Michael Rushmer (27), of Low Road, Thurlton, appeared at Norwich Crown Court on Tuesday June 25) for sentencing after previously pleading guilty to two offences of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
Jacob Murphy (27) and Zoe Rushmer (26), both of The Street, Norton Subcourse; and Jean Boyes (67), of The Street, Bramerton, also appeared in court for sentencing, having all admitted one offence of conspiracy to commit fraud.
The RSPCA launched an investigation into puppy-selling in Norfolk and Suffolk after a series of calls from members of the public who had bought puppies that had soon fallen ill and, in some cases, died. The animal charity was made aware of more than 60 victims.
Officers made a number of visits to a farm in Norfolk during late 2016 and early 2017 and gave advice but, when the scale of the problem became apparent, the charity approached Norfolk Police for assistance and a warrant was executed at the property, in Low Road, Thurlton, in August 2017.
Lead investigator RSPCA Inspector Amy Pellegrini described the farm as a ‘puppy factory’. “Our investigations suggested that multiple litters of puppies were being bred and then advertised for sale,” she said. “Other litters appear to have been purchased and sold on at profit. The way the adverts were worded suggested to prospective purchasers that these were litters of home-bred puppies in good health and were well-socialised.
“The reality, sadly, was far from it and the sellers were running a commercial, unlicensed puppy farm on an industrial scale. Unfortunately, many buyers ended up with very sick puppies.”
A total of 74 dogs and puppies were removed under the warrant and taken into RSPCA care. Several of the pregnant bitches went on to have a further 20 puppies but one soon died, leaving a total of 93 dogs. The dogs – a mixture of breeds including cockapoos, labradoodles, Yorkies, Chihuahuas, shih tzus, schnauzers and Chinese cresteds – remain in RSPCA care.
Amy added: “Not only was the welfare of these dogs seriously compromised, but many unsuspecting members of the public were also caught up in this operation, conned and left heartbroken or paying off large vet bills.
“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.”
This week, two members of the gang were jailed while a third was given a suspended sentence.
Michael Rushmer, Zoe Rushmer and Jacob Murphy were all disqualified from keeping dogs for life; Michael and Murphy were sentenced to 3.5 years in prison; and Zoe Rushmer was given a two-year prison term, suspended for two years. She was also ordered to complete 250 hours of unpaid work.
Jean Boyes was given a two-year conditional discharge.