Knackerman fined £53,000 for fraudulent cremations

  • Horse owners are urged to take care if deciding to cremate their horse, after a knackerman was fined more than £53,000 for charging owners for cremations that never took place.

    Phillip John Cooper, 69, was sentenced on 9 November at Gloucester Crown Court.

    He was also handed an eight-month suspended sentence for duping 26 owners into paying for individual cremations — then disposing of their horses in other ways.

    Last year Mr Cooper, of Somerton, Somerset, formerly of John Cooper Livestock Services, was fined £29,000 at Gloucester Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to five counts of fraud.

    Gloucestershire’s trading standards department was first alerted when Sharon Widdows paid £920 to have her 16.3hh thoroughbred Otto individually cremated after he was put down by Bushy Equine Clinic in Breadstone in January 2009.

    But Ms Widdows, who had worked in a vet clinic herself for 12 years, was suspicious when the casket returned was smaller than expected.

    Investigators found that Mr Cooper took money from Ms Widdows, but actually delivered the remains to a rendering plant in Exeter.

    And following publicity in H&H at the time, three other owners came forward, prompting further investigation. These were for individual cremations undertaken prior to 2008 at a cost of £552.25 each.

    “Mr Cooper’s practices took advantage of vulnerable people at a time of loss for pure financial gain,” said Eddie Coventry, head of trading standards.

    “Mr Cooper had an opportunity to set the record straight but chose not to. We felt this was a nasty fraud which was appropriate for us to revisit.”

    “It was extremely upsetting at the time,” Ms Widdows told H&H. “But I’m pleased it has come to light. In hindsight I’d have organised the cremation myself. I feel let down by my vets.”

    Kevin Spurgeon of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria has put out a warning to owners and vets, as equine cremation is currently completely unregulated.

    “Vets should ensure they have full written working practices and carry out regular site inspections,” said Mr Spurgeon.

    Licensing only applies to animal disposal, which leaves the handling of the horse, the way the cremation is carried out and the ashes are collected down to the individual crematorium.”

    Ms Widdows’ vet, Ian Camm from Bushy Equine Clinic, told H&H he was “devastated” by what happened and the group now has a different approach.

    “We now ensure the client deals with the crematorium directly,” he said.

    This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (22 November 2012)

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