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."He's not the only one...
Ms Kelly added that Mr Mason would have struggled to cover the costs if he lost, and found the proceedings "very distressing".
The Gill affair seems to have been on the mind of the solicitor instructed to take John Mason to
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.*sigh* Well, I suppose you need to tell yourself whatever will help you sleep at night...
"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."
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...