Couple who had 67 dogs on travellers’ site banned from keeping animals

The dogs were among 83 seized during the raid (Picture: East Anglia News Service)

A woman quizzed over the suspected theft of more than 60 dogs found at her home on a travellers’ site told police they were all hers.

Maria Lee, 47, and her partner Stacy Humphrys, 34, were arrested following a raid at the West Meadows site in Ipswich, Suffolk, on March 20 this year.

Officers found dozens of dogs, including cocker and spring spaniels, French bulldogs, dachshunds, and whippets crammed inside cages, kennels, and pens of up to five each around their plot.

They were among a total of 83 seized by police during the investigation.

Suffolk Magistrates’ Court heard that 17 of the dogs were later returned to people connected with the site after they were able to produce proof of ownership and there were no welfare concerns.

Lee insisted the other 67 were all her own and denied there had been any plot to sell them as lockdown pets.

But she agreed to sign the dogs, some of whom were in poor health after being kept in squalid conditions, over to Suffolk Police on August 7.

Stacy Humphrys was jailed for 14 weeks (Picture: East Anglia News Service)
Pictures were released by Suffolk Police to try and find potential owners (Picture: East Anglia News Service)
Maria Lee claimed she owned 67 of them (Picture: East Anglia News Service)
None of the dogs were confirmed as stolen (Picture: East Anglia News Service)
Police raided the West Meadows travellers site in Ipswich, Suffolk (Picture: East Anglia News Service)

Despite releasing images of them as part of a nationwide appeal to try and find any potential owners, none were identified as stolen.

They have all since been found new homes with the help of the RSPCA.

The court heard a German shepherd was found almost entirely shaven and visibly distressed standing on rotten hay in what was described by one inspector as a ‘pool of faeces’.

Five other dogs needed treatment for conditions including a large bladder tumour and an ear infection.

Lee admitted five counts of causing unnecessary suffering to dogs and failing to ensure the welfare of animals.

She was handed a 12-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and banned from keeping dogs for five years.

The court heard Humphrys was already banned from keeping animals and he pleaded guilty to two counts of breaching a disqualification imposed following a previous conviction.

He was jailed for 14 weeks over the breach and handed a concurrent eight-week sentence for failing to be responsible for animals.

Both were ordered to pay £105 costs and a £128 surcharge.

Lee said she simply took too many dogs on (Picture: East Anglia News Service)
She denied running a commercial ring selling them (Picture: East Anglia News Service)
Lee was spared jail (Picture: East Anglia News Service)
Police found cages, kennels and pens containing up to five dogs each (Picture: East Anglia News Service)
Police said at the time that all the dogs were believed to have been stolen (Picture: East Anglia News Service)

Frank O’Toole, defending Lee, said she wished to ‘express great remorse’ and did not intend to cause any harm to any dogs in her care.

He added that she took on far too many dogs and ‘found it difficult to say no’ to accepting even more.

Mr O’Toole said that Lee, who had no previous convictions, ‘did not know how many dogs she had’ and believed she kept around 30.

There was no evidence that she was selling any dogs in a commercial enterprise, he added.

Steven Dyble, defending Humphrys, said he had returned to the travellers’ site following his release from prison and became involved with caring for the dogs due to Lee’s ill health.

He said: ‘It was believed it was some kind of Aladdin’s cave of stolen dogs. But there is no evidence at all that any of the dogs recovered from that site had been stolen.’

He added that most of the dogs were found to be in a ‘pretty good condition’.

The court heard that 17 of the dogs were returned to people connected with the site (Picture: East Anglia News Service)
Lee agreed to sign the dogs over to Suffolk Police on August 7 this year (Picture: East Anglia News Service)
The court heard Lee ‘did not know how many dogs she had’ (Picture: East Anglia News Service)
The seized dogs were in varying conditions and states of health, including some with limited or no access to food or water (Picture: East Anglia News Service)

Temporary Detective Superintendent Nicky Wallace, who led the investigation, said: ‘This was an extremely challenging investigation, given the number of dogs involved and the difficulties we faced in establishing ownership.

‘I would like to thank our partners, especially the RSPCA for their cooperation and for the support from the public. The dogs which have been rehomed will now go on to have the chance of happier, healthier lives, where they will be loved and cared for.

‘We did everything we possibly could to establish the ownership of each of these dogs but in some cases, it was not possible.

‘Where ownership was established and, there were no concerns highlighted, the dogs were returned to their owners.

‘The conditions that some of these dogs were found in were clearly unacceptable, and the sentence handed to Humphrys and Lee reflects this.

‘Thankfully, these conditions are unique and rarely seen in Suffolk. I am grateful in conjunction with the RSPCA that many of the dogs now look forward to a new life in their forever homes.’

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