The Disciplinary Committee (DC) of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has dismissed a charge against a vet that alleged he was guilty of pet insurance fraud.

Nicholas Horniman from Gloucestershire was accused of pet insurance fraud, along with one of this clients, and of dishonestly by altering clinical records.

The inquiry took place from April 20-24, 2015 to hear a charge that between December 1, 2008 and June 30, 2014 – in relation to Cassy, a Labrador retriever belonging to client Jayne Bowkett – Dr Horniman:

  • suggested to Mrs Bowkett she take out an insurance policy for the dog using owner’s details that were different from those used for her current insurance policy.
  • dishonestly arranged for or allowed practice records for the dog in the name of Bowkett to be discontinued and separate records to be started in the name Griffiths.
  • dishonestly maintained practice records for the dog as if she were different from the one for which previous practice records had been maintained.

The DC heard that Cassy – previously diagnosed with hip dysplasia – had been registered with Pets Barn Veterinary Group in Gloucestershire in May 2008. During 2008 to 2009, the client relayed concerns to Dr Horniman that her pet insurance policy needed to be renewed, the renewed policy would not cover Cassy’s existing hip problems and she would be unable to pay for any future operations herself.

It was alleged that, in response to Mrs Bowkett’s concerns, Dr Horniman told her they could take Cassy off of the practice computer and put her back on under a different insurance policy in a different name.

Mrs Bowkett took out a policy with Petplan, beginning on August 13, 2009 using her father’s details instead of her own. It was alleged Dr Horniman then arranged for new practice records to be set up in the name Cassy Griffiths.

These new records were first used substantively in May 2010 when Cassy returned to the practice with hip problems, following which two separate records were maintained for the dog under Cassy Bowkett and Cassy Griffiths.

Mrs Bowkett told the DC Dr Horniman explained to her it would no longer be possible to claim for treatment for the patient’s hip dysplasia under the Petplan policy in her father’s name.

However, the policy remained active and was transferred into Mrs Bowkett’s name upon her father’s death. In July 2011 the dog was seen by Jennifer Jones, a part-time locum vet at the practice, who told the committee she was puzzled about why there were very few clinical records relating to the animal.

Ms Jones tendered her resignation shortly afterwards, citing concerns a pet had been “reincarnated to ensure continued income from insurance claims”.

In November 2011, she submitted a formal complaint to the RCVS. The client admitted she had knowingly engaged in fraud, but maintained that at all times she had acted with the knowledge and on the advice of Dr Horniman. However, the DC found she was unable to remember any relevant material dates and was unclear about the chronology of events.

The committee believed she took no responsibility for her own fraudulent actions but merely blamed Dr Horniman and she had a strong motive to engage in the insurance fraud. The DC found Ms Jones was correct in her suspicions there was only one dog, however felt she offered no evidence to support her suspicion this was part of Mr Horniman’s “scheme to maximise income for the practice” as she alleged in her witness statement.

The committee heard oral evidence from, and on behalf of, Dr Horniman, who denied suggesting to the client she commit insurance fraud and attempting to cover this up through the maintenance of two separate records.

He maintained it was not until Ms Jones voiced her concerns that he realised Cassy Bowkett and Cassy Griffiths were the same dog.

Noreen Burrows, chairing the committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “In coming to its conclusion… the committee is faced with conflicting evidence from Mrs Bowkett, who is an admitted fraudster, admits to acting dishonestly and to lying to Petplan. This is in contrast to the evidence from the respondent, who is of good character, had an unblemished personal record over 23 years and is supported by impressive character references.”

The DC found the evidence of Mrs Bowkett to be “vague, lacking in clarity and inconsistent with the facts” and therefore rejected her evidence concerning the first element of the charge.

The committee was not satisfied Dr Horniman had arranged for or allowed the records to be changed, as was alleged.

Since the DC had already rejected the first charge, it said it was unlikely he would have acted dishonestly in the manner alleged.

Prof Burrows added: “In the light of the above findings, all charges against the respondent are dismissed.”

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