Norton farmers accused of 'cow ringing' scam
A HUSBAND and wife allegedly made thousands of pounds from a 'cattle ringing' swindle by giving cows false identities to make them more valuable.
Clifford Kelvin Smith and Victoria Nicolas are accused of masterminding the fraud, which has been compared to 'car clocking'.
But instead of fiddling the mileometres of vehicles, Smith and Nicholas allegedly manipulated documents to make the cows appear younger and more marketable as British beef.
The couple allegedy carried out the sophisticated practice over a two-year period, at the farms where they lived in Brindley Ford and Norton.
A jury at Stafford Crown Court heard how invoices found at one of the addresses amounted to £79,000, and related to cattle sold on for slaughter.
A single cow was worth as much as £8,000, according to the records.
Prosecutor Fraser Livesey said the alleged fraud was similar to the activities of 'unscrupulous dealers', who alter the records of cars to make them more attractive to potential buyers.
Regulations introduced in the wake of the BSE crisis of the mid 1990s mean every cow in England now has to be issued with a 'passport', an ear tag and a unique identification number.
Mr Livesey said: "The identification tells you the mother of the cow and tracks the movements the cow makes from farm to farm.
"The idea is you can trace an animal from birth to death.
"If there are problems, you can see where an ill animal has come from."
The court was told 51-year-old Smith and his 40-year-old wife Nicolas had separated, but continued as business partners.
In March 2010, officers from Trading Standards and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) visited Nicolas and Smith's respective addresses at Fir Tree Farm, Whitfield Road, Norton, and Bull Lane Farm, Brindley Ford.
Mr Livesey said: "The cows on the two farms did not match the records and identification.
"There were cattle that had not been tagged.
" There were four pairs of animals that supposedly had the same unique identification.
"Six animals that had been registered as dead were seen walking around."
Officers also discovered boxes containing 200 cattle passports – none of which matched the cattle in question.
The court heard there should have been 724 animals on the two farms, yet a head count revealed 616.
The inspection also highlighted concerns about animal welfare and the 'appalling' conditions in which cows were being kept, the jury was told.
"Bedding was inadequate. They were sinking in a quagmire of slurry and manure, and the degree of lameness was extreme," said Mr Livesey.
"One animal was simply lying on its side and couldn't get up. It had to be put down."
The jury heard suspicions had been raised after one cow was taken to a Stoke-on-Trent slaughterhouse in December 2009.
Based on the passport details, the animal was 25 months old.
But after it was slaughtered, the cow was examined by a vet, who thought it looked well over three years old.
DNA analysis then revealed the animal wasn't related to the mother identified on the passport.
Nicolas and Smith both deny 15 charges relating to animal fraud, animal movement controls, and breaching the Animal Welfare Act, between April 2008 and April 2010.
Smith also denies obstructing a trading standards officer from carrying out checks and taking a blood sample.
The trial,which is expected to last four weeks, was due to continue today.