Man stopped with over 50 puppies at Belfast port remanded in custody accused of fraud

Detective claims Mark Hirst (44) a ‘puppy smuggler’ using pet transport business as a front to move animals

A man stopped with more than 50 puppies at Belfast Harbour was allegedly using his pet transportation business as a front to smuggle animals into Britain, a court has heard.

Police claimed Mark Hirst (44), of Leys Farm, Park Lane, Huddersfield, England, has been using bogus paperwork to move dogs from breeding farms in the Republic of Ireland.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard that port authorities had refused to allow him to travel on at least 10 previous occasions since Janaury 2020 because of false animal documentation. Mr Hirst is charged with five counts of fraud by false representation, acquiring criminal property and possessing articles used in fraud.

He was detained on Tuesday at a Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) facility in the harbour area while making arrangements to take 57 puppies, three dogs and a cat animals to Cairnryan, Scotland.

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An investigating detective said the paperwork contained details of those Mr Hirst allegedly met to obtain the animals, but police could only contact one person who stated they did not know him. “(Some of) these people don’t exist, they are duplicate names and addresses, they are bogus,” he contended.

Searches of the vehicle uncovered vaccination cards completed by a veterinarian based in Co Longford. According to the detective, Mr Hirst travelled to Northern Ireland by ferry on Monday, drove across the border, and then returned with the animals.

“It is the police case that the defendant is involved as a puppy smuggler,” he said.

The court heard Hirst does run a legitimate business transporting pets to locations across the UK but the detective said: “I believe this is a façade to facilitate a criminal enterprise.” He said that £5,000 in cash was seized from the van, with most of the money found behind a seat.

“This is somebody who is a repeat offender,” the investigator added.

Defence solicitor Stewart Evans said DAERA had never reported his client in the past for any suspected fraud.

“There’s no evidence at this stage you can put to this man in respect of any puppy farm,” he submitted.

The detective replied: “All but two of the animals are unaccounted for...They are not registered to any breeder in Northern Ireland… all of the chips are blank.”

Mr Evans argued that Hirst has been running a legitimate business to provide for his family, and could be released on condition that he does not enter Northern Ireland.

Bail was refused and Mr Hirst was remanded in custody until September 1st.

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