RSPCA left with £10K bill after 'surprising' case against OAP
A Judge has left the RSPCA with a legal bill of almost £10,000 after criticising its decision to prosecute a loving pet owner who failed to take her sick cat to the vet.
Judge Jeremy Griggs said the charity had broken an undertaking it gave to Parliament not to use stronger powers under new legislation against pet owners without giving them a chance to have their animals treated.
He refused to make an order for costs estimated at £9,945 despite throwing out the appeal of cat owner Dilys Hadley.
He ruled she had broken section nine of the 2006 Animal Welfare Act which created a new offence of failing to take reasonable steps to provide for an animal’s needs.
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The new offence is much broader than the old legislation, in which owners could only be prosecuted if they caused unnecessary suffering.
It was passed by Parliament after the RSPCA gave assurances to a committee they would not use it unless a pet owner ignored a warning notice, but Miss Hadley was taken to court in apparent breach of this safeguard.
Retired teacher Miss Hadley, 62, of Whitman Close, Exmouth, lost her appeal against a conviction by Exeter magistrates for failing to take her 16-year-old cat Janet to a vet because it had a bulging eye.
The Judge imposed a conditional discharge and made no new order for costs. No restriction was imposed on Miss Hadley keeping animals in the future.
The prosecution alleged Miss Hadley failed to seek treatment for Janet in August 2011 when a tumour under her eye caused it to bulge out of its socket.
She said the animal was in no pain or discomfort and she was planning to take it to the vet on Monday after the Saturday on which it was seized by a trainee RSPCA inspector.
The cat was found to have an inoperable tumour under her eye and was put down.
Judge Griggs, sitting with two lay magistrates, ruled that it should have been obvious to the owner for weeks, if not months, that something was wrong with Janet’s face and the cat should have been taken to the vet.
He said Miss Hadley herself had told a neighbour the eye looked ghastly and was described as gruesome by the RSPCA inspector.
He said: ”In our judgment she should have taken the cat to the vet well before the RSPCA became involved. We are satisfied the cat would have responded to treatment or management of the condition.
“We have very considerable sympathy with Miss Hadley, who is a woman of previous good character and who has an unblemished record over many years for caring for this cat and other pets.
“We are concerned in this case that the RSPCA have prosecuted in what appears to be in direct contradiction to the safeguards they made to the parliamentary committee when the statute was considered that they would not prosecute for a welfare offence without due warning.
“We do not propose to make any further order for costs. We have already passed comment about the position of the RSPCA in pursuing this matter.
“It would appear to be directly contrary to the clear undertakings given to the DEFRA committee that cases would only be prosecuted after persons had been advised and subsequently failed to meet an animal’s needs.
“It seems to us with the particular facts of this case, and an owner who is a lady of good character who clearly looked after her pets well, the RSPCA’s actions were surprising.
“This cat was not in pain or distress. She may have been suffering discomfort and she should have been taken to the vet at an early stage, but the owner clearly had financial problems. In all the circumstances we do not award costs.
“It is not appropriate Miss Hadley should contribute to the very substantial costs the charity have been put to.”
The Judge pointed out that in this case the vet who first saw the cat did not think there was any case for a prosecution for causing unnecessary suffering, but the RSPCA had still sent the body for post mortem examination to seek evidence.
The court was told Miss Hadley, who still has another cat called Swiggy, has a very small income with a teaching pension of just £160 a month.