THE boss of a leading animal charity has left his £216,000-a-year job amid claims his well publicised salary was deterring would-be donors.

Stuart Earley, chief executive of Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA), has been in the spotlight for several years after joining the charity in 2007.

The highest earning charity chief in Scotland, he secured a salary of £190,855 which rose to around £216,000 after extras.

His last salary hike came following a “challenging” year for the charity which suffered a five per cent drop in fundraising income.

Animal welfare campaigners such as John Robins of the Animal Concern group had publicly condemned the pay packet being offered to Mr Earley when the Scottish SPCA was trying to get donations from the likes of pensioners.

While Mr Earley has left the charity to explore other opportunities, chiefly in the United States, it is understood he was facing pressure to quit his post after SSPCA volunteers were being challenged on the doorsteps of potential donors who queried his income.

An SSPCA spokeswoman said that whoever replaced Mr Earley would not be remunerated to the same level.

“I can confirm that Scottish SPCA chief executive, Stuart Earley has decided to stand down in order to seek a new challenge,” she said.

“In light of Mr Earley’s decision, the Scottish SPCA Board has agreed that he will step down with immediate effect – allowing him to focus on his future plans and allowing the society to move forward with its own new chapter.

“Scottish SPCA chairman Harry Haworth has thanked Mr Earley for his ‘invaluable contribution’ to the positive transformation of the Society over the past nine years.

“Mr Earley’s executive duties will be undertaken by Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn and David Webster, finance director, as interim joint CEOs until a successor is appointed.”

The charity said Mr Earley had received his large salary - which dwarfed the Prime Minister’s pay packet by around £50,000 - due to his achievements in his role as chief executive.

It was reported that his income had increased by more than a third since 2010.

A year ago it was reported that Mr Earley and his wife Emma charged the Scottish SPCA more than £12,000 to care for seven neglected horses at private stables they had established in Dollar, Clackmannanshire.

But Mr Earley insisted the figure represented a 44 per cent discount on their normal rates.

Formerly the chief executive of Deep Sea World in North Queensferry, Fife, he also worked at Whipsnade animal park in Bedfordshire.

Mr Earley could not be contacted, but last month the Scottish SPCA said that under his tenure the charity had been able to help 150 per cent more animals, and defended its financial stewardship.

Mr Haworth said the charity had helped more than 80,000 animals during the past year, compared to 32,000 in 2007, while engaging with around 50,000 more children in the same time period.

He said: “This is an outstanding achievement and is one of the largest educational outreach programmes in Europe and is already having a major impact in preventing cruelty to animals.”He said since 2007 the SSPCA had doubled its capacity to look after animals at its centres and had increased the number of frontline staff by over 120 – a 55 per cent increase.