Pair escape jail for illegal sperm business

LONDON Tue Oct 12, 2010 12:39pm BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Two men who earned 250,000 pounds through an unlicensed fertility company, matching sperm donors with women trying to conceive, escaped jail on Tuesday.

Nigel Woodforth, 43, and Ricky Gage, 49, were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday to nine months in jail, suspended for two years.

They had been convicted of three charges of providing sperm without a licence or third-party agreement.

"Your disregard of the warnings you were given is, in my judgement, a serious aggravating feature in this case," Judge Deborah Taylor was quoted by the Press Association as saying.

Under the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act, a licence is needed by anyone wanting to "procure, test or distribute" any sperm or eggs.

The two defendants are the first to be prosecuted under the Act.

Nearly 800 women had signed up to use the online service provided by the company, operating under various names including Sperm Direct Limited and First4Fertility, from the basement of Woodforth's Reading home.

The court had been told that the website introduced men who wished to supply sperm to women who wished to use sperm to impregnate themselves.

After paying an 80-pound joining fee and 300 pounds to use the service, the women would then choose from a list of men and the sperm would be delivered to their homes through a courier company at the price of 150 pounds per delivery.

Women were allowed to choose the ethnicity, height, hair colour and even hobbies of the donor.

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

Recipients were advised to negotiate the payment of expenses to the donor, and to arrange medical tests, themselves.

The men had been warned by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) that they would need a licence to operate the company under new rules introduced in July 2007.

The law was brought in to ensure that both donors and women wanting to conceive had access to information and counselling, and to help protect against the risk of diseases including HIV.

Gage and Woodforth were arrested in April 2009 after an undercover police investigation.

Both defendants claimed they had operated an introduction service and did not need a licence as stipulated by the HFEA Act.

(Writing by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Steve Addison)

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