Puppy farm: Family claimed sick dogs which had to be put down were from loving homes
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
Dozens of dog lovers were left with sick and dying pets after being duped by a family running a prolific puppy farm.
The families were told their new pets were from a loving home and had been micro-chipped and vaccinated.
But when the RSPCA raided the south Norfolk farm they found animals kept in horrific conditions, Norwich Crown Court heard on Monday.
Some were found in cages without food or water and in many cases they died soon after being sold for hundreds of pounds to the unsuspecting owners.
They were sold infested with worms, parvovirus and in several cases had to be put down, leaving the owners with large vet bills.
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More than 30 people complained to the RSPCA about buying puppies from a family at White Horse Farm in Thurlton and a house in Norton Subcourse.
When the RSPCA and police raided White Horse Farm and the home in Norton Subcourse in August 2017 they found more than 60 puppies and dogs.
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Some were in a sweltering caravan at 30 degrees C. Others were kept in a dark shed, while scores more were in cages.
One dog had an open sore and one cage was so small the animal could not turn around it, the court was told.
Vets ordered the dogs to be taken away.
Michael Rushmer, 27, of Low Road, Thurlton, Zoe Rushmer, 26, of no fixed address, Jacob Murphy, 26, of no fixed address and Jean Boyes, 67, of The Street, Bramerton, were later arrested and all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation between June 2016 and June 2018.
The court was told Boyes played a minimal role in the operation and she was given a conditional discharge on Monday.
But brother and sister Michael and Zoe, along with her partner Murphy, all face prison terms when sentenced on Tuesday.
The RSPCA put the value of the fraud at £300,000, but the defendants argued it was closer to £150,000.
Hazel Stevens, prosecuting for the RSPCA, said the Rushmers claimed the dogs came from loving homes and played up the fact that Ms Rushmer had four children.
"Families don't con people" said Ms Stevens. "They exploited the emotional vulnerability of purchasers."
They also used false names in online adverts for the puppies and lied about the dogs being micro-chipped.
When one woman complained to Michael Rushmer after buying the dog, he threatened her, Ms Stevens said.
"This is a sophisticated fraud," Ms Stevens said, adding the Rushmers used different email addresses and phone numbers to make it harder to trace them.
Vet records show the Rushmers took 192 puppies to one vet in just a few months, while they advertised around 400 puppies on a website, selling them for around £600 each, Ms Stevens said.
But Michael Rushmer was not stopped by complaints to the RSPCA or court action.
While on bail he continued selling puppies up until March this year.
He pleaded guilty to a second charge of fraud between July 2018 and March 2019.
Andrew Oliver, mitigating for Michael Rushmer, said he only became involved in the puppy farm after the death of his father in mid-2017.
"Things got too much for him and he started using cocaine and he acknowledges that things fell apart," Mr Oliver said. "He was not in control of things."
Mr Oliver added that Rushmer wanted to become a licensed puppy breeder but instead he bought dogs from Travellers, which brought parvovirus into the kennels.
Ian James, mitigating for Zoe Rushmer, said she was the sole carer for her four children and could lose her home.
He said she had a "high level of remorse".
"She was not a financial beneficiary," he added and called for a suspended sentence.
Philip Farr, for Murphy, said he was involved to fund his drug habit. He said he was addicted to heroin and crack cocaine and his involvement ended in April 2018 when he was jailed for drug offences.
While the Rushmers fronted and managed the fraud, Murphy provided documents behind the scenes, Mr Farr said.
He added that his client, now in prison, was clean of drugs.
Michael Clare for Jean Boyes, a family friend of the Rushmers, said she only got involved once in the puppy farm operation and that was to make sure puppies were vaccinated.
She took seven puppies to the vets to help Zoe Rushmer, Mr Clare said.
He added that his client was vulnerable, "extremely traumatised", ill and currently homeless.
She was given a conditional discharge by Judge Andrew Shaw.