop-the-cull petition to the Environment Secretary Liz Truss.
In a spectacular backtrack, Mr Cooper now says the charity had alienated farmers in its “aggressive campaign” against the Government’s badger cull which he dubbed “political”, and promises no further intervention by the charity in the contentious cull programme.
Everyone remembers when the RSPCA hit the headlines with its controversial prosecution of members of the Prime Minister’s own local hunt, the Heythrop, three years back. The offenders pleaded guilty to four charges of hunting foxes with hounds. The judge fined them the paltry sum of £6,800, and then publicly slated the charity for spending £330,000 on bringing the case to court.
“Members of the public may feel that RSPCA funds can be more usefully employed,” District Judge Tim Pattison told Oxford Magistrates’ Court. The Tory press had a field day (pardon the pun).
MPs not only fell over each other to join in the criticism, but reported the RSPCA to the Charity Commission for breaching a ‘duty of prudence’. Huh??? Which led to the Wooler Inquiry and subsequent Report.
But you needn’t worry any more, hunting fraternity. The new CEO is very busy pouring gallons of oil over troubled waters. Mr Cooper said it’s “very unlikely” they will ever bring a similar prosecution again, and all future prosecutions will be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.
If that’s all that needs to be done, why did the CPS stand back in the Heythrop case and, with 500 hours of video evidence available to them, not bring the prosecution themselves? Is there any significance do you think, in the fact that when the Master of this same hunt was charged with illegal hunting in 2008, David Cameron lobbied the Attorney General to get the case dropped? “The letter was eventually passed on to the Bristol-based senior CPS prosecutor Kerry Barker. The case – which was one of several charges brought against Julian Barnfield and the Heythrop Hunt in the years after the ban came into force – was later discontinued.” Western Daily Mail
The RSPCA would never have needed to bring these cases to court if the police and CPS had shown a little more alacrity in the performance of their duties.
So that’s the CA’s and the farmers’ two major bones of contention with the charity (hunting and the badger cull) firmly buried in the backyard by Mr Cooper, and looking like they won’t be dug up again any time soon.
The Countryside Alliance, farmers, politicians and the Tory press though, are not the only pillars of the Establishment to lay into the unfortunate charity. It’s fallen foul of royalty too. Prince Charles also found issue with the prosecution of Heythrop Hunt members. And he was at loggerheads with the charity’s former CEO, Gavin Grant, over the badger cull. HRH was reportedly not amused when Grant said, “Those who care will not want to visit areas or buy milk from farms soaked in badgers’ blood.” Truth hurts, Charles.
And earlier this year it was reported that “the RSPCA could lose its royal patronage when Prince Charles becomes King, over concerns it is becoming too involved in the campaign against countryside sports.” HRH as we all know, like the rest of his bloodline, is a keen supporter of and participator in these ‘sports’. Though I see nothing sporting about the pursuit and killing of defenceless animals.
Do we care about the royal patronage? I guess that if the RSPCA loses its ‘R’, it may adversely affect donations from the old stalwarts, and possibly diminish the organisation’s ability to protect animals from cruelty and neglect. Otherwise, why would we?
So back to Mr Jeremy (Jez) Cooper, CEO.
To the outrage of the animal advocacy community, and under pressure from the crushing combined weight of the CA, NFU, the political elite, the Tory press and the heir to the throne, Mr Cooper has publicly apologised for the charity’s “past mistakes”, and distanced the organisation from its previous actions.
“Of course we have made mistakes in the past, and we are very sorry. We have to be honest and admit the mistakes and acknowledge them.”
He said the charity had become too focused on animal rights rather than animal welfare, and that in the future it would return to its traditional role, the prevention of cruelty, rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming.
Last September I wrote ‘The RSPCA – between a rock and a hard place‘, and concluded:
“This could be a stormy era for the historic charity as it attempts to steer a course through the towering waves of the Tory government, the Countryside Alliance and the Tory Press; its own traditional stalwart supporters; and those who would like to see it go much further in preventing cruelty to, and alleviating the suffering of ALL animals in this country.”
Now with Mr Cooper’s opening pronouncements as CEO, it’s plain for all to see in which ‘port in a storm’ the RSPCA has chosen to dock.
And how exactly do you draw the line between animal rights and animal welfare, Mr Cooper? A pack of hounds tearing a terrified fox to pieces is NOT about animal rights. Let’s have some “prevention of cruelty” please Mr Cooper. The badger cull is NOT about animal rights. The cull has already been assessed as inhumane. Can we have some “prevention of cruelty” here please Mr Cooper?
It’s starting to look like the RSPCA’s new remit will be the welfare of canine companions, pussycats, and bunny rabbits (wild ones excluded – the farmers want to keep shooting those). The charity via its new mouthpiece has pledged to stop its unforgivable meddling in the plight of farmed animals, badgers, foxes or any other animals that are the rightful preserve of the farmers, and the country sportsmen and women.
God help the animals!
Oh, I almost forgot, if you’d like to see Mr Cooper sacked from his post asap, sign the petition here.
Update May 17th 2016
It seems like Mr Cooper’s PR skills are not too hot.
The RSPCA have done a rapid bit of regrouping after the fiasco of his first interview in the job and have issued a statement:
Our policy on foxes and badgers remains unchanged. Like all animals, they deserve our compassion and respect. We will always strongly oppose fox hunting and the culling of badgers.
Maybe they need to check that they and Mr Cooper are on the same page now. Because why did Mr Cooper decide to give that first interview to the Telegraph, Tory apologist newspaper for the Establishment?
Full statement from the RSPCA here
Update August 16th 2016
On eve of roll out of badger cull, Dominic Dyer asks in i News why the wildlife charities are not speaking out for the badgers, with particular reference to RSPCA: How the once-formidable wildlife charities were tamed