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Scottish puppy farmer challenges council
over licence application - and loses

A PUPPY farmer from Kilmarnock who was convicted in Kilmarnock Sheriff Court in March for operating a pet shop without a licence launched an audacious appeal against his conviction, challenging the local authority for using his character and worthiness as a key plank in their case against him.

The appeal was heard again at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court on June 11th. Lawyers representing Stephen Hamilton and East Ayrshire Council engaged in a legal debate over the validity of East Ayrshire Council refusing to grant a Licence to Stephen Hamilton because he was ‘not a fit and proper person’.

The relevant section quoted was section 1 of the Breeding and Sale of Dogs Act 1973 which gave a list of conditions to be considered by a Council when issuing a licence and Hamilton’s lawyers contested that Parliament had issued a home office letter in 1997 in support of this and that "nothing had changed".

The council lawyers successfully contested that the 1999 Breeding and Sale of Dogs Act inserted two new sections (2)(a) and (2)(b) which required a council to consider amongst other things the suitability of the applicant.

After hearing the legal debate Sheriff Smith ruled that East Ayrshire Council had not erred in law by taking this action and therefore this part of the appeal failed. The case has been adjourned until 2 July 2003 for further debate before the setting of a proof hearing.

Secretary of the Waterside Action Group (WAG) Ken McKie greeted the court’s ruling saying: "If this ruling is enforced then we will be looking for other councils that must take account of this and perhaps we could see the beginning of the end of unscrupulous people in the trade in puppies, but I won't hold my breath.

"WAG is obviously delighted by this ruling but is aware that this matter is far from over and wait eagerly for the next step in this matter."

Hamilton previously appeared at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court on Thursday 27 March where he pleaded guilty to operating a pet shop without a licence under the Pet Animals Act 1951.

There had been two continuations for legal debate over all the charges and subsequently the Crown accepted a not guilty plea to the Trading Standards Charges. He was fined £500 payable at £150 per month as he is receiving state benefits. Several other matters relating to Hamilton’s business - including alleged trading standards breaches and alleged animal welfare abuses - were dropped or not taken up. Hamilton had operated his puppy farm from Waterside Farm, Galston and had even flouted planning application rules, but seemed to have escaped prosecution for this breach of the law.

Ken McKie told OUR DOGS previously: "It is possible that there was 'plea bargaining' in this case. We have already expressed concerns over the whole competency of the investigation into these matters. We have received allegations of a witness being advised against furthering her complaint; another witness received a phone call regarding her involvement in matters and was very reticent in responding in case this was a hoax call or a call from Hamilton. I have also spoken to two witnesses who allege that the investigator who attended at their home 'did not appear to know the law or how to carry out an investigation'."

Mr McKie added that the volume of evidence that WAG had uncovered appeared to be totally disregarded by the Trading Standards Officials of East Ayrshire Council. "We have made a formal complaint to the Crown Office over this whole matter. We have been concerned over the approach taken by East Ayrshire Council who seemed to resent any involvement other than their own," he said. "WAG will also be asking the MSPs to challenge the Lord Advocate over this."

It has been alleged by Council Officials and others that Hamilton had boasted of selling over 500 puppies at an average of £300 a time and to having earned a vast sum of money.

Mr McKie added: "If it is true that the figures being suggested are so vast we have asked how can he be on benefit, where is this money now? Why should the public have to foot the bill for what appears to be a badly handled case? WAG are still campaigning against all matters relevant to puppy farms and are receiving a volume of information on other similar premises."