The RSCPA is investigating a prominent barrister who revealed he had clubbed a fox to death in his garden.
Jolyon Maugham QC, who is known for leading a series of legal actions over Brexit, provoked outrage by tweeting on Thursday: “Already this morning I have killed a fox with a baseball bat. How’s your Boxing Day going?”
He later reported himself to the RSPCA as he faced a growing backlash online.
The charity, which prosecutes cases of animal cruelty, confirmed it was “aware of a situation regarding a fox, and would like to reassure people that we’re investigating”.
The RSPCA had earlier described Mr Maugham’s account of killing the fox as “distressing”.
The lawyer said the animal had “got caught up in the protective netting around the chickens at his home in central London and he “wasn’t sure what else to do“.
Faced with a deluge of criticism, he wrote: “No one should relish killing animals – and I certainly didn’t. But if you haven’t been up close to a large trapped fox, perhaps reserve judgment.”
He later added: “Sorry to those upset by my tweet. My chickens were very distressed by the fox – both before and after I’d despatched it – and I wanted it out of the way quickly.”
Mr Maugham also revealed he was wearing his wife’s satin kimono and nursing a hangover when he clubbed to fox to death.
Government guidelines state cage traps and snares may be deployed to protect property from foxes and a person who uses them must “humanely kill any fox you catch while it’s in the trap or snare”.
An RSPCA spokesperson on Friday declined to say if investigators had spoken to Mr Maugham.
The animal welfare organisation said: “Our investigation is ongoing and we have a number of strict procedures to follow, which means that we cannot share the details with the public.
“We appreciate that this is a very emotive issue, but we need to conduct our investigation in a confidential and professional manner.”
Matthew Scott, a lawyer who writes legal commentary on his website Barrister Blogger, said Mr Maugham “will be in for a very unpleasant time indeed” if the RSPCA launches a full investigation.
He wrote: “He could be called in for interview. The fox’s cadaver could be recovered and sent to a pathologist. The baseball bat would be bagged up and carefully examined for fingerprints. His wife could find her kimono seized for forensic analysis. They would be looking for DNA from the fox and a forensic interpretation of blood spatters on the kimono.
“Mr Maugham may or may not be a rich man, but he is not as rich as the RSPCA, and the RSPCA tends to throw money at prosecutions, no matter how trivial. Win or lose he will be out of pocket, even with his genius for crowdfunding litigation.”
Mr Scott said the “obvious offence to consider first” is a breach of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act, which prohibits inflicting “unnecessary suffering” by beating.
The offence can be punishable with up to six months in prison, though Mr Scott said Mr Maugham could potentially argue killing the fox was necessary as to not do so would have “would have meant the fox suffering on the wire for longer”.
Mr Maugham said in a tweet: “To those concerned I have broken the law, I called and spoke to the RSPCA and left my contact details.”
The barrister is the founder and director of the Good Law Project, which has brought a number of legal challenges to the Brexit process and was involved in the successful court action to stop Boris Johnson’s unlawful prorogation of parliament.