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Gloucestershire Business News

Puppy farmer jailed

A 34-year-old father of three who ran a puppy farm but conned customers into thinking they were buying family raised pets has been jailed for nine months .

Leigh Hancock, formerly of Lydney in the Forest of Dean, but now of of Old Dry Arch Cottages, Ross-on-Wye, was turning out 'conveyor belt puppies' in poor condition when he sold them, Gloucester crown court court heard.

He admitted nine regulatory offences, and one of possessing criminal property and was jailed for nine months.

The court heard Hancock 'blitzed' social media with adverts for puppies that were purportedly the result of 'accidental pregnancies,' but were in fact from his 'puppy farm' at the back of his former home in Rodley Road, Lydney.

The offences dated between June 2016 and March 2017 but prosecutor Rosamund Rutter told the court that the operation was running before then.

She described it as a "conveyor belt of puppies, in poor conditions.

"The kennels could not be seen from the kitchen. Totally obscured," she said.

Hancock admitted placing sixty advertisements between July 2016 and March 2017 which implied the pups he was selling were from a family home.

He also admitted withdrawing £23,134.56 of 'criminal property' from his bank on 29th March 2017 when authorities executed a search warrant at his address and he became aware they were there.

He was jailed for nine months for the proceeds of crime offence and fined £1,800 for the regulatory offences.

The court heard that Hancock told the same story time and again to anyone who responded to the many adverts he placed.

Ms Rutter said he would tell interested parties that his bitch was a family dog that accidentally fell pregnant on a shooting trip.

He would say the puppies were socialised with humans, children and other family pets.

In fact there were kept in cages at the back of the Forest address.

Recorder Browne told the defendant the puppies were: "A very different proposition from what you advertised."

Trading standards officers analysed a series of advertisements that Hancock placed under various pseudonyms, the court was told.

Ms Rutter said: "A hundred adverts were associated with the defendant - and seven mobile numbers."

Hancock used various email addresses including the name of one of his children on one email.

This was 'to avoid advertising platforms suspecting he was a trader rather than private seller.'

"When analysed it was noted they were worded in a strikingly similar manner, and contained similar grammatical errors," the barrister said.

Ms Rutter told the judge of members of the public who were looking for family pets and were assured that was what they were buying.

"This is a recurring feature," noted the judge, Recorder Ben Browne QC. "They were puppy farmed puppies.

"In every case, the purchasers were looking for socialised animals. Used to being around children.

"In each case the set up was to make it look like it was, but it was blatantly untrue."

Ms Rutter told the judge that Hancock was very keen to make the impression the dogs were family animals, telling one couple he and his family were 'heartbroken they had to give the puppy up.'

Trading Standards attended the address in Rodley Road on 29th March 2017, and Hancock was not present.

He was contacted and said he was in Chepstow and could not return.

Hancock then proceeded to empty bank accounts, to a total of over £23,000.

The judge said of the selling of 'farmed puppies': "This is quite a widespread activity. A general problem in the country."

Defence lawyer, Tim Burrows, said his client now had no income and was reliant on his partner who was working as a cleaner.

He said the family income was boosted to £300 per week with tax credits, but at the time of the offences he had run a milk business.

Mr Burrows said that business had a turnover of £14,000 per week, with largely cash payments.

That accounted for the large amount of money in his accounts, Mr Burrows argued, although he accepted some of it would have come from the puppy farm.

He said his client withdrew the money because he had VAT and other bills to pay, and was fearful the money would be seized.

"He panicked," the lawyer said.

He argued that if the judge felt the custody threshold had been crossed the prison sentence could be suspended.

However Recorder Browne rejected that suggestion and imposed an immediate nine month jail term.

"You removed £23,134.56 in a series of transactions in order to defeat the ends of justice," the judge said.

"There may have been bills to pay, but it is entirely apparent you were trying to hide it from justice.

"On any view custody threshold has been crossed.

"The background is that you had been running an illegal puppy farm for a substantial period, suggesting they had been born and brought up in your home.

"You said they were socialised with humans, children and other dogs.

"In reality, they were born and kept in cages behind your house.

"A very different proposition from what you advertised.

"If they had been aware they would not have bought them. You knew that.

"You were putting farmed dogs into other peoples homes.

"The only possible sentence is immediate is nine months imprisonment."

Alongside the jail term, the judge imposed an £1,800 fine for the nine Trading Standards offences.

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