Thu, 14 Jun 2018
A West Berkshire man has been given a suspended prison sentence and a lifetime ban on keeping dogs for his part in a puppy farming gang.
The gang made an estimated £2.5m selling more than 5,000 puppies across London and the South East.
Edward Stokes, 35, of Tenaplas Drive, Upper Basildon, was sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court on Thursday (June 14) having previously admitted one offence of conspiracy to commit fraud and one animal welfare offence.
Stokes was given a two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years, and a lifetime ban on keeping dogs which cannot be appealed for 10 years.
He was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work. The judge also ordered the destruction of Stokes’ mobile phones and laptops.
This sentence follows a major 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, died.
Inspector Kirsty Withnall, who led the investigation, said: “Mr Stokes is the final person to be sentenced in this case and brings a three-year investigation to an end.
“During our enquiries, we estimated this network of dealers sold at least 5,097 puppies during five years - making a whopping £2,548,500.
“The gang imported puppies from abroad, keeping them in plastic sheds in their gardens before advertising them online as much-loved, family-bred pets to unsuspecting members of the public.
“Unfortunately, many of the puppies who were sold fell ill very quickly and, tragically, some even died.”
The gang was broken up in May 2016 when RSPCA officers and teams from the Metropolitan Police raided four addresses in Hayes, West London, removing 46 dogs and puppies from unsuitable conditions and discovering four dead puppies wrapped in plastic bags.
Three of the bitches, who were pregnant when they were seized, went on to have a total of 16 puppies, although one was stillborn.
Stokes, previously of Rosedale Avenue, Hayes, London, moved to West Berkshire, where he continued to sell puppies despite the ongoing investigation.
But the law caught up with him and a warrant was executed at his new address, where nine more dogs were seized.
His sentencing was adjourned from May 22, when the other gang members and a vet who helped the group were all sentenced for their part in the lucrative operation.
Three men and two women were sentenced last month, and also the vet, having been convicted of a fraud offence for conspiring with the gang.
One other woman was sentenced at a previous hearing in September 2017, while another woman received a caution for her involvement.
Inspector Withnall said: “This was a 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, who had all bought puppies from the gang at different addresses, having responded to adverts posted online. 25 puppies died or had to be put to sleep due to severe health problems.
All 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.