USPCA chief Philpott suspended after probe into how charity is run
The USPCA has suspended its high-profile chief executive Stephen Philpott following an internal investigation into the management of the organisation, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
It is understood that Northern Ireland's leading animal charity is to announce that it is issuing disciplinary proceedings against Mr Philpott.
The shock revelation is to be made to USPCA members when they gather for their annual general meeting today.
Mr Philpott is one of the best-known charity bosses here, regularly appearing in the media to talk about animal cruelty issues.
He has held the post of chief executive for more than a decade.
In December the USPCA released a short statement saying that its trustees had initiated an independent inquiry into aspects of the charity's management.
It declined to say if any employees had been suspended.
Members will today be informed that during a full review of its corporate governance procedures, "issues of concern" were identified regarding its management.
This led to Mr Philpott's suspension and to disciplinary action, which is ongoing.
The organisation is understood to have established new structures and stronger regulatory mechanisms.
USPCA members had complained to the Belfast Telegraph that they were being kept in the dark about the details and progress of the internal investigation.
Today's AGM will be held in the Oxford Island nature reserve in Craigavon.
It must be stressed that the disciplinary process is ongoing and as yet no adverse findings against Mr Philpott have been made.
Just six months ago Mr Philpott presided at the official opening of the USPCA's state-of-the-art animal hospital in Newry, which has a vet on duty full-time. The organisation said the hospital was the first of its kind in Ireland.
Mr Philpott has led the charity's campaign against puppy farms.
He has also campaigned for a ban on fox hunting with dogs which - unlike in the rest of the UK - remains legal in Northern Ireland.
Despite his high public profile, some long-standing USPCA members and ex-members have not been supporters of Mr Philpott's leadership.
In 2005 there was a major split in the organisation, with life-long 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 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 came in at more than £2m.
Most of its income is money inherited from wills.