Couple charged with abuse after their cat was taken from them finally gets apology

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The Byrnes family pose somberly with a photo of their beloved cat


A family that demanded an apology after their cat was taken from them and put down without their consent and they ended up facing prosecution for animal abuse has finally gotten that apology in a very public manner.

After a neighbor dropped a dime and complained to the RSPCA about the condition of Claude the cat, officers with the UK animal charity took the senior pet from his family in May of 2013 and had him euthanized by a veterinarian without letting his family’s teenaged children have the chance to visit the cat to say their goodbyes.

The RSPCA then charged Richard and Samantha Byrnes of Tring, Hertfordshire, alleging animal cruelty and taking them to court over the elderly cat’s long and matter fur and its appearance of being infirm and underweight.

The charges were dismissed in August 2014 after the Crown Prosecution Service determined that there were insufficient grounds to prosecute and quashed the case, dropping the charges.

That was not the end of the matter, however, as the RSPCA issued a public statement defending it’s grounds for bringing charges. Richard Byrnes reacted with “unbelieving anger” as he encountered what he called “untruths” in the RSPCA’s version of events surrounding the case.

Richard said in remarks made in August : “The BBC had invited me and the RSPCA’s press representative to speak about what had happened, and I was absolutely dumbfounded when he began to say things that just weren’t true.”

“It’s true that Claude’s fur was long and that it could get matted. We loved Claude very much and tried for years to keep his fur under control. Even our vet was forced to anesthetize him before trimming him.

“We went through the anguish of seeing Claude put down and then the unbelievable prospect of finding ourselves faced with a court trial, until the CPS stepped in and sorted things out. That should have been the end of it.

“But the RSPCA had other ideas. It decided to lie and spin to try to justify its over-zealous actions against decent and honest, animal loving people.”

“Absolutely the most outrageous lie was that the RSPCA allowed us 24 hours for our children to say goodbye. We asked the Inspector if we could take Claude home for one last night with the family, which was refused.

“I was at work in London and could not get back until 7pm. But we knew the vet was open until 8 so we rushed over. We were told the RSCPA had left instructions not to give us any access. We asked if euthanasia could be deferred to 4pm the next day so we could bring our children along after school to say good-bye, and this was also refused, despite the fact that the vet was willing to consider this.

“Telling everyone they’d compassionately given us an extra 24 hours so that our family could say their farewells is a disgraceful lie and only makes the suffering we’ve experienced a hundred times worse. Our children were absolutely distraught. The least they can do is to apologize.

“This is supposed to be a compassionate charity, but clearly it has its own agenda. We will always be animal lovers but will support other charities in the future, charities which spend their contributions on animals and not lawyers.”

Responding to Mr Byrnes’ remarks, RSPCA chief legal officer, Ray Goodfellow, acknowledged that “errors’ had been made  but added that: “The RSPCA is not an uncaring organisation”.

An RSPCA spokesman said: “The RSPCA has always made it clear that where we can learn lessons we will.

“We acted in the best interests of the cat which was suffering and indeed the CPS agreed with us that there was sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction as its needs were not being met.

Sara-Lise Howe, the barrister representing the family, said: “There was no proof Claude was suffering; even the RSPCA Inspector who took Claude away said he was alert and active and showed no signs of being in pain.

“It’s a real concern to the public that such a high profile organization as the RSPCA should feel entitled to ignore the CPS decision that a prosecution should not have been brought, and instead issue statements to the press which are provably false and suggest that the family are guilty of criminal conduct.”

The RSPCA has now issued a full public apology to the Brynes family for the way the case was handled.  They apologize for taking Claude from his family, for prosecuting the family, and for their media responses in relation to the case.

The apology is reprinted in full below Claude’s photo.



Mr Richard and Mrs Samantha Byrnes – an Apology

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.



7 thoughts on “Couple charged with abuse after their cat was taken from them finally gets apology”

  1. Well, Claude looks like an old cat. Many senior cats are more unkempt, and apparently he was allowed outside which probably aided in him looking ragged. Older cats get thinner no matter how much they eat. That does not mean there was anything wrong with him. He obviously had a home for his entire life. The RSPCA and the neighbor really dropped the ball, and obviously the family was wrongly accused.
    Shame on RSCPA.

  2. the cat really looks like hell! but until they proved that he was underfed and not just skinny because of old age needs to be shown as well as other things that were wrong with him. sometimes old age does not sit well with some cats…wonder why the neighbor complained? They acted too fast to have him put down. if they think the guardians were wrong they should have tried to re-home him but they didnt.

  3. I can’t help but feel that this rediculous waste of hard working and well meaning donors money is a case of power obcessed RSPCA officials picking on easy targets.

    The RSPCA should concentrate their efforts where there is obvious animal cruelty but this would often mean facing unpleasant awkward and sometimes dangerous situations so they pick on the easy targets instead. They should hang their head in shame for needlessly bringing so much stress and unpleasantness onto an innocent family. The person responsible for deciding to prosecute as well as whoever is responsible for the lie about giving them time to say goodbye should both be sacked.

  4. Mr & Mrs Byrnes should go ahead with legal action. An inspector cannot seize a cat without an independent veterinary surgeon’s certificate to confirm and prove unnecessary suffering to the animal. No doubt Mr Byrnes signed the cat over to the RSPCA – which was a big mistake! It gave them power to do what they wanted! I am totally disgusted with the way this has been handled by the RSPCA and they should receive the criticism they deserve. In reality they are quite restricted with their powers, they cannot break into a property without the authority and presence of the Police, nor seize an animal without the endorsement of a vet or police officer, then it rests on court action. They rely of bluff and undue pressure to coerce the owners. It’s about time they got their house in order!

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