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Men convicted over illegal sperm website

20 September 2010
Appeared in BioNews 576

Two men prosecuted for illegally providing fresh sperm over the Internet have been convicted at Southwark Crown Court. Ricky Gage, 49, and Nigel Woodforth, 43, operated a website called Fertility 1st through which fertility patients could select from a database of sperm donors and order 'fresh' sperm to be directly delivered, for a fee, to their door.

In what is believed to be the first conviction of this kind under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 as amended, both men were found guilty of procuring and distributing sperm without a licence, as required by law. The court heard how the pair made up to £250,000 from their activities, which were brought to light after one of their customers failed to become pregnant using the sperm she and her partner had ordered from the website.

Ms Melissa Bhalla-Pentley allegedly paid over £400 for the service, which included reimbursement of the sperm donor's expenses. After noticing the sperm donor's name was visible on documents sent to her, she reportedly contacted the company and then the police when her request for a refund was refused. 

Since April 2007, it has been unlawful to 'procure, test or distribute' human eggs or sperm for human use without a licence from the fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The law was brought in partly to reduce the risks associated with using fresh sperm which, if not properly tested, could carry a risk of disease including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Prior to the Human Tissue (Quality and Safety for Human Application) Regulations, insemination using 'fresh sperm' was unregulated.

Speaking from the HFEA, Peter Thompson said when sperm is processed by unregulated firms, it is not possible to ensure it is safe for human use. Regulated clinics freeze and store sperm for six months before use where it is subjected to testing for HIV and other diseases.

Professor Lisa Jardine, chair of the HFEA, welcomed the decision saying unlicensed Internet companies were 'exploiting women'. 'Getting access to fertility services can be difficult and there can be some very strong emotional pressures when trying to start a family', she said, adding, 'This is a victory for those women'.

The men have been granted bail before receiving sentence at Southwark Crown Court on 12 October where they face a prison sentence or a fine, or both.

Crackdown on internet sperm providers
BBC News |  17 September 2010
Fertility conmen's £250,000 Net scam: 'Sperm brokers' facing jail
Mail on Sunday |  18 September 2010
Pair guilty over illegal internet sperm company
BBC News |  17 September 2010
Q&A: Sperm donation
BBC News |  17 September 2010
Two men convicted over illegal sperm donor firm
The Independent |  18 September 2010
15 November 2010 - by Ken Hanscombe 
A new IVF technique developed in Australia offers hope to couples who have problems conceiving due to damaged sperm. The technique called Digital High-Mag allows fertility experts to study sperm cells at much higher resolution than before, enabling them to more readily detect those cells most likely to lead to a successful conception and full-term pregnancy....
18 October 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Two men convicted of providing sperm over the internet without a licence have escaped a custodial sentence...
27 September 2010 - by Professor Allan Pacey 
Thanks to the successful conviction of two men from Reading, we now know trading in fresh sperm on the internet is illegal. Sounds like a lesson in the obvious, but this is the first time the law has been clarified - after many years of watching several of these so-called businesses appear and disappear. Hopefully, we will now finally see an end to such operations...
13 September 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Two men in the UK have been prosecuted for allegedly offering sperm for sale over the internet, according to BBC News. Ricky Gage, 49, and Nigel Woodforth, 42, both from Reading, are facing two charges brought under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 for operating a website known as Fertility 1st without a licence...
24 August 2009 - by Ben Jones 
Two men from Reading are being tried for offences under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act after setting up a website through which women could have sperm courriered to their house. The website, Fertility1st (formerly Sperm Direct and First4Fertility) allowed a database of donors to be searched according to physical characteristics, such as hair colour and height, and then for registered users to order a fresh sample, which would be collected by courrier from the donor and taken direc...
8 June 2009 - by MacKenna Roberts 
Last Friday, UK authorities began a legal test case to prosecute two businessmen who were arrested for not having a valid licence to broker the sale of 'fresh' sperm from anonymous donors. The sperm was provided to women for their use in DIY fertility treatments through an online business - Nigel Woodforth and Ricky Gage, the directors of the business, face up to two years imprisonment if found guilty of illegally running a website that is reportedly believed to have matche...
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