Norfolk

Norfolk gang made £300k from selling sick dogs and puppies

Caged dogs Image copyright RSPCA
Image caption Dogs were kept in cages and in dark sheds, the RSPCA said

A gang made £300,000 from selling sick or dying dogs and puppies they claimed had been bred in a family environment.

Jacob Murphy, Michael Rushmer and Zoe Rushmer kept some of the 74 animals in cages, dark sheds and a caravan in temperatures up to 30C (86F), Norwich Crown Court heard.

The Norfolk gang admitted conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.

Judge Andrew Shaw described it "as callous and mean-spirited a fraud as I have come across for some time".

Murphy, 27, and Michael Rushmer, also 27, were each jailed for 42 months, while Zoe Rushmer, 26, was given a two-year suspended sentence. They were all banned from keeping animals for life.

'Puppy factory'

The RSPCA, which brought the case, said the animals were kept in "disgusting conditions" at the farm in Thurlton. It removed 74 dogs, some of which were pregnant and had 20 puppies.

Some of the animals suffered from the potentially fatal parvovirus but were were advertised as being healthy, socialised and treated for worms and fleas.

Dogs had an average price of £675 and the defendants made £300,000 from the fraud, though they claimed it was nearer £150,000, prosecutor Hazel Stevens said.

She described how when one of the premises was raided in 2017, dogs were found in cages, some in "pitch-dark sheds with no access to light" and others "in a caravan at temperatures of up to 30C".

Mitigating, Andrew Oliver said Michael Rushmer was a cocaine user and "foolishly" bought dogs from travellers, which introduced parvovirus to the farm.

Image copyright Michael Rushmer
Image caption Michael Rushmer was described in court as the "deputy"

At sentencing, Judge Shaw described Murphy, who admitted three animal welfare offences, as the "ringleader", while Michael Rushmer was "[Murphy's] deputy if not his equal".

The latter also admitted 10 animal welfare offences, offending while on bail, and operating a pet shop and breeding establishment without a licence.

Zoe Rushmer, the judge said, was "the legitimate face of your brother's and partner's criminal enterprise" who "even lent (her) own children to the affair... to lend a veneer of respectability".

The mother of four was remorseful and admitted four animal welfare offences, the court heard.

Judge Shaw told her: "It's only your children that have spared you from going to prison."

Image copyright Zoe Rushmer
Image caption Zoe Rushmer was only saved from going to prison by the judge's consideration of her children

Jean Boyes, 67, admitted the same fraud charge but only once took a litter of seven puppies to be inoculated and received a two-year conditional discharge.

Judge Shaw said the fraud, which began as early as 2015, "strikes at the very heart of this nation's love for its pets, dogs in particular".

"To sell sickly and diseased dogs, so poorly that many do not survive, is about as callous and mean-spirited a fraud as I have come across for some time," he said.

After sentencing, RSPCA Inspector Amy Pellegrini described the farm as a "puppy factory".

"Families thought they were buying puppies who had been bred and reared in loving family homes but in reality they had been bred in disgusting conditions with little regard for their health or welfare but simply how much money they would bring in."

Image copyright RSPCA
Image caption Some of the dogs were kept in squalid conditions and others suffered from parvovirus

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