Pair sentenced over animal welfare charges after 85 dogs seized in Ipswich
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
A man has been jailed and a woman handed a suspended sentence for animal welfare offences following a police raid which saw more than 80 dogs seized from West Meadows travellers' site in Ipswich.
A total of 85 dogs of various breeds and ages were found at the address of Maria Lee and Stacy Humphrys on Saturday, March 20, Suffolk Magistrates' Court heard.
Despite initial suspicions, the court heard that none of the dogs were identified as stolen.
Ashley Petchey, prosecuting, said 67 dogs were since established to have belonged to Lee, 47, who was charged with failure to fulfil her responsibility for the dogs under the Animal Welfare Act and with five counts of causing unnecessary suffering by failing to access adequate veterinary care for three cocker spaniels, a French bulldog and a German shepherd.
Humphrys, 34, was charged with failing to fulfil his responsibility for the dogs under the Animal Welfare Act and with two counts of breaching a disqualification imposed following a previous conviction, by participating in the keeping of two cocker spaniels and a cavalier King Charles spaniel.
The court heard that Humphrys was identified as having purchased three dogs, which was in breach of his order.
A phone recovered also showed "selfies" of Humphrys holding various dogs, Mr Petchey told magistrates.
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An RSPCA inspector found a number of kennels, pens and crates inside and outside the property – each containing up to five dogs in varying conditions and states of health, including some with limited or no access to food or water, the court heard.
Meanwhile, an almost entirely shaven German Shepherd was found on a seven or eight-foot tether near a blood-stained kennel, standing on rotten hay, in a distressed condition and likened to "swimming in a pool of faeces" by the RSPCA inspector.
The inspector described those conditions as "wholly unacceptable".
Lee signed a disclaimer on August 7 this year, passing all 67 dogs into the care of Suffolk police, the court heard.
Police, with the support of the RSPCA, have found new homes for 66 of the dogs.
A total of 17 of the other dogs recovered during the operation, have also been returned where there was proof of legal ownership and no welfare concerns.
Police said no further enquiries should be made to them in relation to the rehoming of any of the recovered dogs.
In September 2019, Humphrys was handed a 16-week prison sentence and a lifetime ban from keeping animals – later reduced to five years – for causing unnecessary suffering and failing to meet the needs of a large number of dogs.
In 2014, he was jailed for 28 months for causing a public nuisance by allowing his horses to stray on to the A14 after one ran into the path of traffic and caused the death of a 23-year-old man driving home for Christmas in 2012.
Frank O'Toole, for Lee, said his client wished to "express great remorse" and did not intend to cause any harm to any dogs in her care.
Mr O'Toole said Lee, a mother-of-three, took on far too many dogs and "found it difficult to say no" to accepting more animals.
He added that Lee "did not know how many dogs she had" and believed she kept around 30.
There was no evidence that Lee, who had no previous convictions, was selling any dogs in a commercial enterprise, Mr O'Toole added.
Steven Dyble, for Humphrys, said his client returned to the travellers' site following his release from prison and became involved with the care of the dogs due to Lee's ill health.
The couple were previously together for around 14 years, the court heard.
Mr Dyble said: "It was believed it was some kind of Aladdin's cave of stolen dogs. But there is no evidence at all that any of the dogs recovered from that site had been stolen."
He added that the majority of the dogs were found to be in a "pretty good condition".
Magistrates jailed Humphrys for a total of 14 weeks, of which he will serve half in custody, and ordered him to pay £105 in court costs and a victim surcharge of £128.
He was also banned from keeping dogs for life.
Lee was handed a 12-week suspended sentence in total, and also ordered to pay £105 in court costs and a victim surcharge of £128.
She was banned from keeping dogs for five years.
Temporary Detective Superintendent Nicky Wallace, who led the investigation, said: "This was an extremely challenging investigation, given the number of dogs involved and the difficulties we faced in establishing ownership.
"I would like to thank our partners, especially the RSPCA for their cooperation and for the support from the public. The dogs which have been rehomed will now go on to have the chance of happier, healthier lives, where they will loved and cared for.
"We did everything we possibly could to establish the ownership of each of these dogs but in some cases, it was not possible. Where ownership was established and, there were no concerns highlighted, the dogs were returned to their owners.
"The conditions that some of these dogs were found in were clearly unacceptable, and the sentence handed to Humphrys and Lee today reflects this.
"Thankfully, these conditions are unique and rarely seen in Suffolk. I am grateful in conjunction with the RSPCA that many of the dogs now look forward to a new life in their forever homes."