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Warrington-based veterinary surgeon given formal warning for false certification

24 April 2018

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Disciplinary Committee has given a formal warning to a Warrington-based veterinary surgeon after it found a number of charges proved in relation to incorrect certification about the conditions of a greyhound kennel.

The hearing for Natalia Oakes MRCVS took place from Monday 16 April to Thursday 19 April 2018 and concerned a Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) Veterinary Surgeons Residential Kennel Inspection Form. The charges were that: Miss Oakes had signed a form which indicated that there were 55 greyhounds in the kennel, when there were in fact more; that she had stated that the kennels were in an acceptable condition, when they were in fact not; and that she knew the form was inaccurate and/or was dishonest in relation to what she had indicated on the form.

The kennels in question, Rough Cottage, were owned by Louise Eccles and her husband, Rod Eccles. Mrs Eccles was licensed by GBGB as a trainer, allowing her to train and race greyhounds and making the kennels accountable to inspections by veterinary surgeons.

At the time of the form in question, Miss Oakes had been attending Rough Cottage for about a year-and-a-half on a monthly basis, up through August 2016. At that point, on or around 1 August 2016, Mrs Eccles had left Rough Cottage for personal reasons. Miss Oakes subsequently visited the premises on 14 August 2016 along with Amanda Gething of Northern Greyhound Rescue, which is when she learned that rather than there being 55 dogs, there were more than 80.

On 16 August, she and Amanda Gething returned to Rough Cottage with Lucille Cavadino, from Lancky Dogs, a greyhound rescue organisation. They became aware of the existence of kennels on the premises that were not of acceptable standard, but Miss Oakes found that the dogs housed in these kennels were fit and healthy.

Miss Oakes also spoke to Mr Eccles around this time, and although he had plans to rehouse some of the dogs she was concerned that he might change his mind. Miss Oakes took the decision to complete and sign the kennel inspection form that Mr Eccles had handed to her, knowing that the details contained therein were incorrect. She stated that the reason that she did this was to appease Mr Eccles so that he would not hinder the plans to remove and rehouse the dogs. She admitted to the area GBGB Stipendiary Steward that she had signed the form and that it contained incorrect information.

At the beginning of the hearing Miss Oakes admitted all the charges except for the final one, namely that she had been dishonest about what she had indicated on the form. When she gave evidence during the hearing, however, she admitted that she had been dishonest and so all charges were found proved.

The Committee then turned to deciding whether these charges, having been found proven, would result in a finding of disgraceful conduct in a professional respect against Miss Oakes. The Committee considered her motives in signing the form were to try and safeguard animal welfare, but considered that she was misguided in how she chose to achieve that aim. The Committee, therefore, found that signing a form that is known to be misleading or inaccurate is in definite breach of the Code of Professional Conduct, and concluded that her conduct constituted disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.

When considering a suitable sanction, the Committee took into account a number of mitigating factors, including some 62 testimonials that were submitted in favour of Miss Oakes, and the fact that she believed she was acting in the best interests of the animals’ welfare.

So far as mitigating factors are concerned, the Committee is satisfied that the Respondent’s motivation for what she did was governed by her overwhelming wish to promote the health or welfare of the greyhounds at Rough Cottage.

Chitra Karve, Chair of the Disciplinary Committee, commented: “So far as mitigating factors are concerned, the Committee is satisfied that the Respondent’s motivation for what she did was governed by her overwhelming wish to promote the health or welfare of the greyhounds at Rough Cottage. The Committee is satisfied that no actual harm or risk of harm to any animal occurred in this case. There was no financial gain to the Respondent and the Committee has been told that she charged no fee for her extensive efforts in organising or assisting with the removal and rehousing of the greyhounds from Rough Cottage. The Committee considers that this was a single and isolated incident and that the risks of similar behaviour being repeated in the future are low.“

She added: “The Committee has decided that it will be sufficient to protect the welfare of animals, to maintain public confidence in the profession and to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct, for the Respondent to be given a formal warning as to her future conduct.”

Please note: This is a summary of the Disciplinary Committee hearing intended to assist in understanding the case and the Committee's decision, it does not form part of the decision itself. The Committee's full decisions are the only authoritative documents.

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