Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Yes, the victory over the RSPCA is sweet. But let me tell you why 'sorry' is NOT enough
An RSPCA trustee once likened the treatment of farm animals to the Holocaust. Knowing what I know now, the irony of that statement blows me away.
After three years investigating the most gut-wrenching evidence showing the wholesale killing of domestic pets by the RSPCA, the word that keeps coming to me is precisely that.
In some of the heart-breaking cases I have looked into, the animals were neglected and in need of rescue.
In others, the pets were well-loved and had been wrongly seized. But the common factor was that once the RSPCA got hold of the animals, their chances of a good outcome were worse than average.
The details of their stories will haunt me forever. I am convinced that in sifting through many dozens of cases where animals have been needlessly killed, and dozens more where people have been wrongly accused of neglect, I have scratched only the surface.
In 20 years of journalism, no story I have worked on has left me so distressed. As a horse and dog owner myself, I have found it harrowing.
Mercifully, after some of the latest wrongful seizures – including the case we highlighted in this newspaper two weeks ago, of Irene Brown, whose cats were taken by the RSPCA after she collapsed of meningitis – it appears that the charity is waking up to the idea that it must change.
Yesterday’s apology to the public by the RSPCA is long overdue – and I wouldn’t mind an apology either, for the countless times the charity has accused me and my colleagues of ‘slurs’ and ‘smears’ because we questioned it.
Like those living in rural communities, I have long suspected the RSPCA is not the cuddly organisation it paints itself to be. They would never come if you called them to an injured deer. And yet they began this bizarre attempt to stop all vermin being harmed by prosecuting hunts and shoots.
It was the inconsistency that put me on edge; the hypocrisy of helping some but not all animals. And so I stood with the hunting community, who are at least honest, and am still proud to do so.
After an initial article in The Spectator, accusing the charity of acting like the FBI, I began to feel the heat. After highlighting victims such as Rick Byrnes, whose cat was seized and killed because it had tangled fur, I got my first legal threat.
I also received a strange phone call. A lawyer who had acted for people accused of neglect rang me late one night and said he needed to warn me. His words put a chill down my spine: ‘You had better make sure your dog is up to date on its wormers and vaccines. Make sure your horses are all checked daily for any kind of problem including even their manes being tangled.’
More recently, I was approached by a senior figure in the veterinary world at a conference. ‘I read your pieces. Stay safe.’
I couldn’t believe it. Was the power of the RSPCA that scary? Were the vested interests that embedded?
The suggestion that I would be targeted is almost certainly unfounded, but the climate of fear was all too real.
The more important consequence of criticising the RSPCA was that victims started to contact me in their multitudes.
Their stories were so unbelievably awful I had sleepness nights. But the problem was this: Most of these people had been convicted of horrible-sounding offences. They were labelled animal abusers by the local press. No one, it seems, ever asked where the animals were now.
And so the animals were the hidden victims whose stories were never told.
And they would have gone on being untold where it not for the truly heroic Rick Byrnes, who refused to go away after the RSPCA seized and put down his cat, Claude. And then, just as crucially, because of a case called RSPCA vs Peel, and the brave decision of this newspaper to tell that very difficult story.
Rachelle Peel was put on trial for the neglect of her horses. Her husband had been suffering from dementia, she had been working away from home, and the poor horses had fallen into a terrible state. She didn’t deny that.
She was a broken woman, thoroughly ashamed of herself. But one thing she did get right. She wouldn’t stop trying to find out what had happened to the horses that the RSPCA had ‘rescued’. She demanded every document she was legally entitled to see. And then she passed them to me, and I went through them, box after box.
And slowly, unbelievably, what emerged was that 12 horses taken away from her had been shot soon after. But the RSPCA was in court trying to claim thousands of pounds for stabling and caring for those horses. And RSPCA officers were on the stand saying they were alive and well.
I attended the trial and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I questioned the RSPCA officers outside the court and they again insisted the horses were alive.
They didn’t know that I had the slaughter forms showing each one’s grisly death.
But thankfully The Mail on Sunday did care and ran the story. ‘RSPCA shoots 11 healthy horses’ was the headline, because the 12th horse had been so poorly it couldn’t be described as fit. And in the process of being seized by the RSPCA, the poor thing suffered a broken leg. The brutality that horse encountered in its final hours still haunts me. It was loaded onto a lorry and with the others transported many hours to its place of execution.
Chillingly, when I scrutinised the forms, the so-called ‘rehoming centre’ to which the horses were taken to be shot was entitled ‘Middle Earth’. I searched the internet and could find no Middle Earth. Again, chills went down my spine. It doesn’t exist, I thought. It’s a sick joke. In all likelihood, it’s the RSPCA’s short form for the place they send creatures marked for death.
I think there must be many good RSPCA officers and staff on the ground who have no idea what goes on. But the RSPCA is like a cult in the way it keeps a lid on dissent. At times I have felt like I am up against something more akin to a religion like Scientology.
If the good people who work for the charity want to know what is going on, then I can give them a tape recording I hold of an eyewitness to the shooting of a herd of gypsy horses, who were rounded up and transported to a barn in the North of England.
The witness describes them being shot in front of each other in a scene of carnage.
I suspect the reason it happened that way is because the RSPCA do a lot of slaughter secretly. I have spoken to witnesses who describe guns with silencers being used to shoot horses in the night. There is much evidence, too, about the botched shooting of German shepherd dogs with bolt guns.
Again the irony is awful. They condemn the hunting community as bloodthirsty. I cannot stress more strongly: I have never killed an animal in my life. Yet the RSPCA, which has killed countless thousands, accuse me and anyone else who tries to question its methods, of being bloodthirsty hunt supporters who want only to bring back fox hunting.
This is not only slander, but bullying of the worst kind, an attempt to frustrate democratic scrutiny of an organisation which has become focused on its own survival above everything else.
A proper inquiry now needs to look into all of this.
I have passed on a lot of the evidence I have amassed to the Defra committee currently holding an inquiry into animal welfare.
Someone needs to look into the vested interest of other professionals too, because in the Peel case there exist dozens of invoices showing vets charging for treatments given to the dead horses. A lot of people we trust and who ought to know better, it seems to me, have had a finger in this grisly pie.
In a way, it is ludicrous that we as a society ever believed that all the many thousands of animals a year rescued are alive somewhere. If they were, then every family would have had to have adopted an animal from the RSPCA.
And is it not just a little strange that the RSPCA do not give a figure for the number of animals put down every year in its annual report, only animals treated and rehomed?
ONE problem is the RSPCA has not been accountable to anyone. Unlike the police there is no complaints procedure. Nobody governs them aside from the Charities Commission, but I had no luck when I tried to alert them. The reality is the animal police need policing.
Again, I have much unexamined evidence I would like to submit, including the transcript of a Facebook chat with former RSPCA inspector turned whistleblower Dawn Aubrey Ward, in which she describes the horror of what she had to do.
In one harrowing exchange, she describes taking a pregnant dog out the back of a ‘rescue’ centre, holding it over a drain and shooting it in the head.
I don’t think she could live with such things. In any case, we know that shortly after going public with her criticisms, she killed herself.
There are more heartbroken people. I think of Sarah Mellanby, a former employee who left the RSPCA in disgust at the amount of animals she saw killed, and set up her own cat sanctuary.
A few years ago, she was effectively shut down by the RSPCA after it charged her with neglect. It seized all 62 of the cats at her home and prosecuted her for overcrowding and alleged health problems.
Miss Mellanby, a gentle soul who I have no doubt wouldn’t hurt a fly, faces losing her home to pay the charity’s costs unless her appeal against her conviction this August is successful. But above all, she has no idea where the cats are.
I could go on.
Nothing less than a proper judicial review of all those who say they were unfairly convicted will suffice. And unless something is done to tackle the power, reach and unaccountability of the RSPCA, no pet owner is safe.
Left-wing midwives' chief as arrogant and unaccountable as a Seventies union boss
One morning last month, Britain’s 30,000-odd midwives woke up to a piece of shocking news: their entire professional future depends on Britain voting to remain in the EU.
That, at least, was the verdict of Cathy Warwick, the chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
In a hard-hitting statement, she claimed that ‘being in the EU underpins much of the protection that pregnant women receive’ and is ‘vital’ for the profession, arguing that the ‘economic shock’ of a Brexit vote is likely to severely damage the NHS.
Professor Warwick’s comments came as the RCM announced that it will be formally supporting the ‘Remain’ campaign – on the apparent grounds that, as she sees it, the nation’s midwives will all be ‘better off in’.
She was, of course, perfectly entitled to that opinion – though many in the ‘Leave’ camp strongly disagreed with her analysis.
Yet whether it might reflect the view of a majority of the RCM’s actual members, who each support the organisation to the tune of £244-a-year, was anyone’s guess.
Strangely, given the highly charged nature of the EU debate, Professor Warwick hadn’t bothered to ballot them democratically before deciding to take a side so publicly in this increasingly heated campaign.
Members were not even asked to decide if the Royal College, a professional organisation which supposedly exists to uphold standards of care and represent the career interests of midwives, ought to be in the business of becoming embroiled in such a partisan political controversy as the EU referendum debate.
It was a similar story yesterday, when it emerged that Professor Warwick’s RCM has decided to join forces with a motley crew of abortion activists and radical feminists by supporting a campaign to abolish legal limits on abortion.
Again, her members were not balloted on whether their organisation should support this highly controversial move. The College was unable last night to say whether the decision to endorse the ‘We Trust Women’ campaign had even been properly sanctioned by its nine-strong board of directors.
A spokesman said Professor Warwick was ‘in Scotland, her native country, for the weekend’ and couldn’t be contacted.
There was no answer at the £1.5 million home in Balham, South London, from which she commutes to the organisation’s well-appointed offices in Marylebone.
Little wonder that around 200 members of the RCM have already signed a letter to the board condemning the policy as ‘utterly unacceptable’ and stating that the Royal College of Midwives ‘does not speak in our name’.
To many, Professor Warwick, who is 63 and has been running the midwives’ organisation since 2008, is seeking, stealthily, to make her organisation pursue a Left-wing political agenda.
In doing so, she has at times behaved with the brand of arrogance and unaccountability you might expect to find in old-fashioned trade union power-broker.
Paid £155,000 a year – around five times the salary of a normal midwife – Professor Warwick certainly does not appear to have been entirely open about her formal links to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the pro-abortion charity running the ‘We Trust Women’ campaign.
The fact that she happens to be chairman of the BPAS’s board of trustees is strangely absent from the lengthy CV which she publishes on the Royal College’s website.
So too is her apparent support for the liberalisation of abortion law.
Perhaps that’s because her stance would appear to be entirely at odds with not just the view of many RCM members, but also with the traditional ethos of the College, which was founded in 1881 and has the Latin motto ‘Vita Donum Dei,’ meaning ‘Life is the Gift of God’.
Certainly in years gone by, the RCM was scrupulous about upholding the spirit of that motto. While generally supportive of the right of women to choose, within the confines of the law, it steered clear of advocating for British abortion law to be relaxed. In the 1980s, it instead argued for the lowering of the abortion limit from 28 to 24 weeks, since medical advances meant foetuses were viable from an earlier age.
During the 1990s, the College was accused of siding with ‘anti-abortion fanatics’ by backing a ban on harvesting of ovarian material from dead foetuses. Under the leadership of Professor Warwick, who is married with three grown-up children, recent years have seen creeping politicisation. The RCM’s members went on strike over pay in 2014, and last year joined a notorious TUC protest at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester which saw journalists and delegates spat on and barracked as they attempted to gain access to the event. More recently, the College has vigorously supported the junior doctors’ strike.
In 2014, Professor Warwick’s regime endorsed a BPAS campaign for there to be ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics, which pro-life protesters would be banned from entering. And last year, it protested against plans to tighten laws against conducting abortion on the grounds of gender.
Facebook goes nuclear: Mark Zuckerberg vows to meet with conservative leaders over trending topics controversy
Facebook on Thursday pulled back the curtain on how the controversial Trending Topics feature works, a reaction to a report in Gizmodo on Monday that claimed the social media giant downplays conservative news subjects.
Facebook denied that report, despite the comments made by two former curators of the site's feature.
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg took to the site on Thursday evening to say he plans to talk with leading conservatives in coming weeks.
'I want to have a direct conversation about what Facebook stands for and how we can be sure our platform stays as open as possible,' the statement said.
The story has become so big that on Monday 'Trending Topics' was a trending topic on the website.
In its own blog post, the company said a series of checks and balances - involving both software formulas and humans - ensures that stories displayed in the trending topics section aren't biased.
The post linked to a 28-page internal document Facebook uses to determine Trending Topics, after the Guardian published a similar document that was leaked to it.
Justin Osofsky, vice president of global operations, said the guidelines ensure that stories in Trending Topics represent "the most important popular stories, regardless of where they fall on the ideological spectrum".
'The guidelines do not permit reviewers to add or suppress political perspectives,' he said in a statement.
Facebook hasn't said how many people are responsible for the Trending Topics team.
The Guardian report on Thursday said the team was as few as 12 people, citing leaked documents, but Facebook didn't comment on that number.
Trending Topics were introduced in 2014 and appear in a separate section to the right of the Facebook newsfeed.
According to Facebook, potential Trending Topics are first determined by a software formula, or algorithm, that identifies topics that have spiked in popularity on the site.
Next, a team of Trending Topics staffers review potential topics and confirm the topic is tied to a current news event; write a topic description with information corroborated by at least three of 1,000 news outlets; apply a category label to the topic; and check to see whether the topic is covered by most or all of ten major media outlets.
Those ten outlets include; BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo and Yahoo News.
Stories covered by those outlets gain an importance level that may make them more likely to be seen.
If a story is the lead on all ten sites it was described as nuclear, an event that the internal memo said would only happen one to three times a year, a recent example being the Brussels terror attacks.
Former curators of the trending list told Gizmodo however that there was a clear bias among some employees.
'Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,' said one former curator.
'I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.'
Another curator added: 'It was absolutely bias. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is.
'Every once in awhile a Red State or conservative news source would have a story. But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn’t as biased.'
A third curator who spoke with the technology site admitted that there were also times when a story that was not trending would be put into the feed.
'Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,' they said.
'They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics. When we injected it, everyone started saying, "Yeah, now I’m seeing it as number one".'
Republican South Dakota Republican John Thune wrote to Zuckerberg demanding answers about any possible bias in the company.
He said: 'If Facebook presents its Trending Topics section as a result of a neutral, objective algorithm, but it is in fact subjective and filtered to support or suppress particular political viewpoints, Facebook's assertion that it maintains "a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum" misleads the public.'
Public records uncovered by The Federalist found that Facebook employees had donated $114,000 to Hillary Clinton's campaign and nothing to her rival Donald Trump.
The Hill later pointed out however that Trump had yet to file information with federal authorities about campaign donations.
Facebook vice president of search, Tom Stocky, was among those who donated to Clinton, giving $2,700 to the Democratic front-runner last October.
It is his team that is in charge of Trending Topics.
Lefties are spot on, their precious BBC IS at risk... it may have to lose its bias
As I have actually been to North Korea, and lived in Russia, I feel qualified to comment on some stupid remarks by a Leftist BBC favourite, Peter Kosminsky.
Mr Kosminsky, a much-garlanded film-maker, absurdly compared government plans to reform the BBC with the control of the airwaves in North Korea and Russia.
Here’s the thing I noticed about North Korea, and which was true of all the communist states in their pomp (which I saw). Those ridiculous slogans you see everywhere, urging praise for the Great Leader, or acclaiming the Party’s wise rule, have a hard purpose.
What they say to the people is: ‘You are powerless. We can put this insulting, arrogant rubbish on the wall in 8ft letters, and you can do absolutely nothing about it.’
It is a deliberate humiliation of all thinking people. And the only thing comparable to this in modern Britain is the BBC. Here, it ceaselessly transmits material which many of us believe to be false, propagandist or contentious.
Mr Kosminsky said the BBC’s main job is to speak truth to power. But the BBC is power. Who can speak truth to it?
We are compelled to pay for it under the threat of imprisonment, it decides which opinions are approved and which are not. It can and does utterly ignore the views of about half the population.
On many occasions I have spotted clear instances of bias, complained in calm, well-marshalled detail about them, taken them through stage after stage and at the end been told – by the BBC themselves – that they have done nothing wrong.
Many of you will have had similar feelings of powerless fury as you have listened to the Corporation’s presenters, and its dramas and soap operas, despising your morals and tastes, ignoring things you know to be true and important, and treating things as uncontested fact which, let us say, have not been proven.
If you doubt this bias, then listen to the words of several prominent BBC people. Mark Thompson, the then director- general, said in 2010 that the BBC had suffered a ‘massive bias to the Left’.
The distinguished presenter Andrew Marr said the Corporation was ‘a publicly funded urban organisation with an abnormally large proportion of younger people, of people in ethnic minorities and almost certainly of gay people, compared with the population at large’.
All this, he said, ‘creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC’. The equally distinguished John Humphrys has also said: ‘The BBC has tended over the years to be broadly liberal as opposed to broadly conservative.’
There’s no real dispute about it, and it is quite unjust and wrong. But last week’s White Paper on the BBC offers a tiny spark of hope. The BBC is soon to lose the power to be judge and jury in its own cause. If you pursue your complaint hard enough, it will go to Ofcom, an outside regulator.
I urge you to do as I shall do, and – as soon as it is in place – use this new freedom to the full. My only fear is that Ofcom itself is infected by the same establishment Leftism as the BBC.
It will have to prove me wrong. But such small changes can sometimes bring about revolutions. As much as I mistrust all optimism, I am entitled to hope. Let us all speak truth to BBC power.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.