Monday, 15 February 2010

At Least Dick Turpin Had The Decency To Wear A Mask!

Longrider pointed out the arrant greed and stupidity of the RSPCA's legal department in dying in a ditch over the terms of Dr. Christine Gill's family bequest.

Turns out, though, they were capable of plumbing even greater depths. Take the case of John Mason:
In his will, Mr Mason's brother divided his £1m fortune between the charity, his brother and two of his closest friends, Norman and Patricia Sharp.
Any problem with that? John Mason didn't think so.
"Everybody knew that George was an animal lover, so [his will] wasn't a surprise at all," said Jonathan Troop, John Mason's godson.
So, if the beneficiaries weren't upset, and didn't challenge the will as Dr Gill did, what was the problem?
But, under Britain's complicated tax laws, the RSPCA was concerned it was going to have to pay inheritance tax on its share of the estate. So it took Mr Mason and the Sharps to court to try to get them to pay some of the tax out of their bequests.
Having trouble with that? Me too.

In English, what it means is that the greedy, grasping 'charity' didn't want to pay tax, so went to court to get someone else to pay it.

Remind me again, it's bankers we are supposed to despise, right? And it's 'fat cat tax evaders' that HMRC are currently targeting, yes?

The court didn't think much of its appointed role as unwitting accomplice to this attempted mugging, and whacked the RSPCA's lawyers over the nose with a rolled up newspaper:
However, at the High Court in London last week, Mr Justice Peter Smith dismissed the claim and ordered the RSPCA to pay the costs. The judge said the charity's case had been "extremely weak and should not have been brought", and refused to give it permission to appeal.
John Mason stood up to them, when many would have caved in, cowed by the threat of court action and the idea that they might be seen to be 'mean' to a charity, even though that charity was itself acting appallingly.
Clare Kelly, John Mason's solicitor, said she thought it was "quite disgusting" that a donation which had been left in good faith by an elderly animal lover had been used to pursue his relatives for more money. "You'd think that a charity that had essentially had a windfall of £370,000 would not then think: 'Let's go for more,'" she said. "I don't know why they're playing such a tough game. My view is that it's a complete misuse of the funding they're getting. In this case they were left several hundred thousand pounds, and they were trying to get several hundred thousand more."

Ms Kelly added that Mr Mason would have struggled to cover the costs if he lost, and found the proceedings "very distressing".
He's not the only one...

The Gill affair seems to have been on the mind of the solicitor instructed to take John Mason to court the cleaners too:
Paul Hewitt, a partner at Withers law firm who fought the RSPCA's case against Mr Mason, told The Independent yesterday that he felt the ruling in that case had been "grossly unfair" and that the judge had been "wrong" to dismiss the case. He also pointed out that the "vast majority" of legacy cases in which the charity is involved are settled out of court.
Well, I'm sure a lot of the people whom Dick Turpin encountered handed over their money without him needing to shoot them, but I don't see how that changes anything. He's still a bloody highwayman!

The contortions this man ties himself into to defend what he did on the charity's behalf are quite extraordinary:
"Although I do a lot of work for charities, I hardly ever go to court, because one always tried to sort out these things in advance. But resolving it wasn't possible here," he said. "The RSPCA did not take the decision to do this lightly. We thought, and we still do, that we were honouring Mr Mason's wishes.

"If I say to a charity: 'I'm leaving you £200,000', and the charity only receives £50,000, should it just walk away? If the benefactor wants the charity to have this money, the charity has an obligation to use it. It would be a breach of the trustees' duties if they walked away from bequests."
*sigh* Well, I suppose you need to tell yourself whatever will help you sleep at night...

Let's get this straight. The 'charity' didn't receive a lesser amount because more went to the other beneficiaries. It did so because there was inheritance tax to pay. To the government.

If the 'charity' doesn't think that's right, how about lobbying their friends to change the law? Or would that jeopardise their chances of being invited to all the taxpayer-funded shindigs in future?

Anyone thinking of leaving money to this 'charity' would do well to bear this case in mind. And ask yourself how any money you do leave them will be used...


Anonymous said...

Well, now I know not to even consider leaving any money I may possess when I die to the RSPCA.

manwiddicombe said...

I hope that people reading this story stop donating to the RSPCA on principle. Pillocks.

Macheath said...

It's another example of the end justifying the means in the eyes of the self-appointed righteous.

Three's an odd sort of symmetry here with the reasoning of the ALF and related organisations.

Clarissa said...

The RSPCA are no different from any charity in this respect. They are all quite ruthless when it comes to items left to them in wills.

A great uncle left his entire estate to the RNLI and they striped his property clean in a way that would have done Kim and Aggie proud. Not even the obviously worthless items were spared and any items that were promised verbally to others went as well.

If you want to leave money to charity then inform your family of your intentions through a less formal method to spare them any more grief.

Conservative Ad Man said...

Similar thing happened to me as well - an aunt had put three or four charities in her will 'to share the balance of the estate' after her bequests to family had been distributed.

She was a painter, and had marked all her paintings and other bits of furniture with the names of those she wanted to receive them - but hadn't mentioned that in her will.

5 charities, including the RSPCA, got together to adopt a joint position, maintaining that they had a legal right to take all her furniture, books and paintings despite her wishes and sell them - which they duly did.

Her personal paintings raised £150 in auction as a job lot. They didn't bother to tell the family when or where the auction was taking place.

I haven't given much to charity since.

Dave H said...

Their pseudo-police uniforms give me the creeps. I'm sure they must trick many people into thinking the RSPCA has special legal authority.

Definitely Righteous.

sobers said...

Never ever give money to the RSPCA. It is not an animal welfare charity anymore, it is a commercial entity, with political aims.

If you find a sick animal needing attention, don't bother to try and find an RSPCA centre or inspector to help you, as you probably will be tens of miles from the nearest one. My nearest one is over 25 miles away, and I live in Southern England close to a large town.

Instead give your money to local animal rescue centres, the Blue Cross, and Cats Protection League. They are more small scale, more volunteers, less big offices and expense accounts.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

The RSPCA is right up there in the fake charity stakes along the Barnados and Save the Children.

They are just another tentacle of the State octopus.

Stay well clear.

Longrider said...

Jesus, but that's bad. I had no intention of leaving anything to charity anyway - charity begins at home, frankly.

I would have taken exactly the same line as the family did in this case. I would not, absolutely not, pay the RSPCA'a IHT for them.

The judge was absolutely right and this case now sets a precedent in-case the greedy bastards try it on with someone else.

I almost - almost but not quite - can't believe the effrontery of it.

Longrider said...


I'm sure they must trick many people into thinking the RSPCA has special legal authority.

Er, it does. It can carry out prosecutions.

Pogo said...

"If I say to a charity: 'I'm leaving you £200,000', and the charity only receives £50,000, should it just walk away?"

It sounds as if he's not just a mediocre lawyer but he's also innumerate - unless IHT has been increased to 75% while I wasn't looking.

Pogo said...

@longrider... re prosecutions:-

So can any private citizen.

Dave H said...

@Longrider -they can only bring private prosecutions.

The only advantage they have over the ordinary citizen are the resources to do this.

Tr said...

These opportunistic, parasitic, verminous organisations have brought the very idea of charity into disrepute and have devalued the meaning of the word itself.
Couldn't we think of another term for them? Or is it too late?

woman on a raft said...

Longrider - it can carry out prosecutions but it does not have the investigating authority its employees like to imply by dressing like police officers.

(I'm just checking the source and limit of the delegated powers of prosecution as I'm not sure of how it worked out. From summer 2004 they were handling delegated prosection authority from DEFRA but were lobbying for more authority under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.)

The blog carries a particularly good article on the matter, and generally gives a good exposition of the failings of the RSPCA.

The article is also important politically because one of the cases it discusses, the Shotton case, made a difference in the Stoke on Trent local elections. The BNP made a great deal of this case which forced a local Labour candidate to withdraw and damaged the rest of the Labour party as they were not quick enough to condemn their previous candidate. The BNP benefitted at the polls but later it turned out that the evidence against Shotton was fabrication - tending to perjury - by the vet, who changed his story when he realized his previous lies could be sink him if he stuck to them. There have been persistent claims that the vet was connected to one of the parties who wished to see Shotton withdraw, but I have not been able to substantiate that.

As Barrister Jonathan Rich explains:

The RSPCA is, contrary to appearances, a private organisation. Some people are terrified of the RSPCA, and there is absolutely no need to be. No RSPCA employee, so far as I am aware, has any special powers or is even an inspector for the purposes of the Animal Welfare Act. Indeed, if they are, I want to know about it! The title ‘RSPCA Inspector’ is just a job title, given to an RSPCA employee working for the inspectorate department when they finish their twelve weeks of training.
The society gives some of its more senior employees even more impressive sounding titles: ‘Chief Superintendent’ and the like. However, they are all just job titles; it’s not like the police - RSPCA inspectors are not even constables. To think otherwise is a natural mistake to make. One problem which is regularly encountered is a police officer who thinks that the RSPCA is some sort of agency, or that its employees somehow have more powers than ordinary members of the public. If a police officer tells you, or behaves as if the RSPCA is an agency or has special powers, then that policeman needs to be corrected. Paul and Annette Shotton were both arrested by the police at the request of the RSPCA. In fact, I’ve had several clients - perhaps the best known of them was Craig Sargent - who were arrested purely because of an RSPCA request that this occur. Paul was arrested while preparing to meet war veterans with his local MP; Annette was arrested at work. The RSPCA were waiting at the police station to interview them but it was not a police case.

One practical thing which bloggers can do is make sure the police bloggers understand that an RSPCA worker is just that - a worker, not a law officer of any kind. Another thing would be, like the fake charities, to start up a log of these cases.

Longrider said...

I seem to recall delegated powers, which is why I made the comment.

sobers said...

@Pogo: it is possible for the case mentioned to arise - it all depends on how the estate is worth, and how much you bequeath to people free of tax. If my estate is worth £1m, and I leave £700K to various people free of tax, and the remainder to charity, after tax is paid the charity will only end up with 30K, roughly speaking.

Working: estate worth £1m. IHT allowance £325K. So tax at 40% due on £675K, which is £270K. The personal beneficiaries get £700K in their pockets, so the tax of £270K comes out of the £300K remaining. Leaving £30K for the charity.

In this case the RSPCA were never left £480K, rather the remainder after the personal gifts were made and the tax was paid. Which is NOT the same as £1m minus the personal gifts. Any decent lawyer would see that in a second. Its nice to know the RSPCA hire lawyers that are either a) incompetent or b) sharks or c) both.

Volatile Barry said...

The RSPCA are a thoroughly unpleasant organisation who behave like they are part of law enforcement. Don't give them any money and let them know your views any time they show up on your doorstep. Like many "charities" nowadays they have gone way beyond their remit and seem to be run by nasty little power mad jobsworths.

JuliaM said...

"I hope that people reading this story stop donating to the RSPCA on principle."

I think raising the profile of just what this 'charity' does is a social duty...

"Instead give your money to local animal rescue centres, the Blue Cross, and Cats Protection League."

Or better than that, give goods (cat and dog food, cat litter, play items, bedding etc). Or time.

"The blog carries a particularly good article on the matter..."

That's a really good site.

"Like many "charities" nowadays they have gone way beyond their remit and seem to be run by nasty little power mad jobsworths."

The bigger they get, though, the further they have to fall. I pity the chugger who approaches me on the high street for them!

Anonymous said...

They probably tried to argue that, since gifts to charities are excluded from the value of the estate in the calculation of IHT, then any liability shouldn't fall to them.

I heard of another case in which the RSPCA sued an executor for failing to maximise the value of the estate!