In its ‘RSPCA policies on animal welfare’ it states under its Objects of the RSPCA that ‘The charitable objects of the RSPCA are to promote kindness and to prevent or suppress cruelty to animals

The RSPCA’s vision is, ‘To work for a world in which all humans respect and live in harmony with all other members of the animal kingdom

Under its Mission Statement, the RSPCA declares ‘The RSPCA as a charity will, by all lawful means, prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate suffering.’

And under their General Principles, the RSPCA states ‘The general principles on which the RSPCA operates, derived from extensive scientific evidence, is based on the fact that vertebrates and some invertebrates are sentient, and can feel pain and distress.’

What happened to all those honorable and admirable objects, visions, statements and principles when RSPCA inspectors arrived at an address in South Wales and proceeded to slaughter ten German Shepherd dogs with a captive bolt?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

It was hell, but I chased the RSPCA off my land.

It is like a Victorian potboiler. Devoted only child relinquishes ambition and career to help on her parents’ farm, knowing that in time the land will be hers. Except that — when both her parents are dead and the will is read — she discovers her entire inheritance has been bequeathed to the RSPCA.

On Friday, after a £1.3m court case, Christine Gill, 59, had the will overturned. The 287-acre farm in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, that she had worked on and loved, “my land” as she describes it, would be hers after all.

She told me after the judgment that she felt very emotional. “The last three years have been a tremendous strain. When they reviewed the history of the case this morning, I sat in the back of the court crying quietly. It brought it all back, how desperate it had been,” she said.

The judge, James Allen QC, found that Christine’s father John, a stern farmer who exerted a powerful influence over his meek wife Joyce, had “coerced” Joyce into signing away Potto Carr farm and its land, worth about £2m, to the animal charity. He died in 1999, his wife in 2006.

It was only then that his daughter, who had always been led by her parents to believe the farm would one day be hers, discovered what he had done.

Did she feel bitter, discovering that she had been disinherited?

“At first I didn’t believe my mother had actually signed the will,” she says.

“But no, I didn’t feel bitter. It’s not in my nature. I felt bereaved, but then I knew I had to get on with the job in hand and decided to challenge it straight away. Bitterness was irrelevant, really.”

The irony is that Christine had been so devoted to Potto Carr that she had played a key role in its success. She ploughed the fields with a tractor and tended to the livestock. She even bought the adjoining property so she could be fully committed to it.

“I was tied to the farm. It was my roots, my land,” she says simply. And she knew she had to get it back, although “the thought of taking on a wealthy adversary such as the RSPCA was terrifying”, she says.

“But there was such a sense of injustice that it was felt we should see it through. I lived in fear lest we lost. But I pushed the fear out of my mind.”

Yet there was one big question. Why had John Gill disinherited his only child, a devoted and loyal daughter, a child who lived alongside them into her own adulthood, a woman who had shopped, cooked and cared for him and his wife until their dying days?

“Both my parents relied totally on me,” she says. “My father would ring me in the middle of the night if he didn’t feel well and expect me to look after him.” Indeed, she was as devoted to her parents as she was to her small son Christopher, born when she was in her mid-forties. She even went part-time from her job as a statistics lecturer at Leeds University so she could still care for her parents after her son was born.

One reason she won the case was because the court accepted that she had had “due cause” to believe her parents’ will would be made out in her favour. No other outcome had been discussed with her while her parents were alive.

“I have no idea why my father did what he did, or why he wanted to do it,” she says. “If we had had an argument, if he had been depressed, if there had been a rift, then I might have understood it. But there was nothing.”

First, though, she had to distance herself from her beloved parents. “When I found out about the will it was as though a veil came down between me and the past. I felt a sense of detachment. I still feel it. And I think that’s because I have been in what amounts to a war zone for the past three years.”

The judge accepted expert advice that Joyce, an agoraphobic, suffered from severe anxiety. “She would get up early, she would worry, plan and fidget. She would take all morning to get ready,” the court heard. The judge said: “She would sit down and she would just be an empty cloth doll with all the stuffing knocked out of her.” The support she relied on utterly was that of her husband. She had phobias about travelling, remaining at home alone and attending public functions; essentially, she worried about upsetting her husband and his control of her.

“[Mr Gill] directed his domineering and bombastic personality to Mrs Gill,” the court heard, “utilising her anxiety and fear of his explosive character.” There was no way, the judge said, in summary, that Joyce would have been able to thwart her husband’s wishes while signing her will in a solicitor’s office. “She would have experienced anxiety of such severity that her thoughts would have been dominated by an impulse to escape back to the safety of her house and she could not have followed or understood what she was doing,” said the judge, quoting the opinion of Professor Robert Howard, a psychiatrist.

Yet although the court heard that John was a domineering, bullying man, her daughter loved him and still does. “When my father was alive, I admired him more than any man for what he achieved in his life,” she says. “I was very proud of him. He started with nothing and had to work his way through. He didn’t have a father who gave him a start in life. In order to raise the capital to buy the farm he had a taxi business in Guisborough.”

Was he an animal lover? They can do strange things when it comes to wills. “Not in that sense,” says Christine. “He was a good stockman. Animals were a commercial enterprise to him.” Nobody in the family had been a staunch supporter of the RSPCA.

Christine’s sentiments about one of the country’s richest charities, which receives half its income from bequests, are now somewhat less than charitable. Spending three years in a legal fight was a misery.

“At my age, three years is a long time,” she says. “My husband and I had our son late and three years is a precious time for us. Three years have just gone by in limbo.”

Then there is the problem of costs, which have not yet been awarded. Mark Keenan, partner at Mishcon de Reya, believes his client suffered an injustice: “I am surprised the RSPCA should ask Christine to contribute to their costs.”

The RSPCA said it was “legally obliged to seek the funds [of the bequest] under charitable law”, and said the case showed it was vital for people to discuss their will with family and other beneficiaries.

Rather belying its cosy image as saviour to bunny rabbits and coming out somewhat like a fighting dog, the RSPCA has indicated it will appeal.

“I am completely bewildered by this,” says Christine. “I don’t know why they keep on pursuing me. I wish they would just leave me alone.” Will she be donating pennies to their boxes on the high street? “I’m afraid I won’t be. But I have no axe to grind.” The RSPCA at one point made her an offer of £650,000 plus costs, and claimed it “tried to settle the matter amicably before it even came to court”.

To Christine that is laughable: “If I’d been interested in money, I would have agreed upon a settlement. But what I wanted was land. And I wanted that land. My land.

“Every morning I would wake up and, from my house, look over those fields. The fields that were ours. And they are my fields now. Nothing would have compensated me for the loss of my land.”

Kathleen Moodie wrote:
I have read elswhere that Christine Gill offered to settle with the RSPCA early on in the proceedings and that they turned down a very generous percentage of the estate. I have also read that the RSPCA put the farm on the market before this case was settled. Sadly, the RSPCA has lost its way and seems less concerned with animal welfare issues than adding further funds to its multi-million pound coffers. The current furore now spreading across the internet over the RSPCA's shooting of ten German Shepherd dogs with captive bolts in June of this year has irreparably damaged the reputation of this once respected organisation. This damage is being further compounded by the RSPCA's determination to go to appeal after losing their case to Christine Gill. The current costs are £1.3m. How much more publicly donated money are they going to spend on this? How many animals could have been rehabilitated with £1.3m? And how many of the healthy or treatable animals currently being euthanised by the RSPCA every year could have been saved? IT IS TIME FOR THE RSPCA TO RETURN TO ITS ROOTS.

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