THE RSPCA has defended itself after criticism that prosecuting an Oxfordshire hunt was “political”.

Members of Heythrop Hunt, and the hunt itself, were convicted of illegal fox hunting on Monday in the first such prosecution by the animal cruelty charity.

The hunt, along with members Julian Barnfield, 49, and Richard Sumner, 68, each admitted four counts of unlawful hunting with dogs. But outside court, Barnfield, of Worcester Road, Chipping Norton, said: “The fact a charitable body can take on this political thing and spend so much money which other people have given them for another thing is stunning. I just hope their donors question what they are doing with their money.”

Sentencing, District Judge Tim Pattinson appeared to question the £250,000 the RSPCA had spent on the prosecution.

He said: “It is not for me to express an opinion, I merely flag it up, but I do find it to be a quite staggering figure.”

RSPCA spokesman Andy Robbins said: “The decision to take this case was not politically motivated. The RSPCA has existed since 1824 to prevent suffering to animals and to bring those responsible for cruelty to justice.

“On those terms alone, this prosecution was no different to any of the cases we take.”

Barnfield was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £2,000 costs and Sumner, of Salperton in Gloucestershire, was fined £1,800 and ordered to pay £2,500 costs.

The Hunt was fined £4,000 and told to pay costs of £15,000.