Business ‘used as front for animal smuggling’

A man stopped with more than 50 puppies at Belfast Harbour allegedly used his pet transportation business as a front to smuggle animals into Britain, a court heard yesterday.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 4th August 2022, 10:35 pm

Police claimed Mark Hirst, 44, is involved in an illegal racket where bogus paperwork is used to move dogs from breeding farms in the Republic of Ireland.

A judge was also told authorities at the port previously refused to allow him to travel on at least 10 previous occasions because of false documentation.

Hirst, of Leys Farm, Park Lane in Huddersfield, appeared at Belfast Magistrates’ Court charged with five counts of fraud by false representation, acquiring criminal property, and possessing articles used in fraud.

He was detained on Tuesday at Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) facilities in the harbour area while making arrangements to take animals across to Cairnryan in Scotland.

A total of 57 puppies of various breeds, three adult dogs and a cat were recovered from his van.

An investigating detective said the paperwork contained details of those Hirst allegedly met to obtain the animals, but police could only contact one person who stated they did not know him.

“(Some of) these people don’t exist, they are duplicate names and addresses, they are bogus,” he contended.

Searches of the vehicle uncovered vaccination cards completed by a veterinarian based in Co Longford.

According to the detective, Hirst travelled to Northern Ireland by ferry on Monday, drove across the border, and then returned with the animals.

“It is the police case that the defendant is involved as a puppy smuggler,” he alleged.

“He’s involved in moving dogs from the Republic of Ireland over to Great Britain and he is making fraudulent declarations to Daera in order to obtain his paperwork.

“These dogs are being recovered from puppy farms in the Republic of Ireland and documentation is being falsified to suggest they are from Northern Ireland.”

The court heard Hirst does run a legitimate business transporting pets to locations across the UK.

But the detective claimed: “I believe this is a façade to facilitate a criminal enterprise.”

Opposing bail, he revealed that £5,000 in cash was seized from the van, with most of the money located behind a seat in the vehicle.

The court was also told officials had previously refused to allow Hirst to travel on at least 10 separate occasions since January 2020 because of false documentation about puppies.

“This is somebody who is a repeat offender,” the investigator added.

During cross-examination, defence solicitor Stewart Evans insisted Daera had never reported his client in the past for any suspected fraud.

“There’s no evidence at this stage you can put to this man in respect of any puppy farm,” he submitted.

The detective replied: “All but two of the animals are unaccounted for.

“They are not registered to any breeder in Northern Ireland … all of the chips are blank.”

Mr Evans argued that Hirst has been running a legitimate business to provide for his family, and could be released on condition that he does not enter Northern Ireland.

Bail was refused due to risks he may reoffend or interfere with witnesses.

Remanding him in custody until September 1, Judge Marshall pointed out: “These are serious allegations in relation to 50 puppies.”