Published 26 October 2010

Lack of paperwork lands tortoise seller 24 week suspended sentence

Cambridge, UK, 26th October 2010—Robert Struthers, a UK-based tortoise seller, has received a 24 week suspended jail sentence after illegally selling 11 threatened tortoises without the relevant government permits.

Government permits are needed before certain tortoise species, like this Spur-thighed Tortoise—even if captive-bred—can be sold in the UK. © Michel Gunther / WWF-Canon

Struthers was also told to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work and fined GBP1,200 (USD 1,900) after he confessed at Carlisle crown court to five charges of selling tortoises without appropriate certificates and one charge of fraud. 

Struthers admitted supplying a bogus certificate to a customer who had threatened to report the lack of proper paperwork to the authorities following her purchase of two tortoises. 
Later, it emerged the certificate had been issued for a separate concern in Essex.

In the UK, exemption certificates from Animal Health are necessary before certain tortoises can be sold legally. They include the two species sold in this case—Spur-thighed Tortoise Testudo graeca and Marginated Tortoise T. marginata

Judge Peter Hughes QC, who presided over the case, noted that although the tortoises were captive-bred and properly cared for, the failure to comply with certification processes could encourage illegal trade because the authorities would be unable to determine the origins of specimens. 

He noted that while the offences were serious, had the tortoises been wild-taken, the defendant would have received a substantial term of imprisonment.