A REVIEW of the RSPCA’s policy on prosecutions for animal cruelty, ordered after a controversial action against the Chipping Norton-based Heythrop Hunt, says it should leave cases of alleged illegal hunting to the police and Crown Prosecution Service.

But the review’s author added that he had “no doubt that the Heythrop Hunt case was appropriately brought”.

The animal welfare charity ran up a £327,000 bill taking the hunt and its former huntsman, Julian Barnfield, and former master, Richard Sumner, to court in 2012. The fines and costs imposed after a hearing at Oxford Magistrates’ Court totalled just over £26,000.

The review was carried out by lawyer Stephen Wooler, a former Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, at the request of the RSPCA’s ruling council.

He said: “The RSPCA role is poorly defined and its relationships with the public bodies with whom its [investigation and prosecution] work overlaps are unclear.”

The report added: “The reviewer found nothing to support the contention of the Countryside Alliance that the prosecution was political, and that the Heythrop Hunt was targeted because it operated within the Parliamentary constituency of the Prime Minister and there were suggestions that he had in the past been associated with the hunt.”

Tim Bonner, director of campaigns at the alliance, said: “The Heythrop case was a prominent example of an RSPCA private prosecution that had a significant political connotation.

“The Wooler report supports our view about the RSPCA acting as a prosecutor and political campaigner and we hope that the society will heed his recommendation and leave prosecution decisions to the CPS.”

Mr Wooler said the charity should only be a last resort for prosecutions if the police or CPS failed to act, and it should instead work with them on cruelty cases.

RSPCA chairman Mike Tomlinson said: “Hunting prosecutions are a tiny part of the RSPCA’s enforcement work but this review provides an ideal opportunity to look at the way we handle such cases and to make any necessary adjustments.”

An internal steering group is considering Mr Wooler’s recommendations.