On 16 May 2013, an RSPCA inspector responded to a call from a member of the public concerning ‘Claude’, an elderly cat belonging to Mr and Mrs Byrnes. Claude was removed from the family home and euthanased by a vet the following day against the wishes of Mr and Mrs Byrnes.
The RSPCA acknowledges that the way in which it intervened in taking Claude from his home and the subsequent treatment of Mr and Mrs Byrnes at that time was disproportionate and insensitive and fell short of the standards of compassion the public are entitled to expect of the RSPCA.
Specifically, the RSPCA accepts that its decision not to defer euthanasia so that Mr and Mrs Byrnes’ children could say goodbye to the pet cat they had known their entire lives caused great and unnecessary distress to the whole family.
In November 2013, the RSPCA began legal proceedings against Mr and Mrs Byrnes. They were individually charged with two offences under section 4(1) (unnecessary suffering) and section 9(1) (duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Following a review of the charges by the Crown Prosecution Service, in August 2014, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) exercised her powers to take over and discontinue the prosecutions because they failed to meet the tests set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
The RSPCA accepts that it failed to apply the evidential and public interest tests correctly prior to bringing legal proceedings against Mr and Mrs Byrnes and that it was wrong to have commenced prosecutions against them.
The decision of the DPP to discontinue the prosecution received widespread media attention in August 2014. The RSPCA acknowledges that it made a number of unfortunate errors in its public responses to this coverage which could have been understood to cast doubt on the correctness of the DPP’s decision to discontinue the prosecutions. The RSPCA accepts that the cumulative effect of these errors presented Mr and Mrs Byrnes in an unfavourable light to the public.
The RSPCA sincerely apologises to Mr and Mrs Byrnes and their family for the mistakes made in its original intervention, in its incorrect decision to prosecute them and for the errors in its media responses and for the resulting upset and deep distress caused both to them and their children.