Four Thurrock puppy sellers in court for their parts in £850k fraud

FOUR members of a puppy-selling gang have pleaded guilty to offences in connection with the fraudulent sale of puppies.

Kelly Jean Bennett (DoB: 08/06/1978) and Ricky Jay Bennett (DoB: 15/04/1980), both of Weymouth Drive, Chafford Hundred, Grays; plus Steven Gilmore Foster (DoB: 14/02/1980) and Stacey Jane Hayward (DoB: 20/10/1980), both of Colliford Road, West Thurrock, all stood trial at Basildon Crown Court. On Friday (13 May), all four entered guilty pleas*; two to fraud and two to acquiring criminal property.

Kelly Bennett also indicated guilty pleas to two offences under the Animal Welfare Act while Ricky Bennett indicated a guilty plea to one animal welfare offence.

The RSPCA and local authority launched an investigation into puppy selling in the Essex area after being contacted by members of the public who had bought puppies from addresses in Billericay, Grays and Thurrock.

The charity’s Special Operations Unit (SOU) – a specialist taskforce that investigates serious, organised and commercial animal cruelty, such as the high value trade in puppies – started looking into a premises at Crays Hill in 2019.

In the case summary, Hazel Stevens – prosecuting on behalf of the animal welfare charity – said: “Members of the public had made complaints to the local authority and the RSPCA about puppies being purchased from said premises – which soon became ill after sale.

“Twelve witness statements were taken in relation to puppies with health problems which were sold from the Billericay address between June and September 2019, and one in March 2019.”

The court was told that Basildon Council had licensed Stacey Hayward to sell puppies but the licence was revoked in July 2018 due to complaints about sick puppies. Her breeding licence ran out in December 2018.

Hayward and her partner, Steven Foster, moved to a new home and, in October 2019, complaints began coming into the RSPCA related to an address in Weymouth Drive, occupied by Kelly and Ricky Bennett. An RSPCA officer visited in August 2019 and gave advice about licensing but no licence was ever issued for this address, the court was told.

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