Members of a Milton Keynes puppy farming gang have been jailed for a total of more than 18 years after masterminding a large operation trafficking sick puppies into the country to be sold on to unsuspecting members of the public.
Thirteen people appeared at Aylesbury Crown Court on Wednesday and Thursday (4 and 5 August) for sentencing.
Ten pleaded guilty to fraud with nine of those also admitting animal welfare offences, and a further three pleading guilty to animal welfare offences. Seven were handed immediate jail terms totalling more than 18 years; the longest combined prison sentences an RSPCA investigation has ever seen.
After the sentencing, lead RSPCA investigator Michelle Hare said: “This follows a large multi-agency investigation into a sophisticated and complex puppy farming ring in the Milton Keynes area. This operation was led by the Cawley family who were illegally breeding and importing puppies to supply to third parties – or frontmen – to be sold to unsuspecting members of the public on their behalf.
“Dogs were kept in poor conditions in lorry containers and the backs of vans and were often riddled with health problems but were sold to innocent families who were hoping to add a dog to their homes but were, instead, left with staggering vet bills, dogs with complicated needs and, for some, the heartache of losing their puppy.”
The court also issued destruction orders for 10 seized mobile phones and forfeited £16,000 of seized cash which will be distributed to the victims. Six dogs who remain in RSPCA care can now be rehomed and costs of £100,357.63 were awarded to the RSPCA.
Between June and November 2019, the RSPCA and Trading Standards received a large number of complaints about the sale of puppies from different addresses in the Milton Keynes area. Some had become sick, others had undisclosed health issues, and three puppies had sadly died. Many puppies had been sold with what appeared to be fraudulent vaccination cards.
Initially these cases were investigated in isolation but, as statements were gathered, it became apparent that the addresses were linked and the RSPCA joined up with Milton Keynes Council’s Trading Standards department to investigate.
In November 2019, when one of the suspect addresses had to be dealt with prematurely, all puppy-selling activity at all of the addresses stopped. In February 2020, the selling started again and, on 19 March 2020, RSPCA officers joined Thames Valley Police as they executed warrants at six addresses, one storage unit and a number of unregistered vehicles at the Willen Road travellers’ site and Avon House.
Police seized 54 dogs in total who were taken into RSPCA care, for vet treatment and rehabilitation. Cocker spaniels, Schnauzers, Chihuahuas, springer spaniels, Labradors, beagles and poodles were among those removed.
In her witness statement, Inspector Hare said: “As I made my way onto the site it was clear that there were a very large number of dogs and puppies present. Other than a couple of dogs running loose on site, the rest were all being housed in lorry bodies and storage containers situated on the site.
“Some of the dogs had untreated health problems and conditions including fur loss, ear infections and dental disease, and they were all being kept in wholly inappropriate environments,” Inspector Hare added. “The trailers had been split into pens and all of the dogs were being kept in poor conditions. The kennels were dirty and smelt strongly of ammonia, while one of the pens was full of hazards including nails sticking out, sharp metal mesh and wires hanging down. There were holes in the walls and floor that appeared to have been caused by the dogs trying to chew out of the space.
“We removed four pregnant bitches and a poodle cross who had recently given birth, along with five poodle cross puppies who were just 48-hours-old. Police seized a total of 51 dogs and a further four litters of puppies were born in our care.”
A separate investigation had been carried out following the sale of puppies from another second property in Milton Keynes. But it was soon linked with this investigation – named Operation Sandpiper – when CCTV footage was obtained showing a man, identified as John Christopher Cawley from Willen Road, delivering puppies.
A second vehicle – a red van recorded as travelling on a ferry from Belfast to Liverpool on 29 October 2019 with passengers listed under the Cawley name – was also seen delivering puppies to this property and later returned from Holyhead to Dublin on 13 November. The contact number provided by the passengers matched the number used to advertise three litters of puppies online.
Photos from adverts posted online matched with the wash house/utility space on Willen Road site. A witness went to view a Dalmatian puppy at the address after an online advert was posted; it explained the puppy was being rehomed as it was being bullied by their other dog, a pug. The same seller had also advertised a Labrador puppy, photos of which appear to have been taken in the wash house.
Another witness attended Whaddon Way, Milton Keynes, in October 2019, responding to an advert for cocker spaniel puppies. She didn’t buy the puppy from the seller – believed to be Daniel Yeboah – as it looked unwell. She went back onto Pets 4 Homes and found another advert with the same photos but a different listed seller. When she contacted the seller and she claimed that she was having to rehome the puppy as it was being bullied by her pug.
The RSPCA gathered further intelligence in October 2020 that puppies were being imported from Ireland, housed on a travellers’ site and sold online, and the adverts were linked to Michael Cawley.