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'Foolish' Northwich puppy smuggler is spared jail

Ben James Illidge, 33, tried to smuggle 35 puppies into North Wales from Ireland

A plant operator who attempted to smuggle dozens of puppies into North Wales from Ireland has been spared jail.

Thirty-three-year-old Ben James Illidge, of Wilson Crescent in Northwich, admitted seven charges - three which related to animal welfare offences - of smuggling the 35 puppies through Holyhead Port in November 2016.

Illidge was handed an 18-week prison sentence suspended for 12 months when he appeared at Caernarfon Magistrates Court.

He was also ordered to pay fines and costs totalling £2,913 and must complete 200 hours of unpaid work, the Daily Post reports.

Ben James Illidge, of Wilson Crescent, Northwich(Image: Arwyn Roberts)

Sentencing District Judge Gwyn Jones said he was satisfied Illidge had bought the animals to resell and stood to make a substantial sum.

The judge said: “It is clear these pups were brought to the UK for commercial purposes. You did so without any regard for the welfare of the animals and the security of public health.

“You were fully aware this was not permitted and you had hoped the authorities at the port would not have stopped your vehicle.

“I am quite satisfied that these offences are so serious immediate custody is justified. But it is clear that you may have been influenced by others who are not before a court and you entered a guilty plea.”

Prosecutor Julia Longworth said the pups were in a van which was being carried off the ferry on a breakdown truck.

"When officers searched the vehicle the animals were found crowded into cages concealed in the rear area.

The court heard he had bought the animals from a market in Dublin and none of the animals, which were aged six to nine weeks old, had been innoculated or microchipped.

Ms Longworth said various agencies including the RSPCA, Animal Health officials and North Wales Police mounted a special operation at Holyhead Port on November 15 last year as the smuggling of animals into Britain was becoming ‘increasingly problematic’.

She said the officers’ attention was drawn to the white van which was sat on the back of a breakdown truck with condensation on its front and side windows.

“This indicated to the officers there may be animals inside the vehicle and it was checked,” she said.

Officers found the 35 young pups in five containers which were concealed in the vehicle. The puppies included terriers, beagles, pomeranians and Labradors and there were up to nine in each container.

Ms Longworth said: “They were examined by a vet and their ages ranged from six weeks to nine weeks. The vehicle was not suitable for the transport of animals nor had it been adapted to do so.

“There was no ventilation and it was found to be very warm inside – too warm for the proper welfare of the animals.”

The court was told the animals were seized by the RSPCA and transported back to Ireland under proper conditions where they were inoculated and microchipped and subsequently rehoused.

Animals charities are working to find homes for the animals

The charges included bringing a consignment of animals into Wales without completed health certificates and without having notified the authorities of their intended arrival. There were also regulatory offences involving animal welfare and fitness for the journey.

Sarah Yates, defending, said Illidge had not properly thought out what he intended to do nor was it a well planned exercise.

“He has been very foolish and accepts this was not a well thought out plan. He bought the pups on the market for 80-100 euro each and planned to sell them on.

“He maintains the animals were only in the cages for a few hours and he continually checked them during the journey,” the lawyer said.

Speaking after the case, Ian Briggs, chief inspector of the RSPCA's special operations unit, said: "This prosecution makes an important statement that agencies will not stand-by while unscrupulous puppy dealers seek to make a quick buck while subjecting innocent, defenceless puppies to misery.

'The scourge of illegal puppy smuggling'

"Fortunately, working together, we were able to intercept this illegal consignment of pups, who were being carted into Wales in the dead of night in deeply inappropriate conditions.

"The RSPCA was pleased to work so closely with a number of key agencies in seeking to tackle the scourge of illegal puppy smuggling via Holyhead Port. We will continue to fight this criminality, and protect the animals involved.

"Sadly, many well-meaning, but unsuspecting new owners are buying pups who have been imported in such shocking conditions, which merely fuels those seeking to treat the lives of young animals as a means to raking in murky profits."

Anglesey Council's chief public protection officer, David Riley, said: “The county council welcomes today’s sentence following its successful prosecution of Ben Illidge.

“We will not tolerate people who flaunt the law to engage in this illicit trade. It is unacceptable that profit is put before the welfare of animals, and we will continue to work with our partner agencies to bring offenders before the courts.”

The puppies were intercepted following an intelligence-led move, as part of the RSPCA’s wider work with Border Force; Local Authorities, including Isle of Anglesey County Council and Pembrokeshire County Council; the DSPCA; ISPCA; SSPCA; USPCA; veterinary surgeons; the Police; HMRC; Welsh Government; APHA; and other agencies.

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