Gave random pile of ashes to horse lovers
A "greedy" mid-Somerset knackerman, who cashed in on the grief of almost 30 women horse owners when their beloved animals died, has narrowly avoided going to jail.
Philip Cooper, 69, told the women he would have their horses individually cremated and their ashes wwould be presented to them in a casket.
The women paid about £550 each for the special service to help them keep the memory of their departed horses and ponies alive.
But instead of having the animals individually cremated as he had promised, Cooper dumped their bodies together with remains of other farm animals and sent them for rendering.
It cost him only about £40 an animal for the rendering process – meaning he profited by about £500 a time from the women, who were presented with caskets containing a random pile of ashes.
Last year Cooper, 69, was ordered to pay almost £29,000 in fines and costs after he admitted cheating five women by pretending he would have their beloved animals individually cremated.
But since publicity about last year's case another 26 women came forward and last week Cooper was back before Gloucester Crown Court to admit new charges relating to them.
Cooper, of High Street, West Lydford, admitted four charges of fraud and asked for 22 more to be considered.
Prosecutor Judith Kenney, for Gloucestershire trading standards department, said the total Cooper obtained fraudulently in the 26 new cases was £14,393.
It was as a result of an article in Horse and Hound about last year's court hearing that three further complaints came in from women concerned that their horses may not have been individually cremated by Cooper after all, she said.
All of the women had lost horses in 2007 and paid Cooper for the cremation and casket service.
When Cooper was questioned about the new complaints he chose to say nothing, said Mrs Kenney.
As a result of new investigations which were then launched by trading standards officers who checked the records of the Bushy Equine Clinic in Breadstone, Berkeley, Gloucestershire, all the new cases were discovered, she added.
The Bushy Clinic was the only animal cremation service that Cooper had been using.
Mark Caprell, defending, said the offences began when Cooper realised too late that a woman client wanted her dead horse individually cremated.
By then he had already put the animal in for rendering but he did not want to upset her by telling her the truth so he pretended the animal had been individually cremated, said Mr Caprell.
Mr Caprell said he realised Cooper could be jailed immediately for such crimes but he asked the court to pass a suspended sentence on the grounds of Cooper's age, the 'antiquity' of the offences and the fact he has now retired and passed on the business to his daughter and son-in-law.
Cooper had already had to sell his home and downsize in order to meet last year's big court costs and fines bill and losses he sustained from the closure of a major customer, a rendering plant, added Mr Caprell. Cooper was given an eight months jail sentence, suspended for two years.
Judge Jamie Tabor QC also ordered him to pay £1,000 compensation to each of his 26 new victims to cover their losses and emotional distress.
And he ordered Cooper to pay a further £27,295 in fines and costs.
The judge further placed Cooper under an 8pm-6am electronically tagged curfew for three months.
Judge Tabor told Cooper: "You have spectacularly fallen from grace. This was a long term fraud and all your 26 victims were emotionally vulnerable.
"You caused them upset and continue to cause them upset in their lives.
"You betrayed their trust. It was greed – it was easy money."