A consignment of 6,240 tortoises crammed 60 to a basket was discovered by Thames river police after the creatures had endured an 11-day journey by sea from Morocco to London.

The tortoises were transferred to the RSPCA's hostel at Heathrow for sorting, where 38 were found to have suffocated due to the appalling conditions.

Charity worker Heather Richardson is pictured checking over the health of the creatures, who were part of a 15,000-strong haul bound for a pet store in Tyseley, Birmingham.

RPCA inspector Raymond Ruff said at the time: "This is wicked. Shipments like this ought to be stopped."

The other tortoises had already been collected in a lorry sent by store owner Brian Williams, who denied accusations of cruelty.

He said: "The shippers insist that 60 to a basket is a safe and reasonable number,and they have to satisfy the authorities out there that there is no cruelty.I believe they are well fed for the journey."

He agreed not to import more until further notice.