'Remorseful' puppy farmer makes boastful Facebook post hours after being spared jail
PUBLISHED: 12:13 26 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:25 28 June 2019
A puppy farmer, who was spared jail because of her children, boasted about her freedom on Facebook hours after narrowly avoiding prison.
Zoe Rushmer, 26, used her children to convince animal lovers that the sick and dying dogs she was selling them for hundreds of pounds were from a loving home, Norwich Crown Court heard.
In reality they were kept in "disgusting" conditions at White Horse Farm in Thurlton, riddled with fleas and worms and many of them had to be put down.
Before the court hearing on Tuesday, Zoe Rushmer, who fronted the fraud with her brother, posted a photo of herself on social media clad in a black balaclava, which she had worn to court, and smoking a cigarette with the words "wing it" and a "fist bump" emoji.
In another post after avoiding prison, she wrote "Freedom".
Michael Rushmer, 27, of Low Road, Thurlton, and Zoe's partner Jacob Murphy, 27, from The Street, Norton Subcourse, were jailed for three-and-a-half years after admitting the fraud from 2016 to 2018.
But instead of jailing her immediately, Judge Andrew Shaw gave Zoe Rushmer, who admitted one count of fraud and four animal welfare offences, a two-year sentence suspended for two years.
The impact on her four young children of her going to jail would be "too great", he said.
"It is your children and only your children that have saved you from going to prison," he said.
Judges are told to take account of women's family lives when sentencing them.
The Equal Treatment Bench Book from the Judicial College, which trains judges, reads: "Treating people fairly requires awareness and understanding of their different circumstances."
Judge Shaw added: "You allowed yourself to be the legitimate face of your brother's and your partner's criminal enterprise.
"You even lent your own children to the affair as part of your efforts to lend a veneer of respectability."
He said she played her role in the fraud between 2016 and 2018 with "gusto".
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Her barrister, Ian James, told the court Rushmer did not benefit from the £300,000 fraud and was remorseful.
But Judge Shaw cast doubt on that remorse when he told her off for mouthing abusive words from the dock while the RSPCA prosecutor detailed the case against the family.
He also sentenced Rushmer to 250 hours of unpaid work and banned her from keeping dogs for life.
Jane Hunt, who bought a German shepherd pup from the Rushmers in December 2016, slammed the sentence.
"She is as complicit as the rest of them," the 62-year old from Poringland said. "I think it is ridiculous that she got a suspended sentence.
"I simply do not believe all their sob stories. This was a sophisticated operation with no thought for the welfare of all the dogs that passed through their hands."
Norma Rudd, from Sprowston, who had to spend £5,700 on vet bills after buying a Yorkie from the Rushmers' said she was "disgusted" by the sentence.
"I would have liked to see her get an immediate prison sentence," she said. "She knew what she was doing."
RSPCA Inspector Amy Pellegrini said the dogs were bred in "disgusting conditions with little regard for their health or welfare but simply how much money they would bring in".
The family sold the sick dogs for around £600, leaving distraught owners with huge vet bills.
Some of the animals had parvovirus and some had to be put down.
When the police and RSPCA raided the puppy farm in 2017 they found 74 dogs and puppies, some in cages, dark sheds and a caravan. Some had no food or water.
Zoe Rushmer was also aggressive and abusive to the inspectors during the raid, the court was told.
-A previous version of this article stated Rushmer posted a photo of herself to Facebook wearing a balaclava after her court hearing. She did in fact post that photo before the hearing. We apologise for any confusion caused.