"Driven to the point of suicide": Bamber Bridge woman's year of hell after being falsely accused of being a puppy farmer
A woman falsely accused of masterminding an illegal puppy farming operation across Lancashire has had her name cleared after "12 months of hell".
Heather Young, from Bamber Bridge, has spoken of how her life "was turned upside down" by the failed private prosecution brought against her, her mother, and four friends.
She said the ordeal - launched by charity Animal Protection Services - has driven her to the point of suicide, after plunging her into debt, causing the breakup of a relationship, losing friends and receiving death threats. Earlier this year she also suffered a miscarriage which she puts down to stress.
The 26-year-old former Worden High School pupil said: "It's been horrendous.
"There's been so many times I've been out at 2am in the car and wanted to do something stupid.
"My miscarriage broke my heart. I lost my baby, my business has had to close, I've had my bank accounts frozen, I'm in £8,500 of rent arrears on the unit, I've lost a relationship over this, had death threats, and lost friends.
"Suicidal doesn't cut how I've been feeling. But I couldn't kill myself because I had two dogs who depended on me.
"I had to come home to them. If I'd have killed myself, then it would have been a few days before anyone would have come to the house, and by that time they'd be dead too from lack of food."
Heather said that as part of the private prosecution, she has also had to account for every penny she's spent in the last 12 months, and has endured people threatening to stab her over the publicity the case has received.
What did APS allege?
Heather was accused by APS of selling puppies and dogs without a licence, unfair trading, money laundering and fraud.
Jason Hadden, 39, of Terance Road, Blackpool, and Alexander Mereweather, 27, of Three Nooks, Bamber Bridge, were both accused of aiding and abetting her and unfair trading.
Jordan Hinds, 38, of Burton Street, Rishton, Blackburn, faced the same charges, as well as selling puppies without a licence, unfair trading and possessing criminal property.
Clifford Iddon, 46, of Lambert Road, Preston, was accused of two counts of carrying on an unlicenced business selling pets, unfair trading and possessing criminal property.
Heather's mum, Jacqueline Leadbetter, of Farington Moss, Leyland, was accused of aiding and abetting her daughter, unfair trading and possessing criminal property.
The case against all defendants was thrown out of court in September.
"No evidence at all"
His Honour Judge Darren Preston said there was "no evidence at all" as to any of the indictments brought by APS, and he believed there was an "improper financial motive for bringing this prosecution" that was "steered by Jacob Knight/Lloyd from the shadows is his misguided belief that he can do whatever he wishes, whether inside or outside the law, to carry out his personal crusade to, as he sees it, protect animals."
Prosecutors are able to claim fees back from the court system.
Judge Preston also said: "The behaviour of Jacob Lloyd/Knight in investigating this case has been itself disgraceful and the prosecution’s conduct around him has been improper such that were this prosecution be allowed to continue, there would be an affront to justice".
In a similar case in Manchester this month, Alex-Kaye Carrigan and Elisha Brown were both accused by APS of unlawfully selling pets.
The honorary recorder of Manchester, Judge Nicholas Dean QC, threw the cases out and stated that the prosecutions were an abuse of the court’s process. He said he would be sending his ruling to the attorney general, Greater Manchester Police, the Charities Commission and to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Heather shakes her head as she recalls what happened to her.
She is adamant that all she ever wanted to do was to rescue dogs from puppy farms, nurture them to full health and find loving homes for them, selling them at cost.
"I just wanted to take puppies out of a situation", she said.
The story began when Heather, a car salesperson, decided to get a German Shepherd. She reserved one online from a breeder, but after being 'ghosted' online and being told he was a puppy farmer, decided to rescue one from elsewhere.
When the breeder who had previously deleted her from Facebook got back in touch, he told her if she didn't take the dog, he'd drown it.
Heather travelled to the house in Manchester and found it filled with up to 30 breeding dogs.
Appalled by the sight, she paid for the dog and reported her concerns to the authorities, which she claimed failed to act.
"I did the right thing. If you're an animal lover, you would do the same", she said.
Incensed by the lack of official action, and laid off work due to the first lockdown, she began to search dog-selling websites for evidence of more puppies in need of help.
She said she saw many examples, conspicuous by the very brief descriptions, young age of puppies on offer, lack of photos of parents, and puppies in sawdust which is easier to clean for puppy farmers.
In total, she said she rescued three litters, at one point asking her mum Jacqueline for £4,500 to buy three five-day-old Cavapoos from a house in Clayton Brook.
"That apparently counts as money laundering", said Jacqueline, 61. "When all we have tried to do is the right thing."
Heather said she nursed the puppies back to health, paid for quality food, vets bills, microchipping, toys and beds, before selling them on via Pets4Homes. She said she asked friends who live elsewhere in Lancashire to help her put adverts online.
She claims she did not make a penny on the sales, and that a £2,000 dog from her covered the initial £1,800 and costs of rearing them for six weeks.
"Laughable" accusation of making more than £160,000 from trades
Animal Protection Services, a registered charity that investigates and prosecutes organised animal cruelty, accused Heather of making more than £160,000 from her trades, which she said is "laughable".
She said: "They think because I put 'from a litter of seven' in the description, that I had all seven dogs to sell at £2,000 each. I had the one. And if I had £160,000 in my bank, then I wouldn't be living where I am.
"I've been called a criminal mastermind. I have a few GCSEs."
Heather says she has no idea why she was targeted by APS, but has since found out the charity has launched similar prosecutions against other sellers across the country.
Heather said: "The laws around selling animals is really vague in this country. If you're breeding dogs, then you're not allowed to sell more than three litters a year without a licence.
"I wasn't even breeding dogs, but I went to the Council and asked for a licence and was told that they couldn't give me one - because one didn't exist for what I was doing.
"I did all the right things and I've been targeted. It's so unfair."
She added: "All I'm trying to do is to build a life for myself. I treat my dogs better than some people treat their children. I'm a normal, honest person, and yet this has terrified me.
"The court case, the legal letters. It's left me paranoid and stressed. My life has been totally turned upside down."
What APS said
APS have been approached by the Lancashire Post for comment on Heather, her mum and friend's case.
They are said to have carried out between 80 and 100 private prosecutions this year, and in a statement on their website, say they "strongly deny that we have acted improperly or maliciously".
They say: "Animal Protection Services wishes to clarify its position on private prosecutions undertaken by, and on behalf of, the charity following adverse criticism on claims of "over-zealous prosecution" by our charity.
"We have recently faced adverse criticism from the judiciary and the public in relation to prosecutions undertaken by, and on behalf of, our charity in respect of unlicensed breeding. In addition, adverse criticism was drawn to Parry and Welch Solicitors LLP, the legal advisers who acted in nearly all of our prosecutions.
"Our charity was founded in November 2019. Its aims are to prevent and supress cruelty to animals. During the start up of the charity, we identified that the majority of complaints received from consumers who had purchased a poorly and unwell puppy were relating to unlicensed breeders. It was felt that tackling the root cause of the issue - the regulation of dog breeders - was in the best interests' of animal welfare.
"As such, the charity embarked on an operation to investigate, and wherever necessary and properly justified, prosecute those who were breaching the regulations. At all times, Animal Protection Services relied upon the legal advice from Parry and Welch Solicitors LLP.
"During lockdown, the price of puppies had risen significantly. The demand for puppies was such that illegal smuggling of puppies was appearing to be a regular occurrence. Opportunists and organised criminals took advantage of the situation.
"Unfortunately, local authorities were unable to investigate the sheer volume of cases with their limited resources. We were receiving an increased volume of complaints in relation to the sale of sick puppies during lockdown with a common complaint being that puppies were sold without the necessary vaccinations resulting in death. If a breeder was licensed by the local authority, this would be unlikely to happen.
"Any prosecution was commenced by laying an information with the Magistrates' Court. The Justices' Clerk (or a justice of the peace) then issues a summons. The decision whether to issue a summons is a judicial one, not an administrative one. As such, the summons and accompanying case file was subject to judicial scrutiny prior to the first hearing. We have not had an application for summons that has been rejected by the Magistrates' Court.
"Furthermore, when files have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for adoption and discontinuance of proceedings, the CPS has to date refused to take over and/or discontinue any prosecutions instituted by our charity.
"We strongly deny any allegation that we have acted improperly or maliciously. We maintain that the CPS Full Code Test was considered and met in all cases. We are not lawyers, but rather private animal welfare investigators, and therefore rely on the support of the qualified legal professionals to conduct our criminal proceedings.
"In light of the circumstances however we will be conducting an internal review of our investigative processes. We will cooperate fully with any regulatory investigation to address any concerns. Furthermore, we are considering civil proceedings against our previous legal advisers Parry and Welch Solicitors LLP."