Pair spared jail over illegal sperm donor firm

Two men who netted £250,000 after providing women with access to sperm through an illegal fertility company were spared jail yesterday.

Nigel Woodforth, 43, ran the operation from the basement of his home in Reading, Berkshire, with 49-year-old Ricky Gage.

The pair were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court, in central London, after being convicted of three charges of providing sperm without a licence or third-party agreement.

Imposing a nine-month jail term, suspended for two years, Judge Deborah Taylor said: "Your disregard of the warnings you were given is, in my judgment, a serious aggravating feature in this case."

The court heard it was the first case of its kind to be prosecuted.

Nearly 800 women signed up to use the online service provided by the company, operating under various names including Sperm Direct Limited and First4Fertility.

Their website introduced would-be donors to women trying to conceive.

The men were reported to the Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority (HFEA) after one woman who used their service complained about their unprofessional standards.

Melissa Bhalla-Pentley paid the men an 80 joining fee and a further 300, the cost of using the service for each menstrual cycle. She then had to pay a courier company 150 for each delivery of sperm, 50 of which would be given to the donor.

A box, wrapped in grey polythene and containing a pot of sperm and a 10ml syringe, was delivered to her home late one night, the court was told.

Ms Bhalla-Pentley used the sperm for self-insemination but failed to get pregnant. She paid the company another 300 and arranged for another donation from the following month.

She contacted the company when a copy of the donor's medical tests was sent to her with his name visible. She asked for a refund, but she was told she could not have one.

Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, the company should have had a licence. The law was brought in to ensure proper standards and to help protect against the risks of diseases including HIV.

The defendants claimed they did not need one as they acted only as an introduction service

Judge Taylor ordered the pair to pay a 15,000 fine each, to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and to pay 500 each in costs. She also banned them from working in the industry.

Sentencing the pair, she said: "You, or anyone else in future who violates this law, can expect to go to prison."

She added: "There are strong, obvious policy reasons why people such as you with no medical experience or qualifications in this field should not provide services in this field."