Visitors to the website of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are told that more than half of the charity’s annual income – which totalled almost £120m in 2008 – comes from legacies in wills. “We’re incredibly grateful to these thoughtful animal lovers and, as with any donation, their gifts will be put to good use,” the site says.
Which is very decent of those benefactors.
But John Mason, whose brother George bequeathed more than £480,000 to the charity when he died, would probably disagree.
As it turns out, he has good reason to.
The 85-year-old, from Enfield in north London, recently joined a growing list of people who have been dragged through the courts by the RSPCA after disagreements with the charity.
A bit like Dr Gill, only with a rather different and altogether nastier twist.
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. 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.
I had to read that twice. This organisation wants the other benefactors of the will to pay its share of the IHT. Yup, that’s right. Greed doesn’t come close to describing this activity. Nor does spite, malice or wickedness. This is attempted theft by any other name and it smells as foul.
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.
This is a sensible judgement and sets a precedent should this evil, scheming organisation try the same trick with some other grieving unfortunate.
He said it was “clear” from George Mason’s will that he had never intended for any tax liability to fall on his brother or friends. Despite the ruling, he said, the RSPCA would still receive £370,000 of Mr Mason’s money.
Yes, I’d have thought it pretty clear, too. In general, when people leave bequests, they don’t intend that some benefactors pick up the tax liability for others. It takes a deeply perverse view of the world to reach such a conclusion – or one blinded by avarice.
The problem, of course, is that bullies like to use solicitors’ letters to cow people into submission. I’ve been there and understand what it feels like to read the dire threats issued in dry legalese, intended to frighten the recipient, despite the weakness of the claim being made. It’s designed to browbeat people into giving up their rights because it will be too expensive to fight, encouraging them to take the easy, less expensive option; submission, compliance and ultimately paying up to the tormentor. This is the tactic of the coward and the bully. However, my reaction was not the typical one. I do not give in to bullies. My reaction was to stand and fight. It is good that others respond likewise.
We decided that the only way forward was to try to stand up to them. To be honest, we didn’t think they would ever take it to court, because their position was so tenuous and their argument was so technical we thought they wouldn’t risk it.
In general, that would be the likely outcome of most disputes. It was the outcome of mine, for example, the bully backed down rather than have his tenuous case tested. The RSPCA are in another league when it comes to bullying, it seems. They went the full nautical mile. And, rightly, justly, it cost them dear.
The parasite who represented the RSPCA thinks the ruling unfair.
But 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.
Mr Hewitt clearly does not use the same English dictionary as I do, as the only unfair, wrong thing here was the wholly reprehensible action he took on behalf of his sleazy client to bully the recently bereaved in order to squeeze even more than the generous donation they were left from the deceased’s estate. And, frankly, there was nothing to settle. The charity – and I use the word loosely – was given a very generous sum of money and decided to mug the remaining beneficiaries, too. But, then, I would have nothing to do with them in the first instance. This organisation will never see a penny of my money – alive or dead.
If I say to a charity: ‘I’m leaving you £200,000’, and the charity only receives £50,000, should it just walk away?
Yes, because the dispute is with the government, not the other beneficiaries.
In general, don’t give money to the RSPCA. Don’t leave them anything in your will. And if you find yourself in the same position as the Masons, fight the bastards every inch of the way. If you do want to give to animal charities, give to the small, independent ones not the RSPCA.