Judge slams puppy farmer Zoe Rushmer for wearing balaclava to court
PUBLISHED: 11:29 28 June 2019 | UPDATED: 17:24 28 June 2019
A judge today questioned puppy farmer Zoe Rushmer over her lack of "remorse" as he faced her in court three days after sparing her a jail sentence.
Judge Andrew Shaw called mother-of-four Zoe Rushmer back to Norwich Crown Court on Friday after giving her a suspended sentence on Tuesday for running a puppy farm.
But after many hours of deliberation he decided to not send her to jail.
The 26-year old, of no fixed address, was given a two-year prison term suspended for two years for her part in the fraud which saw "sickly and diseased" puppies sold to unsuspecting owners.
Rushmer admitted fraud and animal welfare offences alongside her brother Michael Rushmer, 27, and partner Jacob Murphy, 27 who were each jailed for three-and-a-half years.
But Judge Shaw said on Tuesday that because Rushmer had four young children he would spare her jail.
On Thursday, however, this newspaper published photos of a post she had made on Facebook boasting about her freedom and wearing a balaclava to court.
During mitigation on Monday, which convinced the judge to suspend her sentence, her barrister Ian James said Rushmer was remorseful.
But Judge Shaw said on Friday morning that her behaviour before and after the hearing now suggested otherwise.
"She sobbed her way through the hearing and I was reliably informed by my usher that her tears dried up (once she left court)," he said.
Rushmer also boasted on Facebook about her "freedom".
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But Mr James said the post was an expression of her relief about not going to prison and was not intended to be disrespectful.
Mr James also pointed out that another photo on Facebook of her wearing a black balaclava, smoking a cigarette with the words "wing it" and a fist bump was taken before her sentencing and not after as reported by this newspaper.
But Judge Shaw, looking at a copy of the EDP's front page from Thursday, said the photos published nevertheless concerned him.
"To wear that (balaclava) the moment before one appears in court, smoking a cigarette in that way with the caption "wing it", does not indicate remorse," he said. "It indicates someone who is hoping to get away with it."
Mr James said that Rushmer wore the balaclava as she did not want her face in the press.
But Judge Shaw responded that the "time honoured" way of doing that was to put a coat or newspaper over the head and not wear something regarded as intimidating and threatening.
Mr James asked the judge to send Rushmer home. "You can see the shock she has had at being brought back to court," he said. "It seems she has learned a lesson."
-The puppy farm
Rushmer's partner Jacob Murphy was described as the "ring leader" of the operation over a two-year period from June 2016 to 2018.
He was jailed for three-and-a-half years alongside Michael Rushmer, who acted as his deputy, the court heard.
Rushmer had used her children to convince animal lovers that the sick and dying dogs she was selling them for hundreds of pounds had come from loving homes.
In reality they were kept in squalid conditions at White Horse Farm in Thurlton, leaving many riddled with fleas or worms and some had to be put down.
The RSPCA described the conditions the dogs were found in during a raid in 2017 as "disgusting".