Suspended jail term for illegal sperm website pair

Ricky Gage (left) and Nigel Woodforth

The men acted as brokers for women who wanted to conceive

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Two men who made £250,000 by providing sperm through an illegal website have been given suspended jail terms.

Ricky Gage, 49, and Nigel Woodforth, 43, from Reading, Berkshire, operated Fertility 1st which offered sperm from anonymous donors without a licence.

The men were convicted of three counts of procuring sperm illegally under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

The pair said they were "very relieved" with the nine-month jail sentence, suspended for two years.

They were also fined £15,000 each, ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £500 each towards prosecution costs.

First case

In the first case of its kind, jurors at Southwark Crown Court heard that the website, which was run from the basement of Woodforth's home, brought together women who wanted to conceive and men who wanted to donate sperm.

Clients were allowed to choose the ethnicity, height, hair colour and even hobbies of the sperm donor they wanted to use.

The prosecution said the women paid an £80 joining fee and £300 to use the service before being given access to details of anonymous donors.

Once selected, a delivery of the donor's sperm was arranged, at a cost of £150, through a courier firm, the court was told.

They could also contact the donor themselves and arrange for the delivery of his sperm to their home, either for self-insemination or through IVF, jurors heard.

Warnings 'disregarded'

A list showed 792 deliveries had been made by the company, which helped make the men an estimated income of £250,000 between October 2007 and November 2008.

But Gage and Woodforth were reported to the Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority (HFEA) after one woman who used their service complained about their unprofessional standards.

Start Quote

Your disregard of the warnings you were given is, in my judgment, a serious aggravating feature in this case”

End Quote Judge Deborah Taylor Southwark Crown Court

Under law, the men needed a licence which ensures that both donors and women wanting to conceive had access to information and counselling, 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 database.

Outside court, Woodforth said the women were fully aware of the health checks carried out on donors.

"The donors were tested. They were health-screened. That's something we insisted on."

Gage, also speaking on the court steps, said: "We are very relieved. I think it was the right sentence in the end," he said.

"We always believed we were doing the right thing."

Sentencing the men, Judge Deborah Taylor said: "Your disregard of the warnings you were given is, in my judgment, a serious aggravating feature in this case.

"In my judgment, the sentence in a case such as this must involve an element of deterrence and only a custodial sentence is appropriate.

"However, I take into account that this is the first prosecution of its kind.

"You, or anyone else in future who violates this law, can expect to go to prison."

The judge added: "This [the law] is a safeguard, not only for those supplying the means of conception but also for any children.

"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."

The men were also banned from working in the industry in the future.

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