A vet involved in a puppy-farming operation which saw dog lovers conned out of £2.5m has been jailed after his sentence was increased on appeal.
Daniel Doherty was a “hard-working” vet running two successful west London clinics, who clients praised for his devotion to animals.
But, he was also offering his services to a gang passing off farmed puppies, many of which were seriously ill or dying, to unwitting customers who believed they were buying lovingly reared dogs.
Doherty provided new owners with misleading welfare documents, including immunisation certificates, which were used to reassure the people who bought the puppies.
However, the owners were left with significant veterinary bills or faced tough decisions over whether to put the animals down as a result of their ill health.
The 50-year-old, of Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, denied any wrongdoing but was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
He was spared jail at Isleworth Crown Court in May, receiving a 12-month suspended sentence and 80 hours of unpaid community work.
However, judges at the Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday the sentence was “unduly lenient” and jailed him for three-and-a-half years.
Three other members of the gang have also seen their sentences increased following an appeal by the solicitor general, Robert Buckland.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Holroyde said Doherty, who operated out of Uxbridge, was a “professional man who played a vital role in this wicked conspiracy”.
The court heard the gang took more than 4,500 puppies to Doherty over a five-year period, in a plot that was only discovered when RSCPA inspectors received several calls about sick dogs bought in Hayes.
Customers paid between £250 and £750 for dogs that had been commercially farmed abroad and imported into the UK, while the gang posed as caring families or dog breeders rearing the puppies at home.
When RSPCA inspectors went to the homes of some of the gang members, they found dogs in poor conditions, some of which later died.
The Court of Appeal also jailed Edward Stokes, 35, of Bedfont, Feltham, for four years, overturning his original two-year suspended sentence.
His brother Thomas Stokes, 26, of Hayes, had his three-year jail term increased to four years and eight months, while Simon O'Donnell, 30, of Uxbridge, had his original two-year sentence doubled.
All three men admitted conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and animal welfare offences.
“This group not only subjected thousands of puppies to atrocious living conditions, but also caused immense distress to families who had to watch their new pets suffer from serious illness,” Mr Buckland said.
“I am pleased that the Court of Appeal has today agreed to increase all four sentences, and hope this will bring some comfort to the victims of their crimes.”
Additional reporting by PA