31 May 2012
The Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons last week (24 May 2012) dismissed a case against a Kent veterinary surgeon convicted of tail-docking and also charged with misleadingly altering an owner’s record relating to tail dockings.
At the outset of the four-day hearing, David Smith, of Lakeview Veterinary Centre, Deal, admitted he had been convicted of an offence of tail docking on 14 December 2010 at the Channel Magistrates Court.
He said that, in 2008, he had misinterpreted the legislation about tail docking and as a result had removed the tails of a litter of 13 Rottweiler puppies. He was subsequently convicted of illegal docking.
Mr Smith also accepted he had altered the owner’s record, at the owner’s request, when the RSPCA were investigating the circumstances of the docking by adding the words “for law enforcement”, but maintained this alteration was to clarify the record to which he had initially added the words “for security selection”; he denied any attempt to mislead, or that he ought to have known it may mislead.
The Committee accepted that Mr Smith misinterpreted the legislation and had taken some steps to satisfy himself that the tail docking was legal, namely: he had asked an employee colleague to make enquires of the College and, as advised, he had downloaded a copy of the AWA 2006 to read and to make his own decision with regard to legality; some enquiry had been made by the practice of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) at Reigate; and, Mr Smith had himself researched dog breeds on the Kennel Club website.
The Committee also accepted that he had asked and been told that the client had previously supplied dogs to the police.
However, the Committee found that these steps were inadequate; in particular, he should have contacted the College and Defra himself and not delegated this to administrative staff. Furthermore, that he should have obtained confirmation of the advice given in writing.
Regarding the alteration of the owner’s record, the Committee was satisfied that this annotation was added for clarification. The Committee was not satisfied that the addition ‘for law enforcement’ altered the meaning of what was already stated on this form, and found the wording confirmed Mr Smith’s misapprehension at the time of the legality of the tail docking.
This charge, which alleged that the alteration had been carried out misleadingly, was dismissed.
The Committee also said that Mr Smith’s reluctance to engage with the police and the RSPCA during their later investigation had been regrettable: as a professional he had had a duty to co-operate fully. However, it concluded that this had been “of little probative significance”.
The Committee would like to make it clear that it is the responsibility of every practising veterinary surgeon to ensure that tail docking is legal in each and every instance before carrying out the procedure. If there is any doubt, then tail docking should not take place.
In deciding whether Mr Smith was fit to practise, the Committee took into account two previous RCVS Disciplinary Committee findings involving tail-docking.
It concluded these were significantly different. In the first case, the respondent knew that the tail docking he had carried out was illegal. On the contrary Mr Smith had misguidedly believed the docking he carried out was permitted.
In the second case there had been several charges, in addition to the charge of tail docking. In this case no charges other than those related to tail docking had been alleged against Mr Smith.
It further noted that no issues of clinical competence were raised, and that the dockings were undertaken less than 12 months after the new legislation came into force.
Speaking on behalf of the Committee, Vice-Chairman Beverley Cottrell, who chaired the hearing, said: “The Committee has expressed its disapproval about Mr Smith’s failure to make adequate investigations of the College and of Defra, and his erroneous interpretation of the Act.
“In reaching its decision, the Committee has paid particular attention to issues of animal welfare, maintaining public confidence in the profession and the upholding of proper standards of conduct.
It has concluded that Mr Smith’s conduct fell short of that to be expected of a veterinary surgeon but does not consider that it fell far short.”
After directing that the case should be dismissed, Mrs Cottrell added: “The Committee would like to make it clear that it is the responsibility of every practising veterinary surgeon to ensure that tail docking is legal in each and every instance before carrying out the procedure. If there is any doubt, then tail docking should not take place.”