TWO men have appeared in court over their involvement in an illegal puppy smuggling racket between Northern Ireland and England.
Mark Anthony Hirst (46), of Lidgett Lane, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud by false representation.
Dog breeder Sean Oliver McVeigh (49), of Kinturk Road, Cookstown, Co Tyrone, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
Belfast Crown Court heard on Tuedsay that Hirst was stopped on August 2, 2022, by a DAERA official (Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs) at the Duncrue inspection centre which is part of Belfast Port.
Prosecution lawyer Rosemary Walsh said Hirst ran a legitimate business called All Star Pet Transport and under EU legislation he was required to produce transport certificates for each animal he ferried between Northern Ireland and Britain, Europe and the US.
On board Hirst's van, the official found 58 dogs along with a cat which was being legitimately transported to its owner in England from the Republic.
She told Belfast Recorder Judge Patricia Smyth that when the DAERA official checked the animal transport certificates they were found to be false.
The prosecutor said each certificate must state the origin of the ownership, the place of departure, date and time of departure, intended place of destination and the expected duration of the journey.
"That is to enable the authorities to know where a dog is coming from and where it is going to. Mr Hirst was responsible for completing the certificates which was presented at the port,'' said Ms Walsh.
"He could have run a legitimate business on this day but he was providing false information and it was not possible for the authorities to know where an animal was going.''
Although the animals were "healthy and watered'', "by circumventing the system, it provides people to make a quick sale and once out of Northern Ireland they can be sold to anyone as there is no traceability as the documents are false. We have no evidence of where the animals were going. Anything could happen to them.''
Ms Walsh said the official contacted police over the fraud and Hirst was arrested and made no comment during a first police interview. A total of £3,493 was also seized.
At a second police interview, Hirst spoke about his business but again refused to answer questions about the animals he was transporting on behalf of his co-accused and another breeder.
Defence barrister John O'Connor said Hirst's role was to transport dogs through his legitimate business to customers across the world andhe received between £50 and £70 for each dog.
He told the court that Hirst had his own van, which was fully ventilated and each dog had its own food and water station.
"What happened was that one of the breeders was contacted by the police and asked if they gave his dog to the defendant and he said no he didn't. Other people were contacted by police and said the information about their dog was also false.
"The only profit Mr Hirst makes is from the transporting of the animal to its final destination. He makes £50-£70 for each dog he transports which did not have the correct details on the animal transport certificate.''
He said Hirst spent over five months on remand over the fraud "and lost all his contacts in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as he was not allowed to travel here to carry out his business because it was part of his bail conditions'' when he was eventually released from custody.
Defence barrister Craig Patton told the court that registered dog breeder McVeigh "was having puppies at his impeccable kennels which he couldn't sell in Northern Ireland''.
He added: "There simply wasn't the demand at the time and demand for puppies in Northern Ireland dropped right off once (Covid) lockdown ended. He would have found homes for them eventually, but there was a much higher demand in England and he knew he could transport dogs over to England, get them sold and get paid''.
Judge Smyth adjourned the case until next Monday when a date for sentencing will be fixed.