|Prince Edward||struck a hunting dog with a stick||Sandringham, Norfolk, England||December 30, 2008|
The RSPCA has formally launched an investigation into claims that Prince Edward may have struck a gun dog with his walking stick during a shoot at Sandringham.
Following complaints from members of the public, it said, officers had begun a 'factfinding' exercise into the incident which was captured by a local photographer.
A Norfolk-based inspector has been assigned to make inquiries and is hoping to speak with the photographer concerned as well as establishing whether there were any other witnesses.
(Photo courtesy of Albanpix - Prince Edward approaches the two dogs as they squabble over a pheasant).
(Photo courtesy of Albanpix -The Prince raises his walking stick as he gets closer to the dogs).
It was too early, said a spokesman, to predict whether the Queen's son would be interviewed.
The 44-year-old prince was seen reacting violently when two black labradors appeared to grab a dead pheasant during a shoot on the Queen's estate.
The photographs show him rushing at the animals with his shotgun tucked under his arm and a 4ft stick raised in the air.
He can then be seen bringing it down several times towards them. One of the dogs runs off and cowers as Edward chases after it and takes another swing. It has not been established whether the prince actually hit the dogs.
An onlooker at the shoot said: 'It was a big stick and it would have hurt the dog if it had been hit with any force.'
An RSPCA spokesman said: 'We have received around ten complaints and are launching a fact-finding investigation. It is not a full inquiry at this stage, it is an attempt to establish whether there is any evidence for one.'
Buckingham Palace said Edward waved his stick to try and break up a fight between his animals over a dead pheasant.
Last year Prince Harry was interviewed by police investigating the alleged shooting of two rare hen harriers on the same estate. No charges were brought, however, as the prince denied all knowledge of the incident and no bodies were found.
(Photo courtesy of Albanpix - Edward lashes out at one of the black labs
Animal charities have accused the Earl of setting a 'sickening example' by his apparent actions.
Barry Hugill, spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: 'People in blood sports tend to show a complete disregard for the welfare of animals.
'He has set a truly sickening example.' Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, said: 'It would appear he has had a royal tantrum.'
He said that to hit a dog would be 'a pathetic, cowardly and vicious act', and added: 'It is an offence to cause an animal unnecessary suffering.'
An onlooker at the weekend shoot on the royals' Norfolk estate said Edward appeared to take around three swipes at the dog. He added: 'It happened when Edward was shooting in a field with Peter Phillips. 'At the end of the drive, the dogs went off to pick up the dead birds - but these two dogs looked like they were squabbling over one pheasant.
'They clearly were not doing what they were supposed to do so Edward took it upon himself to impose some royal discipline. 'It was quite a big stick and it would have hurt the dog if it had been hit with any force.'
(Photo courtesy of Albanpix - Edward appears to attack the animal even though he has an unbroken shotgun under his arm).
Edward appears to attack the animal even though he has an unbroken shotgun under his arm
(Photo courtesy of Albanpix - The dog scurries away in terror as Edward comes after him with his stick).
Beverly Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today magazine, said: 'These images are simply disgraceful - it is an outrage.
'What sort of message does it send out when the Royal Family are directly involved in this sort of sickening animal cruelty. The Queen is the patron of the RSPCA and the Dogs Trust, yet here is her son behaving in a despicable manner.'
Jill Grieve, of the Countryside Alliance, added: 'Raising a stick to an animal is never a great idea.
'Using close control, with a whistle for example, is much more effective than beating a dog with a stick.
Others, however, offered a more sympathetic explanation for the prince's actions. Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club, suggested he might have hit the ground with the stick to scare the dogs and separate them.
She said: 'If the two dogs were fighting, I wouldn't be surprised if someone whacked the ground nearby to make an impression.
'If you want to make sure dogs don't injure each other, you need to break things up as soon as you can before one of them gets injured. 'If you just run waving your arms, you are not going to have much effect. 'Dogs would be able to hear the vibration from a stick being hit on the ground and would react.'
(Photo courtesy of Albanpix - That's mine: The Prince picks up the dead pheasant and walks off).
Buckingham Palace said Edward waved his stick to break up a fight between his two dogs over a dead pheasant at the Queen's Sandringham estate in Norfolk last week.
A spokeswoman said: 'It has not been determined that he did strike the dog. 'He broke up the fight with the dogs and pictures show him waving his stick around. 'We cannot confirm, however, whether he struck the dog.'