Adverts: 0161 709 4576 - Editorial: 0161 709 4571
Mail Order: 0161 709 4578 - Subs: 0161 709 4575 - Webteam: 0161 709 4567

Bogus vet jailed after TV exposé

A MAN who posed as a vet and dosed dogs with illegal, unlicensed drugs has been sentenced to 12 months in prison.

Leonard French, 69, is said to have made more than £170,000 from dog owners, companies and hunts.

French, of Tattershall Bridge, Lincolnshire admitted 20 charges involving importing and selling drugs not registered for use in the UK at a magistrate’s court hearing in June.

He was jailed at Lincoln Crown Court on Monday of this week after Grantham magistrates said their sentencing powers were insufficient and referred the matter to the higher court.

Undercover investigation

In sentencing, judge Michael Heath, Recorder for Lincolnshire told French: ‘You think you've done nothing wrong, you have. The system depends on qualified persons supplying medicinal products. It has to be prison.’

At an earlier hearing, French admitted six counts of supplying medicines, four of attempting to import medicines, three counts of possessing unregistered medicines and another three counts of selling the medicines to members of the public.

He also admitted two charges of possessing criminal property, one of administering a medicine and a further charge that he "held himself out as a practising vet or as being prepared to practise veterinary surgery without being registered".

Magistrates heard that French's £400,000 home, where he kept up to 120 lurcher dogs, was raided by police and officers from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in October 2004, but no charges were brought.

Caught on camera

Documents found at the house showed that French was importing drugs from companies in Russia, France and the US for sale to British customers.

An undercover investigation by a BBC reporter more than a year after the first raid showed French still offering drugs for sale. He pretended to be a vet and was caught on camera illegally vaccinating a dog with his own medicine.

The undercover investigation was carried out by BBC Look North Rural Affairs Correspondent Guy Lynn in the Spring and Summer of 2006.

Guy Lynn told OUR DOGS that French’s activities had been brought to his attention by concerned dog owners who said that he had been posing as a vet and dispensing medicines. Both actions are contrary to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. Lynn and the Look North team decided there was sufficient evidence to film French’s activities undercover.

‘The key about secret filming is that we must have clear evidence to hand to justify doing so,’ Lynn told OUR DOGS. ‘There’s lots of hoops to jump through. But we had substantial evidence of his activities, so we set things in motion.’

Lynn borrowed a Terrier cross named Elly from a dog rescue d and contacted French, giving him details of his dog’s ficticious ailments.

‘I told him that my dog had recently given birth and had some bleeding round one of her teats, a typical mastitis problem. He said that he could help me and I visited him at his farmhouse home in rural Lincolnshire – unbeknown to him wearing a hidden camera – and supplied me with a drug that was the foreign equivalent of Synulox.

‘During our conversation, he showed me other veterinary medicines, including vaccines, which he said he could administer, as he was a trained vet and was registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. I have to admit, I was quite shocked, because I wasn’t even sure if these vaccines were stored correctly. Now this fake vet was about to sell me an illegal and potentially dangerous antibiotic.’
Lynn continues: ‘I handed over £20 and he disappeared into a shed in the back of his garden before re-emerging with two silver strips of tablets he claimed would treat Elly's bleeding teats.
‘"One tablet, twice a day, for five days," he advised me. "You want one strip a week."’

Shoot them

Lynn secretly recorded French on three occasions, returning to his farmhouse over three days, each time with further requests for the ‘desperately ill’ Elly and other fictitious dogs.
One of the worst things French was filmed boasting about was his method of putting dogs to sleep. Shown making a pistol shape with his thumb and forefinger, French said that he shot the dogs.

On the film French says: "I put 'em down with a .22 pistol - and I just give 'em a bit of food on the floor and give a good old bang."

Lynn ads: ‘I felt slightly sick as I asked him how much he would charge me for this service. He replied: "About 20 quid - that's what I charge to put 'em down." ‘

Most surprising was the blatant way French treated animals in front of the reporter. He continues: ‘I recorded him vaccinating various dogs and giving them tablets against diseases. At one point he even tried to explain to me how I could perform a DIY vaccination on a dog he had banged quite roughly onto a farm gate.

"Grab the dog and put the needle under the skin," he said ruffling the fur of the slightly scared-looking little Border terrier. "Just put the needle underneath there, underneath your thumb going down towards the tail." ‘

After the secret filming was over, Lynn extensively researched the vaccinations and antibiotics that French had sold him. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate advised him they had all been illegally imported from abroad.

Lynn continues: ‘The vets I consulted said that this was very worrying, as even if they were injected properly it was far from certain the medicines would work at all against the specific strains of animal diseases like leptospirosis. There's great worry, even now, that vaccinations administered by a man who told people he was a vet may not have even worked.’

DEFRA has referred to the case as one of the more significant ones they have tackled of its kind. French had been operating as a bogus vet and selling illegal medicines on a large commercial scale for many years.

In August 2006, Guy Lynn sent French a letter containing the evidence obtained by using secret filming, but he simply returned this to the reporter without comment. In the meantime, the BBC passed all its evidence to investigators at DEFRA. French was duly arrested by police and DEFRA official and charged.

Meanwhile, Look North screened the expose in October 2006. French denied all the charges until his court appearance at Grantham Magistrates Court in June 2007, when he changed his plea to Not Guilty. As the magistrates’ sentencing powers were limited, they referred the case to Crown Court for sentencing, where French was eventually jailed for 12 months on Monday of this week.
Clive Rees, defending, told the court the medicines French had imported were not dangerous but were simply not registered for use in the UK.

In his own mitigation, French claimed he was an experienced dog owner who sought not to do any harm to any animals, but this cut no ice with the judge who handed down what was seen as a severe custodial sentence.

During the hearings, French threatened Guy Lynn on more than one occasion. ‘He blames me for his predicament, ‘ Lynn added. ‘He doesn’t see that he’s done anything wrong; he blames me for exposing his activities. But it also shows up a serious undertone – undoubtedly some of the people he supplied medicines and vaccines to were aware that he was not a vet, and yet they used his black market services. People like Len French only thrive if there is a market for their activities.’