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OV struck off for falsifying certificates relating to animal welfare in slaughterhouse

The Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has directed the Registrar to remove a former Official Veterinarian from the Register for dishonestly backdating certificates in order to avoid new regulations.

Laura Padron Vega appeared before the RCVS Disciplinary Committee between Monday 3rd and Friday 7th December in relation to four charges against her.

The first and second charges alleged that, on or about 3 February 2015, for the purposes of an application to the Food Standards Agency for a Certificate of Competence under the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing Regulations 2015, she backdated two separate veterinary witness certificates to 7 December 2015. The third charge alleged that her acts of backdating were misleading, dishonest and in breach of the RCVS Principles of Certification.

The fourth charge was that, between September 2015 and February 2016, she failed to fulfil her duties as an Official Veterinarian in respect of: failing to prepare herself for the implementation of the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing Regulations 2015; failing to have regard to the information provided to her by her employers about the regulations and their implementation; failing to take any steps to ensure that the two individuals for whom she had given veterinary certification were licensed to perform slaughter in accordance with the regulations; and failing to identify that two individuals were not licensed to slaughter in accordance with the regulations. 

The Committee heard that the Welfare at the Time of Killing Regulations were introduced on 5 November 2015 which placed the responsibility on slaughtering operations not to permit animal welfare abuses and required certification by a veterinary witness regarding compliance. The new regulations required existing slaughter licence holders to apply for a Certificate of Competence before midnight on 8 December 2015 or they would not be permitted to continue operating even with experienced operatives.

During the hearing, Ms Padron Vega admitted charges 1 and 2, admitted that she had been in breach of the Principles of Certification and, furthermore, admitted the fourth charge against her. However, she denied she had backdated the certificates in a misleading or dishonest way, maintaining that she had done so by mistake. In considering the facts of the case, however, the Committee rejected this argument and, taking into account that she had been responsible for veterinary certifications in the UK since 2001, found that her conduct was knowingly misleading and dishonest.

The Committee found that all the charges amounted to serious professional misconduct. In relation to charge 4 in particular Stuart Drummond, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The Committee has found that the respondent failed to read even those emails which her employer sent to her which were marked ‘urgent’ or ‘OV importance high’. She must have known that her employers were directing attention to some new statutory scheme for she was provided with PowerPoint slides in that regard which she could read at any time of her convenience. The Committee has been driven to the conclusion that the respondent did not even bother to read those slides for, had she done so, she would have known that she needed to apprise herself of the requirements of the impending new statutory scheme.

“The respondent’s failings in this regard are little short of extraordinary, especially given her obligations as Lead OV for FAI Farms. The total abdication of her responsibility to understand the requirements of the Regulations governing the slaughterhouse operations constitutes, in the judgement of this Committee disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.”

The Committee then went on to consider the aggravating and mitigating factors in the case. In terms of aggravating features the Committee noted a lack of insight into the gravity of her conduct, that her conduct undermined in the most serious way public confidence in veterinary certification, and that there were animal welfare implications on her conduct as a number of chickens had to be removed from the slaughterhouse and alternative arrangements made because an auditor from the Food Standards Agency found that it was not compliant.

In mitigation the Committee considered that, despite the potential risk of harm, there was no actual harm occasioned to animals, that Miss Padron Vega has had a long and otherwise unblemished career and no previous issues with the RCVS and that she had admitted some of the charges against her.

Stuart Drummond added: “Ultimately, the Committee was driven to the conclusion that the public’s desire to see the implementation of the highest certification standards in relation to activities which impact on animal welfare and public health, and which did not occur on 3 February 2016, must outweigh this particular veterinary surgeon’s desire and need to continue in practice. This is not a conclusion which the Committee has arrived at lightly. On the contrary, it has reached this decision because it has been driven to the conclusion that it would be failing in its public duty to protect the wider public interest in the maintenance of standards of honesty and right conduct in a member of the profession.

“It is, therefore, the conclusion and decision of this Committee that the only proper sanction that can be imposed in this case is that the respondent’s name should be removed from the Register and it directs the Registrar accordingly.”

Miss Padron Vega has 28 days from being informed of the Committee’s decision to lodge an appeal with the Privy Council.

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