Shamed pet crematorium boss gave grieving owners random animals' ashes

A shamed pet crematorium owner cheated customers by taking their beloved cats and dogs and giving the ashes of random animals in return.

Shamed pet crematorium boss gave grieving owners random animals' ashes

Allan McMasters was exposed when trading standards officers found several chest freezers piled with dead pets at Swan Pit Pet Crematorium in Staffordshire.

In one of them found at the property in Gnosall, near Stafford, was a dragon-bearded iguana, a chicken, four cats and seven dogs, Mr Kahild Mahmood, prosecuting, told Cannock Magistrates Court.

All had been passed in good faith to 52-year-old McMasters for cremation. Some owners had used the company since it was launched in 2005 on the family farm next to his father's kennels and cattery.

Victim Joanne Wakeley, from Chadsmoor, with a photo of her dog

Trading standards officers from Staffordshire County Council, who visited the crematorium after an anonymous tip-off, said the full extent of McMasters' deception may never be known.

District judge Jack McGarva told him: "It's horrible and far from what your customers would have expected you to have done."

Council officers found plastic bin liners and old cement bags full of ashes during the search of the premises in November last year. Horse carcasses were also found in the yard, including that of a large shire horse.

Officers also found clinical waste from a vet's practice in Shifnal stored in the garage of his Gnosall home. Most of it had been there for at least five years.

Elizabeth Clewes from Telford, was another of the victims

McMasters pleaded guilty to five charges of fraud relating to knowingly returning the wrong ashes to clients and four charges of failing to comply with animal by-product regulations relating to the way the horse carcasses were kept.

The court heard he charged between £40 - £100 for a cremation, depending on the size of the animal, while one customer paid £300 to have her horse cremated. She later took him to the county court and a settlement of £1,000 was made.

McMasters arrives at court

Defending, Mr Paul Jenkins described McMasters as 'a one-man band who struggled to cope'. He had not set out to deceive clients and the case was more one of 'reckless mismanagement.'

Initially dealing only in horse carcasses, he started to take in smaller animals but was unable to cope with the amount of trade that developed. He collected between 15 - 20 horses a month, with each one taking up to 12 hours in the incineration unit. "For a one-man band, it's easy to see where the difficulties were going to lie, particularly with smaller animals, and it was that side of the business that went by the board," said Mr Jenkins.

Joanne Wakeley's dog Ebony

However, as a measure of how the premises had improved, the temporary suspension of his licence was restored in January, the court heard. The premises continues to have monthly inspections from trading standards officers.

McMasters was ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work as part of a 12-month community order. He was also ordered to pay £6,435 in costs and compensation, including £500 to each of four known victims.

The judge said his sentencing could not reflect the full upset McMasters had caused his victims.

"You cannot put a price on the distress they have suffered," said Mr McGarva. "This was about an abuse of trust, not what you were paid.

"Pets can be very dear to people, they form close relationships over a long period of time. Those owners trusted you to deal with their pets in a very distressing situation in a manner that would respect the dignity of their pets. You completely failed in this."

He said the way he had stored the horses was a public health hazard and rejected the claim that McMasters had been reckless.

"You continued to take animals in knowing full well you couldn't deliver what you promised," said the judge.

After the case, Joanne Wakeley, aged 40, of Albert Street, Cannock, who was one of McMaster's victims, said: "He didn't get what he deserved."

Her Staffordshire bull terrier Ebony had been found in one of the freezers at the crematorium. She said she felt 'sickened' when told the ashes which she had placed on her living room mantelpiece were not those of her pet.

"Now I'm wondering about all the other animals I've had cremated with him over the years - it's heart-wrenching to think they are not the real ashes either."

Elizabeth Clewes, aged 42, of Horseshoe Paddock, Lawley Bank, Telford, whose 12-year-old boxer dog Ellie was also found at the premises, said after the case: "He should have been jailed and his premises closed down."

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