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Horse sellers and vet found guilty of fraud

11 min read

Two horse dealers and a vet have been found guilty of a large scale fraud where they colluded to sell ill and dangerous horses to unsuspecting buyers.

Despite denying the multiple fraud charges, 28-year-old Aniela Jurecka, of Prospect Place, Collier Street, Tonbridge, Charlotte Johnson, 28-years-old of Tollgate Way, Sandling and 66-year-old,David Smith, The Street, Finglesham, Deal, were all found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation when they appeared before Maidstone Crown Court on 13 June 2016. The trial began on 7 March 2016.

The trio were arrested following a large-scale operation involving officers from Kent Police, Trading Standards and The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Drugging horses

The court heard how the Jurecka and Johnson advertised horses for sale in equestrian publications. When text messages were downloaded by detectives they suggested the pair were drugging horses to cover up poor behaviour and lameness. Jurecka and Johnson would also advise that buyers used their recommended veterinarian David Smith to save money. Smith would then give the horses a clean bill of health and the victim would purchase a sub-standard horse. In many cases the paperwork for the horses was altered. Prices for horses ranged from £1,950 to £5,700.

The horses were sold from Duckhurst Farm, Staplehurst, and Great Thorn Farm, Marden and the certificate of the animal’s good health and suitability for purpose were provided by David Smith of the Lakeview Veterinary Centre in Capel Le Ferne. Jurecka and Johnson advertised the horses under the business names of SE Horses and Mid Kent Horses.

Throughout the course of the investigation officers identified 17 victims of fraud. In some cases the buyers were looking for animals suitable for children. One buyer describes purchasing a pony for her child that was described as ‘a baby-sitter on four legs.’ The pony ‘Jimmy’ was sold for £1,950 to the woman with a two week warranty after being vetted and passed by David Smith who was recommended by Jurecka.

Behavioural problems

After a few days the pony developed behavioural problems and bolted with its 10-year-old jockey. The pony’s behaviour continued to get worse and the owners attempted to return Jimmy under the warranty.  A civil action ensued which was won by the victim however Jurecka did not pay the monies ordered by the court.

The first incident was reported to police on 26 October 2010 and related to a horse named Belle. A man saw the advert for Belle, an Irish Sports horse which promoted the mare as being capable of pony club activities and with a good temperament. Johnson told him she had owned Belle for 3-years and had competed in show jumping and cross country.

The man agreed to purchase Belle after seeing her at Great Thorn farm in Marden, the sale was subject to her passing vetting. Johnson advised the victim to use Smith for the vetting procedure which he did and Smith passed the horse as being in good health. When the victim received Belle and her equine passport, he was alarmed to see the page detailing immunisations had been removed. The horse developed behavioural problems and was lame. After doing some research the victim found out that the mare was a thoroughbred, not Irish Sports Horse as publicised and whilst making enquiries he realised that other people had experienced similar issues with horses purchased from Johnson.

Executed a warrant

Police launched an investigation and located similar incidents which were linked to Johnson that had occurred in Meopham. Officers contacted Trading Standards and The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and began working with the organisations to unravel the large scale deception by the vet and horse dealers.

On 31 May 2013 police executed a warrant at Lakeview Vets police seized information from computers which uncovered poor record keeping by Smith, in particular surrounding the supply of Modecate. This is a controversial behaviour modifying sedative with a long term effect. The drug will mask behavioural problems in aggressive problem horses. Several text messages to Smith by the dealers were also uncovered by the detectives where Jurecka asked Smith for Modecate and Sedalin.

Due to the number of victims coming forward the investigation was a complex and large enquiry and in January 2015 the trio were charged with fraud. They were found guilty on Monday 13 June.

They are to be sentenced 11 July.

Hugh profits on ill and injured horses

The officer in charge of the case Detective Constable Tracey Brightman said: ‘These horses were obtained cheaply by the Johnson and Jurecka because they had physical problems or aggressive tendencies. We believe their issues were masked with drugs supplied by Smith when a potential buyer came to try out the horse. The dealers made huge profits on unfit, ill and injured horses working with a veterinary surgeon to ensure their lies were covered with credibility.

‘What they were doing was not only fraud but also putting their customers in danger. In one instance a woman was left unable to walk for a year after being thrown from her horse. It later transpired the animal had serious back problems which made it unsuitable for the activities that Smith had passed it for.

‘The criminal aspect of the case may overlook the fact that passing an injured horse as fit to ride and jump is nothing short of cruel and shows a complete disregard to the veterinary oath. Unfortunately in some cases the horses were so ill they had to be euthanized causing yet more distress to the new owners.

‘I would like thank both Trading Standards and The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons for their support throughout this extensive and complex investigation.’

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