Byline: Valerie Elliott and Stephanie Condron
THOUSANDS of grieving pet owners thought their dogs, cats and guinea pigs had been individually cremated and given a dignified send-off.
But in a massive fraud the dead animals were instead disposed of like rubbish, with some burned in a field on outdoor pyres or left rotting in a barn.
Emma Bent, 35, who ran Peak Pet Cremations in Derbyshire, has been warned by a judge to expect a prison sentence for the deception when she appears in court on Wednesday. The mother of three has already admitted her part in the scam.
She handed grieving pet owners caskets she claimed contained their beloved animals' ashes. But some 20 owners have so far sought opinion on the authenticity of their ashes and were told they could not have come from an animal.
One of Bent's victims, Linda Allen, 55, was told by investigators that her Border collie, Bournville, was found decomposing in a field. He was identified by his microchip identification.
Mrs Allen and her family were previously presented with a casket that Peak Pet Cremations claimed contained Bournville's ashes, with a signed certificate to 'confirm' the cremation. 'When we knew the ashes weren't Bournville, it broke our hearts,' said Mrs Allen.
Angela Moore, 50, whose black labrador Sam was found in the same field, said: 'It has been an appalling betrayal of trust and so distressing. I am planning further legal action.'
As many as 3,500 animals, mainly dogs and cats, were disposed of during Bent's time running the pet cremation service, it is estimated.
But John Horbury-Carlisle, who runs a pet crematorium in Nottingham, said the ashes given to grieving owners were the wrong colour. He said: 'They are like black soot and there has been no evidence of bone fragments. Ashes of a properly cremated pet should contain some bone, because calcium does not burn, and they should be a white/grey colour.'
Bent set up business in 2005 and promised on her website 'a caring and understanding service at a sad time'.
But she was not licensed to conduct cremations and local authority enforcement officers discovered pyres in fields with pets' remains.
Much of Bent's work came from the Ambivet Veterinary Group, which comprises four veterinary practices in Derbyshire.
She charged [pounds sterling]75 to cremate a large dog, undercutting the more typical [pounds sterling]120 fee …