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Shocking puppy farm scandal exposed

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A SHOCKING BBC Wales documentary screened on Monday night (Sept 30) laid bare the extent of the puppy farming scandal in West Wales.

This newspaper has repeatedly reported on the cruelty of puppy farming and the Lucy’s Law campaign and is not surprised by the content of the BBC Wales Investigates programme, anchored by Wyre Davies.

With the resources at its disposal, BBC Wales was able to dig deeper into links between breeders, vets, and how licensed premises are permitted to keep open despite serious animal welfare issues.

SYSTEMIC FAILURES IN ANIMAL WELFARE

One veterinary practises, Towy Vets of Carmarthen, was shown to have listed a dog as fit for breeding even though it also recorded it as dead. Animals as young as three months old were also shown as ready for breeding.

A breeder based in Carmarthenshire, Alun Douch, alleged that he had administered the parvo-virus vaccine to animals himself, having bought it from Towy Vets.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeon rules provides that a dog can only be vaccinated after a medical inspection by a qualified vet.

The medical records for the parvo vaccine’s administration must have been lacking as Mr Douch later sold a puppy to a Swansea woman which had to be destroyed because it suffered from the highly contagious and lethal disease.

When the dog’s buyer contacted the breeder, Alun Douch of Tywi Vale, Nantgaredig, she alleged that Mr Douch offered to administer antibiotics to the animal.

A Council inspection document revealed that there was an ongoing problem with parvo-virus at Mr Douch’s breeding establishment.

The same document-related that an inspector had seen Mr Douch kick a dog during the inspection.

Mr Douch continued holding a licence in spite of that incident.

In a statement to the BBC, solicitors acting for Mr Douch denied ‘any cruelty to any animal’.

An expert panel assembled by the BBC which examined the cases used in the programme expressed serious concerns about animal health and welfare and questioned the rigour of the inspection regime and enforcement.

The BBC report that a senior vet – Mike Jessop – who is brought in by local authorities to advise on welfare issues, told the broadcaster there were clear examples where some professional colleagues have been “found wanting”.

He said he would be making a referral to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons regarding the evidence in the programme.

In a statement on its website, Towy Vets said: ‘In relation to the BBC Wales Investigates television programme broadcast on 30th September 2019, a specific health report given to a Carmarthenshire licensed breeder was referenced. We are unfortunately unable to discuss client cases and share any of the background detail to the referenced report, and handwritten notes on that report.

‘Towy Vets passionately believe that breeding should be done within strict animal welfare guidelines and expect our vets to follow the RCVS code of conduct. We would welcome further dialogue with Carmarthenshire Council on the regulation of breeding.’

MP CALLS FOR DECISIVE ACTION

In 2018, Carmarthenshire became one of the first local authorities in Wales to adopt Lucy’s Law.

Lucy’s Law aims to ban third-party puppy and kitten sales, ensuring stronger protections for animals.

However, the problem in West Wales appears to be not only with unlicensed breeders but also with the activities of licensed ones.

Jonathan Edwards MP, who wrote to the Labour Welsh Government to address the poor animal welfare issues raised on the programme, developed that point.

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP, Jonathan Edwards said: “My constituents are very concerned that this remains an ongoing issue in Wales. It is my understanding that these terrible events took place on licensed premises. It appears that licences have been issued to people who do not have the welfare of these dogs at heart.

I have written to the Welsh Government to press them for immediate, decisive action to stop these farms from operating in such a terrible manner. An investigation is also required for these unscrupulous activities. It seems clear to me that the current regulations under this government are inadequate.”

AM QUESTIONS ‘FAILING’ SYSTEM

Mid and West Regional Labour AM Joyce Watson raised the harrowing programme in First Minister’s Questions in the Senedd.

Ms Watson commended the BBC for showing ‘cruelty beyond belief in council-registered puppy farms’.

The AM continued: “It showed hundreds of dogs living in filthy, dark, damp and cold conditions. These premises are inspected annually by inspectors and vets, people who are supposed to prioritise the welfare of the animals.

A number of premises have been inspected and found wanting, with breaches concerning poor animal welfare logged by inspectors and vets.

This wasn’t a one-off, they had consistently failed to meet recommendations and had been issued with warnings. Despite this, no action was taken against the breeders and licences were reissued year on year.

In some instances, not even basic needs were being met, such as in one site near Llandysul that featured in the programme.”

In that case, a dog was given to undercover workers from a rescue charity. After a vet inspected the animal, a dead puppy was found undelivered and emergency surgery needed to save the animal’s life.

Joyce Watson continued: “The legislation that is in place to protect these dogs is failing. The sheer volume of upheld complaints suggests that something is radically wrong in this process. Minister, I’d like to know what immediate action the Welsh Government are taking, in light of this report, to protect the welfare of both the puppies and the adult dogs at the puppy farms featured in this programme. And it’s clear to me, from the response that I’ve had swiftly overnight, that these authorities are overwhelmed.”

Responding on the Welsh Government’s behalf, Trefynydd Rebecca Evans told AMs she and other AMs shared Joyce Watson’s horror at the programme’s content.

Ms Evans said: The Minister for Environment and Rural Affairs [Lesley Griffiths AM] has written — or intends to very shortly — to veterinary bodies, and also to local authorities about this specific issue. She’s meeting with the chief veterinary officer tomorrow (Wednesday, Oct 2). But I also know that the Minister intends to ask the animal welfare framework group to revisit the current breeding regulations to improve welfare conditions at breeding establishments.”

TIME IS THE KILLER

How long that will take is anybody’s guess, in the meantime animals are still suffering in both licensed and unlicensed puppy farms in Carmarthenshire and elsewhere.

An illustration of the current regulatory regime’s shortcomings is shown by the case of Sylvia Griffiths, the owner of Glenview Kennels in Llandyfaelog, who continued to breed and sell puppies despite being refused a licence by Carmarthenshire County Council.

Griffiths held a breeding licence for Glenview since 1998, originally granted for up to 23 adult dogs.

However, when she applied to renew her licence in July 2016, animal health officers visited and found 74 adult dogs on the premises in overcrowded conditions with no free access to exercise areas.

Despite being given time to address conditions and warned that a failure to bring about necessary improvements to animal welfare, when council officers returned to her premises in December 2016 they found that conditions had not improved sufficiently to permit Griffiths to continue holding a licence.

Notwithstanding the officers’ findings, Griffiths continued to defy the law and breed dogs for sale.

It took a complaint from a concerned customer in May 2017, however, for the Council to take further action.

It was over a year later, on July 20, 2018, that Griffiths was ordered to pay £13,500 in fines and costs for continuing to breed and sell puppies illegally.

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Director of pharmacy chain jailed for £76,000 NHS fraud

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THE DIRECTOR of a family chain of high street pharmacies in South Wales has been sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment for deliberately overcharging the NHS for medicines at one of his branches: Talbot Pharmacy at Heol Y Gyfraith Talbot Green, Rhondda Cynon Taf (Cardiff Crown Court, 22 October 2019).

Pharmacist Michael Lloyd (52) of Penllyn, Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan, repeatedly submitted claims for payment to the NHS that falsely stated he had dispensed a more expensive item than he had actually provided to the patients.

Michael Lloyd is the co-director of Llanharan Pharmacy Ltd, which owns five pharmacy premises across South East Wales.

Lloyd received and processed prescriptions issued to NHS patients in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board (CTMUHB) area.

NHS Counter Fraud Service (CFS) Wales was called in to investigate following concerns raised by the health board. Investigations subsequently revealed that on numerous occasions, Lloyd falsely claimed he had dispensed medicines in liquid form to NHS patients when they had in fact received tablets. Drugs in liquid form cost significantly more.

Some tablets for dementia such as Memantine and Donepezil cost as little as £3 but Lloyd claimed for the more expensive liquid formulation, which sometimes cost the NHS as much £300 each time.

Lloyd sometimes altered the prescription forms – which had often already been honestly endorsed by staff to show that tablets had been dispensed – by crossing out their entries to claim for the much more expensive items such as liquids and dissolvable or dispersible tablets.

The prescriptions abused usually originated from genuine handwritten prescriptions issued by hospital doctors at the nearby Royal Glamorgan Hospital. Investigators also identified that Michael Lloyd had falsely claimed for liquids on prescriptions issued to patients by community dental practitioners for painkillers and anti-biotics. However, patients always received the correct medication that they were prescribed.

The NHS Counter Fraud Authority (NHSCFA) supported the investigation. Its Forensic Computing Unit (FCU) assisted in obtaining a forensic image (a complete exact copy) of Talbot Pharmacy’s computer systems.

NHS CFS Wales worked closely with the Pharmacy Team at CTMUHB. Investigators analysed the prescriptions claimed for by Talbot Pharmacy against the computer systems and were able to prove that over 1,500 prescriptions had been falsely claimed for by Lloyd, costing the NHS a total £76,475. They also obtained the tablet packaging provided to a number of patients as further evidence to support this.

Lloyd repaid this amount in full to CTMUHB in May 2019. Earlier, in an interview under caution, he admitted to the offences in a pre-prepared statement.

The other four branches in the business did not appear to have processed their prescriptions in the same way.

Graham Dainty, Operational Fraud Manager of CFS Wales, said today:

“CFS Wales has recently secured several successful prosecutions of NHS professionals who have defrauded NHS Wales. Pharmaceutical practitioners work in a key position of trust. Michael Lloyd abused his position as a pharmacist to deliberately defraud NHS Wales over an extended period of time. A dishonest minority are harming the reputation of the honest majority of pharmaceutical practitioners. This case shows that fraud will not be tolerated in NHS Wales and that suitable criminal, civil and disciplinary sanctions will always be pursued when appropriate”.

Sue Frith, CEO of the NHSCFA, said today: “This case is a shocking example of pharmaceutical contractor fraud, which is a priority action area for the NHSCFA this year. We were pleased to support NHS CFS Wales in this investigation, and our counter fraud teams routinely collaborate closely to ensure there is nowhere for fraudsters to hide. The specialist support of our Forensic Computing Unit helped CFS Wales to confront Mr Lloyd with a mass of hard evidence.

Any suspicion of fraud against the NHS should be reported to the NHS Fraud and Corruption Report Line via NHSCFA’s main website or by telephone on 0800 028 4060. Wherever appropriate, it will be investigated and prosecuted.”

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Jobs to go at Port Talbot car parts firm

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A SOUTH WALES car parts firm has announced it will close in two years, with the loss of about 125 jobs.

Hi-Lex Cable System Company makes door and window parts and cables for cars at its plant on Baglan energy park.

Management at the firm, which supplies Honda, Audi and BMW among others, said it did not anticipate any redundancies in the next 12 months.

Any remaining business at the plant in 2021 will be transferred to a Hi-Lex plant in Hungary.

A statement issued by the company said the decision had been taken following a meeting at the parent company, Hi-Lex Corporation in Japan, which discussed a restructure of its European operations.

It continued: “Hi-Lex Corporation regrets the need for the decision to re-structure its operations, but it is based solely upon a significant reduction in the sales forecast at HCS, from 2021 onwards.

“Hi-Lex will now contact all of our supply chain partners to discuss and agree plans to meet the needs of our customers up to the closure of the HCS facility.”

Commenting on the news that Hi-Lex Cable Systems will be leaving Wales, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Economy and Transport, Russell George AM, said: “It is disappointing that Hi-Lex Cable Systems has decided to move their production from Baglan to Hungary. The highly skilled and dedicated workforce in Baglan and the surrounding area are and would have continued to be a strong asset to Hi-Lex in the face of predicted declining sales from 2021. I urge the Welsh and UK Government’s to act swiftly to help the employees and their families affected by today’s news.”

Welsh Conservative Regional Assembly Member for South Wales West, Suzy Davies AM, added: “This is another blow to the South Wales West area and its hardworking people. It is good to hear that Hi-Lex will not be making any redundancies before 2021 enabling people to plan for the future and I will do everything to attract more businesses to South Wales West to replace those that will be lost over the next two years.”

Adam Glaznieks, managing director at the Port Talbot site, said: “The reason for making the announcement now is that we need to commence preparations to transfer any remaining business after 2021 to the Hi-Lex plant in Hungary.”

The leader of Neath Port Talbot council, Rob Jones, said the closure would be “keenly felt” in the area and the authority would try to support workers “wherever we can into new employment”.

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Swansea Building Society expands in East Wales

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Swansea Building Society has appointed two new front-line mortgage managers to further expand its East Wales operations.

Lloyd Williams from North Cornelly has recently been appointed as Branch Manager at the Society’s Cowbridge branch. Williams is currently the Assistant Manager at the Cowbridge branch and has seven years’ experience in financial services. His new role will see him responsible for the branch and mortgage sales/operations in and around the Bridgend/Vale of Glamorgan areas. A fluent Welsh speaker, Williams has been with the Society for over four years.

Laura Cox from Croesyceiliog has recently been appointed as the Society’s new Business Development Manager covering the counties of Monmouthshire and Brecon and Radnorshire. Cox has over 15 years’ experience in financial services, having worked as a mortgage adviser in the Newport/Gwent area and as a Senior Underwriter at another Welsh building society.

Both Williams and Cox will report to Swansea Building Society’s Area Manager, Richard Miles, who along with the Society’s existing Business Development Manager, Martin Lewis, will continue to manage the areas of Cardiff, Gwent and the Welsh Border region.

Richard Miles, Area Manager and Head of Savings at Swansea Building Society, said:

“I am delighted to have Lloyd and Laura join our expanding team in East Wales. The response to the Society’s personal, tailored and common-sense approach to lending since we opened in Cowbridge during December 2017 has been excellent. By increasing our mortgage manager presence, we can focus on developing new business in areas where previously we have been unable to fully focus on.”

Alun Williams, Chief Executive of Swansea Building Society, added:

“I have been delighted with how the team based at the Cowbridge branch have performed since its opening. It is obvious from the feedback received that more and more people in East Wales need the services of a lender that avoids a ‘computer says no’ model and that doesn’t believe in a one size fits all approach to mortgage lending.

“With a focus on opening and not closing branches, our ambitions to expand further and effectively serve communities will be complemented with the additions to Richard’s team in East Wales. We look forward to seeing their growing contribution to the Society in 2020 and beyond.”

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