A gang of fraudsters – who it is estimated made at least £2.5m selling sick and dying puppies to unsuspecting members of the public – have been disqualified from keeping dogs for life as some of the gang members were also jailed this week.
It comes following a three-year investigation by the RSPCA into puppy dealing in London and Berkshire. The animal welfare charity launched ‘Operation Adder’ following complaints from a number of people who had bought puppies which had fallen ill and, in some cases, tragically died.
Simon O’Donnell (DoB: 23/08/87) and Margaret McDonagh (DoB: 25/09/90), previously of Bradenham Road, Hayes; Edward Stokes (DoB: 10/12/82), previously of Rosedale Avenue, Hayes, and later of Tenaplas Drive, Upper Basildon in Berkshire; Thomas Stokes (DoB: 16/05/92), previously of Coldharbour Lane, Hayes; Thomas O’Donnell (DoB: 27/01/89) and Mary McDonagh (DoB: 15/09/89), previously of Bedwell Gardens, Hayes, all appeared at Isleworth Crown Court today (Tuesday 22 May) to be sentenced for their part operating a network of puppy sellers across London.
A vet who conspired with the gang, falsifying vaccination cards to help them sell the pups, is also due to be sentenced having previously been found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to commit fraud.
RSPCA officers estimated the network of dealers were selling puppies for an average of £500 each – making at least £2,548,500 by selling 5,097 puppies during a five-year period – although investigators suspect there were many more.
The gang were most active between 2014 and 2016 – before being raided by police and RSPCA investigators – and forensic examinations of mobile phones used to sell the puppies, show they were making around £800,000 a year during these busy years.
RSPCA officers joined teams from the Metropolitan Police as they executed warrants at four addresses on 27 May 2016 in Bedwell Gardens, Bradenham Road, Coldharbour Lane, and Rosedale Avenue, all in Hayes, west London. A further warrant was executed by Thames Valley Police at a property in Tenaplas Drive, Upper Basildon, on 1 February 2017.
During the first warrants, a total of 46 dogs and puppies were found being kept in plastic sheds, outbuildings and garages, or running loose in gardens and yards at the four Hayes addresses, all of which were seized and placed into RSPCA care. The dead bodies of four Yorkshire terrier puppies were found wrapped in black bin bags scattered around the garden at the property in Coldharbour Lane – thought to be from the same litter. Despite veterinary treatment, four puppies later died from parvovirus. Three of the bitches, who were pregnant when they were seized, went on to have a total of 16 puppies, although one was stillborn.
Nine dogs were later seized from the Berkshire address and taken into RSPCA care.
RSPCA inspector Kirsty Withnall, who led the investigation to uncover their plot, said: “Four of the gang members are siblings and, together with their partners, launched this network of puppy sellers and dealers in west London, with Edward and Mary Teresa Stokes later continuing to sell dogs from their new address in Reading, Berkshire, while Thomas Stokes went on to sell again from another property in Feltham.
“This was an complex and sophisticated network of organised fraud and cruelty to dogs. This was a complicated and multi-faceted, high volume conspiracy whereby the gang has misrepresented commercial, puppy-farmed dogs imported from abroad as family-bred pets to con members of the public out of money.
“Puppies were illegally imported from southern Ireland before being transported to the defendants’ homes where they were kept in plastic sheds, outbuildings and garages. They were advertised online and sold for between £350 and £650 each.
“The gang were generally dealing with fashionable breeds and designer crossbreeds such as Yorkies, cavapoos and Labradoodles.”
Officers took statements from 83 victims in total, all of whom had bought puppies from the gang at different addresses, having responded to adverts posted online – 25 puppies sadly died or had to be put to sleep due to severe health problems.
“Buyers have had to cover expensive veterinary bills or, tragically, lost their pet as a result of poor breeding, inappropriate transport and inadequate care,” inspector Withnall added.
“We also discovered that the sellers were using lots of different names and aliases as well as changing phone numbers.
“Prospective buyers were led to believe that the puppy they wished to purchase had been born and raised in a loving family home, the mother dog being a family pet. They were provided with paperwork relating to pedigree parentage, health documentation and vaccination certificates, much of which was falsified and did not or could not be shown to relate to the puppy in question.
“When visiting, buyers were usually met by a man, often there were children and a woman present, giving the impression of the ‘family home’ that the puppies were claimed to have been part of. They were also shown bitches claimed to be the mothers but we now know these were stooge dogs bought in to lull buyers into a false sense of security.”
Six of the gang members admitted fraud and animal welfare offences and were sentenced today (22 May).
Simon O’Donnell was sentenced to three years in prison and was disqualified from keeping dogs for life. He was also ordered to pay £170 victim surcharge.
Thomas Stokes was also jailed for three years and disqualified from keeping dogs for life. He was also ordered to pay a £170 victim surcharge.
Thomas O’Donnell was handed a two-year jail term suspended for two years and was ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work and a rehabilitation activity. He was also disqualified from keeping dogs for life and ordered to pay £115 victim surcharge.
Margaret McDonagh was given an 18-month community order and rehabilitation activity. She was also ordered to pay £85 victim surcharge and given an order which prohibits her from keeping dogs until an application to the court to lift it.
Mary McDonagh was given a 12-month community order. She was also ordered to pay £85 victim surcharge and given an order which prohibits her from keeping dogs until an application to the court to lift it.
A vet – who conspired with the gang – was also sentenced today having been found guilty by a jury following a four-week trial earlier this year.
Daniel Doherty (DoB: 28/07/68) of Wood Lane, Iver Heath, operated two My Vets surgeries in Uxbridge, west London, where he conspired with the gang to commit fraud. Evidence showed that 4,689 puppies were taken to MyVet 24/7 by the gang between 23 March 2011 and 10 May 2017 for their first vaccinations, with the vet pocketing at least £75,000.
He was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to complete 80 hours of unpaid work and pay £140 victim surcharge.
Another member of the gang was sentenced at a previous hearing at Isleworth Crown Court on 7 September 2017 having pleaded guilty to one offence of failing to meet the needs of dogs. She was sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge, disqualified from keeping dogs for five years, and ordered to pay £250 in costs.
And the final member of the gang admitted a similar offence and received a restraining order disqualifying her from keeping dogs for five years.
Edward Stokes, who also appeared at court this week, will appear back at court on 14 June for sentencing after his case was adjourned.
These investigations also sparked an additional investigation into a man who was selling dogs from a property in Edmonton. When police executed a warrant at the property in February 2017, four dogs were removed.
In November last year, he was jailed for two years and eight months and disqualified from keeping dogs for life after admitting five offences of fraud by false representation and one offence of failing to meet the needs of dogs. A woman was cautioned and received a court order prohibiting her for keeping dogs for three years, for failing to meet the needs of dogs.
All of the dogs that were seized as part of the investigations went into foster homes and were later signed over to the RSPCA to be rehomed.