USPCA boss Philpott sacked by charity for gross misconduct
Dismissal of animal welfare body chief from £80,000 job after internal probe
The USPCA has sacked its high-profile chief executive Stephen Philpott for gross misconduct.
Mr Philpott, who earned a salary of more that £80,000 a year, was dismissed following an internal investigation into the management of the organisation.
USPCA members said they were delighted with the news that Mr Philpott, who has headed Northern Ireland's leading animal charity for over a decade, had been fired.
One activist said: "Many members had become disillusioned and walked away from the organisation over the years.
"The USPCA is very close to the hearts of many people across Northern Ireland and hopefully it can now rebuild."
Mr Philpott did not respond to a request for comment last night.
The animal charity, which celebrates its 180th anniversary this year, wrote to its members last week informing them that Mr Philpott had been fired.
He was one of the most outspoken local charity bosses, regularly appearing on the media to talk about animal cruelty issues.
In a statement last night the organisation said: "The board of the USPCA have confirmed with great regret that the chief executive, Stephen Philpott, has been dismissed on grounds of gross misconduct.
"The dismissal related to aspects of his management of the charity following a comprehensive review conducted by an independent consultant, a full disciplinary hearing and exhaustive appeal process.
"An interim manager has been in place for a number of months and will continue to work closely with the board as they look at the management structure of the organisation going forward."
The USPCA said that the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland had been kept fully informed throughout the process.
Last September Mr Philpott presided at the official opening of the state-of-the-art USPCA animal hospital in Newry, which has a vet on duty full-time.
The organisation said it was the first hospital of its kind in Ireland.
Mr Philpott led the charity's campaign against puppy farms.
He also campaigned for a ban on fox hunting with dogs which, unlike the rest of the UK, remains legal in Northern Ireland.
Despite his high public profile, some long-standing USPCA members and ex-members did not support Mr Philpott's leadership.
In 2005 there was a major split in the organisation with lifelong members, who had raised questions about the charity's finances and direction, being expelled.
The USPCA board at the time said it had already answered numerous questions and had set out a clear financial statement in its audited accounts.
Members had also expressed reservations that the charity had moved its headquarters from Carryduff, on the outskirts of Belfast, to Bessbrook in south Armagh.
At the 2005 annual general meeting (AGM) in Newry security staff were employed to prevent the expelled members entering the meeting.
Founded in 1836, the USPCA is the second oldest animal charity in the world.
According to its latest report, its income in 2013/14 was £980,838.
Its income for the previous 12 months was over £2m.
Most of its income is money inherited in wills.
Mr Philpott was suspended by the USPCA in March.
His dismissal follows an independent inquiry that the charity's trustees initiated into aspects of its management over six months ago.
At its AGM in March USPCA members were informed that during a full review of its corporate governance procedures "issues of concern" were identified regarding its management.
USPCA chairwoman Helen Wilson last night moved to assure members that the charity's day-to-day work was continuing.
She paid tribute to staff who had worked tirelessly "to ensure that the service to animals has remained exemplary during a very difficult time".
She said: "The animal hospital is open seven days a week prioritising animal suffering and ensuring that all creatures in distress are treated with skill and compassion."
Ms Wilson said the charity had joined forces with the Trussell Trust, which operates food banks across Northern Ireland, to provide pet food parcels to help those in need who also have animals.
She said the charity's campaign and investigation work was also continuing.
"Our recent puppy trafficking campaign timed to coincide with BBC1 Panorama Dog Dealers investigative documentary is proof of this commitment," Ms Wilson added.