How the RSPCA investigates complaints of animal cruelty
The RSPCA is the world's oldest and the UK's largest animal welfare charity. We rescue, rehabilitate and re-home hundreds of thousands of animals each year. We offer advice on caring for animals and campaign to change laws to better protect them, which we then enforce through prosecution in pursuit of our charitable objectives. The RSPCA has been investigating offences and enforcing the laws relating to animals since its inception in 1824.
RSPCA investigations are almost invariably prompted by a telephone call from a member of the public concerned about the plight of an animal. A RSPCA inspector will respond by making a visit in person. RSPCA inspectors have worn a uniform since 1824 to make them readily identifiable to the public (five years before the first police force). In the vast majority of cases the problem, if there is one, can be resolved by the giving of advice.
If it appears that it cannot be resolved through advice, or that a serious offence has been committed, the inspector will consult a vet/expert and ask their opinion of the animal’s condition. If they believe that the animal is suffering then further action is taken. Where owners do not co-operate or refuse entry to their property, the RSPCA has to call on the assistance of the police. The RSPCA have no special powers for entry or search and seizure.
If RSPCA inspectors find that an offence does appear to have been committed they will caution the suspect in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). As with any criminal investigation suspects are told that they are able to seek legal advice and are also given the option to have their animal examined by a vet/expert of their choice in order to seek an alternative opinion on the animal’s condition. Once the investigation is completed the file is sent to the RSPCA’s Prosecutions Department who consider the Code for Crown Prosecutors to decide whether sufficient evidence exists to bring a prosecution and whether there is a public interest in prosecuting.
The RSPCA’s Prosecutions Department does not prosecute unless there is just cause and considers the Code for Crown Prosecutors test of public interest before deciding whether to prosecute. Only a small percentage of the cases the RSPCA investigates end in prosecution.
See also our Prosecutions department annual review 2011 for case studies.