A CONMAN who tricked Cotswolds horse owners into paying for cremations for their animals that were never carried out, pleaded guilty to five charges of fraud at Gloucester magistrates court.

An investigation by Gloucestershire County Council’s Trading Standards discovered that Philip ‘John’ Cooper of John Cooper Livestock Services charged clients £920 for the individual cremation of their animals but actually took the remains to a knacker’s yard in Exeter, where he paid only £35. Cooper also pleaded guilty to four charges of failing to keep appropriate records.

He was fined £3,000 for each of the five offences of fraud, £500 for each offence of failing to keep records, plus a £15 victim surcharge. He was also ordered to pay the county council £11,927.17 in costs. He was ordered to pay the total of £28,942.17 within 28 days.

Mr Cooper from Broadway, Chilcompton, near Radstock, was a well known horse slaughter and knacker man in the West country for many years. He agreed to undertake individual cremations of four horses and one donkey for Bushy Equine Vets in Berkeley on behalf of their clients at a cost of £920 each.

When one client became suspicious, she referred the matter to Trading Standards officers. They found that the horse had not been cremated, but taken to a renderer in Exeter. Mr Cooper then filled a casket with ash from another horse that had been individually cremated, and a casket bearing the inscription Otto was returned to the owner.

Trading Standards then investigated another four ‘cremations’ only to find there was no paperwork. Mr Cooper would not say how the horses had been disposed of.

Chair of the magistrates, Andrew Tabor, said Mr Cooper had committed serious offences and consideration was given to imposing a custodial sentence. However, due to his previous good character, early plea and reimbursement of the money obtained by fraud, he was instead given a substantial financial penalty.

Eddie Coventry, Head of Trading Standards, said: "This was a particularly nasty fraud, one targeted at animal owners already going through a distressing time and when they are particularly vulnerable.

"They put their trust in Mr Cooper to give their horses a dignified cremation and then receive their own horse’s ashes back as a lasting memorial.

"They were cruelly misled by Mr Cooper and it is satisfying that thanks to our investigation, he has been handed a substantial financial punishment for his crimes."

Cllr Will Windsor-Clive, Gloucestershire County Council Cabinet Member with responsibility for Trading Standards, said: "These horse owners were caused a great deal of pain for Mr Cooper’s financial gain. I’m glad this investigation by Trading Standards resulted in a successful prosecution."