Man arrested at Belfast Harbour over alleged puppy smuggling appears in court

A man who stopped at Belfast harbor with more than 50 puppies has allegedly used his pet transport business as a front to smuggle animals into Britain, a court has heard.

Police alleged Mark Hirst, 44, was involved in an illegal racket using forged papers to transport dogs from breeding farms in the Republic of Ireland.

A judge was also told that the port authorities had previously denied him voyage on at least 10 occasions due to false documentation.

Hirst from Leys Farm, Park Lane in Huddersfield, appeared in Belfast Magistrates’ Court charged with five counts of fraud by misrepresentation, acquisition of criminal property and possession of articles used in fraud.

He was arrested on Tuesday at Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) facilities in the port area while making arrangements to bring animals to Cairnryan in Scotland.

A total of 57 puppies of different breeds, three adult dogs and a cat were recovered from his van.

An investigating detective said the files included details of those Hirst allegedly met to obtain the animals, but police were only able to contact one person who said they didn’t know him.

“[Some of]these people don’t exist, they’re duplicate names and addresses, they’re fake,” he claimed.

Searches of the vehicle revealed vaccination cards, which were filled out by a veterinarian in Co Longford.

According to the investigator, Hirst traveled 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 claimed.

“He is involved in the movement of dogs from the Republic of Ireland to the UK and is making fraudulent statements to DAERA to get his papers.

“These dogs are being recovered from puppy farms in the Republic of Ireland and documentation is being falsified to indicate they are from Northern Ireland.”

The court heard Hirst runs a legitimate business transporting pets to locations across the UK.

But the detective claimed, “I believe this is a front to facilitate a criminal enterprise.”

Posting bail, he revealed £5,000 in cash was seized from the van, with most of the money behind a seat in the vehicle.

The court was also told officials had previously refused to let Hirst travel at least 10 times since January 2020 due to false documentation about puppies.

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

During cross-examination, defense attorney Stewart Evans insisted that DAERA had never reported his client for alleged fraud in the past.

“At this point there is no evidence you can provide to this man regarding a puppy farm,” he added.

The detective replied: “All but two of the animals are missing.

“They are not registered with any breeder in Northern Ireland… all chips are blank.”

Mr Evans argued that Hirst ran a legitimate business to provide for his family and could be released on condition he did not enter Northern Ireland.

Bail was refused because of the risk that he might again offend or disturb witnesses.

Judge Marshall, who held him in custody until September 1, pointed out, “These are serious allegations relating to 50 puppies.” Man arrested at Belfast Harbour over alleged puppy smuggling appears in court

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