Two men convicted of providing sperm over the Internet without a licence have escaped a custodial sentence. Nigel Woodforth, 43, and Ricky Gage, 49, were given a nine-month suspended prison sentence at Southwark Crown Court. They were also fined £15,000 each, given 200 hours of community service and ordered to contribute towards the prosecution's legal costs. They are forbidden from working in reproductive medicine again.
The men operated a website, Fertility 1st, where women could select from a database of anonymous sperm donors and order sperm delivered to their door for use in artificial insemination. Mr Woodforth and Mr Gage were convicted on three counts of illegally procuring sperm without a licence under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.
Up to 800 women signed up for the service and had to pay an £80 joining fee and a further £300 to use the service. Delivery of sperm could be made by courier for an arrangement fee of £150. The court also heard how selections could be made on the donor's height, hair colour, ethnicity and hobbies. Mr Woodforth and Mr Gage reportedly made around £250,000 from the service between October 2007 and November 2008.
In passing sentence, Judge Deborah Taylor said: 'Your disregard of the warnings you were given is, in my judgement, a serious aggravating feature in this case'. 'There are strong policy reasons why people such as you with no medical experience or qualifications should not provide services in this field', she said.
Under existing law anyone who wishes to 'procure, test, process or distribute' fresh sperm must have a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Licensed clinics are required to perform numerous safety tests on sperm to eliminate the risk of diseases, such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). They must also offer service users access to counselling. Some fear the unlicensed provision of sperm may place users at risk and exploit vulnerable women.
Upon news of the verdict, the HFEA announced it will investigate websites that introduce women to potential sperm donors to ensure such services comply with the law. Mr Woodforth and Mr Gage are said to be 'very relieved' at their sentence. 'We always believed we were doing the right thing', said Gage.