NHS funds 'used to import horse sperm'

Police investigate allegation that hospital manager imported equine semen for her stud farm, claiming it was for human IVF treatment
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The Independent Online

Police are investigating allegations that horse sperm was imported into Britain disguised as human semen for IVF treatment. They are looking at claims that a senior manager in the UK's largest NHS trust diverted NHS funds to buy the horse sperm that was then used to breed mares.

Detectives from the Metropolitan Police have arrested and questioned the daughter of a former British ambassador to France in connection with the inquiry. The woman, Louise Tomkins, was employed as a senior general manager at the Imperial College NHS Healthcare Trust in west London.

Mrs Tomkins also runs a stud farm in Horsham, West Sussex, where she breeds top showjumping and dressage horses. It is understood that she recently left the NHS trust, which she joined in 2004.

NHS trust sources said police were alerted after internal audits revealed an unusual series of large purchases of human semen from overseas suppliers. Invoices said to be worth several hundred thousand pounds had allegedly been created to account for the transactions. When these were later checked it appeared that the companies had supplied thoroughbred horse sperm.

They stressed there has been no suggestion of any horse sperm being improperly or inadvertently used in the trust's IVF treatments. Imperial College Healthcare has some of the UK's leading IVF treatment facilities. These include the Hammersmith Hospital, where Robert Winston pioneered many groundbreaking techniques in reproductive surgery.

A spokeswoman for Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust declined to comment on the investigation. A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said: "Officers from Hammersmith and Fulham are investigating allegations of fraud involving Imperial College NHS Healthcare Trust. A 45-year-old woman has been arrested and bailed."

Mrs Tomkins, the daughter of the late Sir Edward Tomkins, a former British ambassador to Paris and The Hague, was unavailable for comment yesterday. Her stud farm, Southfield Stud, describes itself as "a small breeding operation which aims to breed good competition horses by using top-class proven mares from known pedigrees and crossing them to stallions known to improve performance and temperament". It boasts several brood mares, including Holsteiner, Hanoverian and Westphalian breeds.

The allegations are likely to cause a commotion in the well-heeled world of horse breeding, which is still recovering from its first dope test scandal. The showing judge Lucinda Sims was fined £1,000 this summer by Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain, the governing body, after her horse Herngate Buccaneer tested positive for the banned painkiller phenylbutazone (bute). The nine-year-old gelding was randomly tested in May after winning a major competition.

Random drug testing was introduced after allegations that some horses had been doped at competitions. Herngate Buccaneer is the only horse to test positive so far.

Mrs Sims, a judge for the British Show Horse Association who adjudicates at the Horse of the Year Show, said the doping occurred after the horse ate some of a companion horse's feed that contained bute to treat the animal's laminitis.