A ROGUE dog trader who illegally imported cropped and docked Doberman puppies into the UK has been sentenced to 28 months in prison for risking the rabies free status of the country.

Bournemouth Crown Court heard how Peter Graham Harman, aged 39, formally of Portland Road, Weymouth, was sentenced having previously pleaded guilty to six offences relating to the importation and sale of litters of Doberman puppies - following an investigation by Dorset Council Trading Standards.

Dorset Echo: Harman was sentenced to 28 months in prisonHarman was sentenced to 28 months in prison

Harman had pleaded guilty on March 23, to an offence under the Fraud Act of participating in a fraudulent business for a three-year period; four offences of breaching rabies import controls on numerous occasions and an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations of misleading claims in his advertising about the history and transportation of the animals.

Harman was sentenced to two years and four months in prison.

Harman operated an online business called UK Dobermans that specialised in importing cropped and docked puppies.

The cropping of dogs’ ears and the docking of their tails for aesthetic purposes is banned in the UK and most of Europe but the there is still demand for these dogs.

Since the business was set up in 2016 Harman had regular shipments of dogs imported with some selling for up to £3,000 each.

The court heard in September 2019 officers from Dorset’s Trading Standards team were contacted by the Animal and Plant Health Authority (APHA) Imports Team who had detained eight cropped and docked Doberman puppies at the Eurotunnel.

Dorset Echo: Harman outside Bournemouth Crown Court before sentencingHarman outside Bournemouth Crown Court before sentencing

Their passports showed they had Serbian microchip numbers but Romanian passports which raised suspicions as to their country of origin.

APHA established this had been the third failed attempt to transport the same dogs into the UK, while the dogs all had the same microchip numbers - the passports were different on the day the dogs were detained compared to one of the previous failed attempts to import the animals.

Trading Standards subsequently executed a warrant at Harman’s home address where he operated his business.

Amongst the items seized were several mobile telephones and a laptop computer.

These were sent to the National Crime Agency where they were forensically examined which revealed conversations between Harman and a Serbian based breeder of Doberman puppies.

Dorset Echo:

It was clear from these conversations that the puppies imported originated from outside the EU but were made to look as if they had originated from Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria and so could be legally imported into the UK.

The reason that restrictions are in place on dogs coming from outside the EU is to ensure that rabies is not introduced to the country. Also, some dogs were too young to be imported into the UK.

The minimum age from within the EU that puppies can be imported is 15 weeks, but some were found to be nearly 13 weeks old. The minimum age for importing from outside the EU, such as Serbia, is seven months. He was also found to be using unlicensed carriers to transport the puppies.

In sentencing Harman Judge Climie said: "You have put the UK’s rabies free status at risk."

Councillor Jill Haynes, Portfolio Holder for Customer, Community and Regulatory Services at Dorset Council said: "A very important part of the work that our Trading Standards team does is to ensure that animals of all kinds are well looked after.

"This case illustrates the work our Trading Standards team does, working with the Animal and Plant Health Agency ensure that pet animals brought into the country adhere to the strict rules in place to make sure they are fit and healthy and do not pose a risk of introducing diseases to the UK.

"This investigation not only tackled breaches of animal disease controls but also misleading advertising and fraudulent trading by the trader concerned, all of which are priorities for our Trading Standards team."

Dorset Echo: Peter Harman, aged 39Peter Harman, aged 39

For advice on the rules governing pet importation Dorset residents can call the Dorset Council Trading Standards animal health line on 01305 224475, or email tradingstandards@dorsetcouncil.gov.uk