The Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons last week directed that the name of a man who had been illegally practising as a veterinary surgeon in the North West of England be removed from the RCVS Register, having found him guilty of fraudulent registration.

In March 2008, Russell Lewis Oakes had been charged with fraudulent entry onto the Register of Veterinary Surgeons, on the basis that he had (either (A) knowingly, or (B) unknowingly) submitted a fake degree certificate and letter of 'good standing' from Murdoch University, Australia. Mr Oakes agreed that the hearing could proceed in his absence provided the Committee confined itself to consideration of charge B alone.

The hearing commenced on 18 April 2008, but the Committee decided to adjourn, as Mr Oakes was also subject to a police investigation which required that the hearing be held in private. The Committee felt that it was in the public interest for an open hearing to take place in respect of both charges at a later date. Mr Oakes' bail conditions prevented him from practising as a veterinary surgeon at this time.

On 16 October 2009, Mr Oakes was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court, on a guilty plea, of a substantial number of offences, including those under consideration by the Committee: he was sentenced on 11 January 2010 to two years in prison.

The RCVS Disciplinary Committee's hearing resumed and concluded on 5 February 2010. Mr Oakes was not present.

The Committee was provided with evidence from RCVS staff regarding the registration process, and received statutory declarations from representatives at Murdoch University. The latter confirmed that signatures on the certificate submitted by Mr Oakes were fake and that there had never been a student with his name at the University. Furthermore, a letter purporting to be one of support from Professor Edwards of Murdoch University contained text he would not have written and was signed with a false signature.

The Committee was also provided with evidence from equine veterinary surgeon Seamus Miller, who had become suspicious of Mr Oakes' qualifications and membership of the College. He outlined incidents which had cast doubt on Mr Oakes' competence. Mr Miller's complaint had initiated enquires which led to the charges against Mr Oakes by the College, and the Committee recorded its commendation of Mr Miller, and his colleagues.

Having found that Mr Oakes knowingly submitted fraudulent registration documents, the Committee was bound, under Sections 14 and 16 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, and paragraph 17 of the 2004 Rules, to direct that his name be removed from the Register.

Alison Bruce, Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee, said: "Even if it retained any discretion by virtue of Section 16 of the Act in respect of sanction, the Committee would have had no hesitation in directing Mr Oakes' name to be removed from the Register in this case. This was a deliberate and dishonest offence by a man without the necessary qualifications to practise as a veterinary surgeon, and it had the effect of exposing members of the public to his fraud, and their animals to harm."

The College has revised its registration procedures in the light of this case, and now requests that all registrants produce original copies of certificates and letters of 'good standing' at the registration ceremony.

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