The story is a shameful, politically motivated and unfounded attack referring to a legacy bequest of £3.5million which we are alleged to have wasted, but the truth is we haven’t spent any of it. Charities are being targetted in certain parts of the media at the moment, potentially as an attempted repeal of the Hunting Act is on the cards, so our supporters and anyone who looks closely at this will understand what this story is really about – trying to discredit opponents of hunting.

The suggestion that we were ‘saved’ by the legacy is completely unfounded. It has arrived in instalments, the last of which arrived in January 2016, so we are now deciding how to spend the money. Mr Hales’ legacy was of course very welcome and a tribute both to his passion for animals, and the work that we do. We are really excited by the opportunity this gives us to expand our work further, making a real difference for animals, and ensuring that every penny is spent in the way that Mr Hales would have wanted.

To suggest we have failed our donors is not only incorrect but frankly laughable. We have not only managed this legacy with great care and attention – and will continue to do so when we decide the time is right to spend it – but we have also achieved several major successes over the last few years. Not only did we lead the way in thwarting the government’s attempt to legalise fox hunting last year, but we have also exposed the treatment of birds used by the ‘game’ bird shooting industry, highlighted the hidden evil of snares and produced a ground-breaking report that showed that one dog fight takes place in the UK every day. We’ve done this and more in the last year, showing that we are efficiently and effectively using donors’ money wisely – and in the way they would want us to use it. As well as our impact in defending animals from cruelty, our membership and voluntary income increased significantly, which shows that our supporters know we are doing an effective job.

We’ve done this in the face of opposition from those who do not like the fact that we are trying to stop people from killing animals for ‘sport’. Attacks in the media aren’t uncommon, but recently two of our investigators were viciously attacked while they were peacefully monitoring a fox hunt, with one suffering broken vertebrae in his neck. Cars owned by two of our Investigators have been found to have tracking devices attached to them. Certain people, some very influential and high profile, don’t like what we do. But we shall continue to do it because we know that the majority of people in this country share our beliefs.

The Times story is a mishmash of exaggerations, half-truths and claims that are plainly incorrect. We were able to rebut every single accusation but none of our responses have been used which suggests that the journalist was after a cheap headline, and not actually interested in accuracy. The majority of these claims relate to events that happened up to a year ago or longer, and do not reflect reality at all. Our internal systems are robust and are being constantly improved, there is a strong new management team and, unfortunately for our opponents, staff morale has never been higher.

The Times has been running a series of articles against environmental and animal welfare groups and has criticised the League for using supporters funds to expose the illegal slaughter of thousands of turtle doves, expose the appalling treatment ‎of greyhounds by the racing industry that culminated in a damming Commons report, and to prosecute potentially illegal hunters in a case for which the police apologised and disciplined their own officers for dropping. This is exactly what our supporters expect, and will continue to get, from us.

Our specific responses to individual criticisms:

Staff pay rises

League staff were given a pay rise in 2014, but prior to that they had not been given a rise for three years so it was therefore seen to be justified and overdue. At the time, a comparison was made with other similar organisations, and the League was shown to have an average salary lower than many others. No pay rises were awarded in 2015. Mr Hales’ legacy was not used to pay for pay rises.

Whistleblowers

It is absolutely wrong to suggest that any individual has been dismissed or faced detrimental treatment for whistleblowing. This is categorically untrue. One permanent member of staff and one staff member on a fixed term contract raised some concerns, and, as was their right within the League’s policy, took these concerns to trustees.

The contracted staff member was on a three-month contract as PA to Joe Duckworth, the CEO. The contract came to an end. At that point, Mr Duckworth had left, and the decision was taken that the position was no longer required, so the contract wasn’t extended. The position was discontinued and has not been reinstated since. The permanent member of staff raised a number of issues. These were dealt with ‘by the book’, with an external HR advisor and a trustee conducting a thorough investigation. The outcome and details did not find wrongdoing. Only three of the many concerns were upheld, with these being focussed on minor policy matters.

John Cooper

The decision about John Cooper’s tenure as Honorary President was not in relation to this. As reported at the time, when he was appointed in March 2011 the minutes of the trustee meeting show that there was a discussion about the appointment being for 3 years. By last year, John had at this point served four and a half years, so as part of a review of our honorary positions the trustees felt it was time for a change. We understand that John has been upset by this, but this was not intended. John has a long history with the League and was instrumental in our campaign to ban fox hunting, leading to the Hunting Act of 2004; he remains an Honorary Life Member.

Overseas trips

The story refers to visits overseas that staff took, but both of these were totally justifiable. The League’s work highlighting cruelty to greyhounds in the UK was a major focus for our work in 2014/5 and we worked closely with Grey2K USA Worldwide during this period, the leading greyhound protection organisation in the world. They contributed significant research to our joint report exposing greyhound cruelty in the UK which wouldn’t have been possible without a face to face meeting. Our CEO and one member of staff travelled to Boston on one occasion as part of our work on greyhound welfare which was featured in the media, including in The Times. The League was also asked to contribute to a House of Commons investigation into this issue. None of this would have been possible without the partnership with Grey 2K USA Worldwide.

The shooting of migratory birds is an important issue for wildlife conservation organisations and bird lovers in the UK. Many of the migratory birds shot in Malta are on their way to the UK, and so it was decided to highlight the cruelty of Malta as an issue of importance in its own right but also to compare it to the cruelty of shooting in the UK. We have done so on many occasions to good effect. While we focus our work on the UK and only have staff in the UK we also campaign on other international issues that are important to our supporters e.g. bullfighting and trophy hunting.

Lamerton prosecution

Our case against the Lamerton Hunt was dropped, but this was not because of the quality of evidence. The evidence captured by our investigators was assessed independently by two senior barristers, one a QC, both of whom believed there was a realistic prospect of conviction. The League stands by our decision to take this private prosecution. We cannot let hunts get away with what we still believe is a very strong case of illegal hunting. We wanted the judicial process to make a decision on this case, and we want the world to know that the League Against Cruel Sports will not stand by and let hunts flout the law. We may have had to withdraw, but anyone with common sense can see what this hunt was doing.

As reported widely in the media at the time of the trial, the police considered the case but delayed their decision, leading to the League deciding to progress it privately. Two police officers, including a detective superintendent, faced disciplinary proceedings as a result of failing to investigate the matter effectively and were found guilty. We have subsequently received an apology from the police force in question, which is the second time they have had to apologise for failing to investigate allegations of illegal hunting.