Official veterinarian struck off for falsifying slaughterhouse certificates

The Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has directed the registrar to strike off a former official veterinarian for dishonestly backdating certificates in order to avoid new regulations.

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

Charges

The first and second charges alleged that in February 2016 she backdated two separate veterinary witness certificates to December 7, 2015.

The falsified certificates were said to be 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,

The third charge alleged that her acts of backdating were misleading, dishonest and in breach of the RCVS Principles of Certification.

The fourth charge against Miss Padron Vega was that, between September 2015 and February 2016, she failed to fulfil her duties as an official veterinarian.

A change in regulations

The committee heard that the Welfare at the Time of Killing Regulations were introduced on November 5, 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 December 8, 2015, or they would not be permitted to continue operating even with experienced operatives.

During the hearing, Ms. Padron Vega admitted the first and second charges, and that she had been in breach of the Principles of Certification as well as the fourth charge against her.

She denied she had backdated the certificates in a misleading or dishonest way, maintaining that she had done so by mistake.

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 then went on to consider whether the charges she admitted and the charges found against her constituted serious professional misconduct, both individually and cumulatively. It found that all the charges amounted to serious professional misconduct.

‘Undermining public trust’

The committee went on to consider the aggravating and mitigating factors in the case. In terms of aggravating features, it 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.

It also considered that 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 the slaughterhouse was not compliant.

In mitigation, the committee considered that there was no actual harm occasioned to animals and that Miss Padron Vega has had a long and otherwise unblemished career.

Chairing the committee and speaking on its behalf, 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 February 3, 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.”

He added that the committee felt the action was required as it otherwise would be “failing in its public duty” to protect the wider public interest.

“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.”

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