Belfast Telegraph

Bangor man who sold batch of 'poisonous' diet pills faces two years in jail

By Paul Higgins

A Bangor man who admitted selling diet pills which were in fact poisonous faces up to two years in jail, a court has heard.

Although Downpatrick Crown Court Judge Brian Sherard adjourned passing sentence on John Walker, he ordered the 44-year-old to pay £8,500 towards the costs of the "test case".

Releasing Walker on bail until Thursday, Judge Sherard said as it is the first case of its type and came under "peculiar legislation... I would like to read the papers and consider the advice from the sentence advisory panel" before making his final decision.

At an earlier hearing, Walker, from Railway View Street in the Co Down seaside town, had pleaded guilty to two charges, one of failing to comply with EC food regulations by supplying "2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP) which was unsafe insofar as was deemed to be injurious to health and unfit for human consumption".

The second charge was of false health advertising by referring to the amount or rate of weight loss. All offences were committed on dates between July 7, 2014 and September 13 last year.

Prosecution lawyer Chris Holmes told the court DNP is a "toxic industrial chemical" and that since 2007 there have been 87 cases of systemic poisoning - with 12 cases ending in death.

In relation to Walker, he said the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) became aware of a website selling DNP. That site, DNPUK.com, was registered to an offshore account in the Seychelles, but when officers from the NFCU conducted a test purchase, that led them to Walker despite his efforts to "anonymise" where it had come from.

Food crime officers and the PSNI searched Walker's home last September, said Mr Holmes, adding that they uncovered a "quantity of DNP" along with a "capsule maker".

He said the chemical DNP was bought in bulk, at "for instance, £50 a kilo which is then sold on in capsules at £36 for 12 so there's huge profit to be made".

While marketed as a weight loss drug, Mr Holmes told the court DNP is a "toxic industrial chemical" which is on the national poisons register, and that people may lose weight using it but "they're losing weight because they have been poisoned".

Indeed, Mr Holmes revealed there are prosecutions in England awaiting Judge Sherard's decision. He told the court that during police interviews, the Bangor man admitted running the online business supplying DNP, but claimed he was working on a mistaken belief that the product he was buying and supplying was different from that which he described on the site.

"In effect, he did not believe he was supplying 'real' DNP but a less harmful alternative," said the lawyer but he added that "by his pleas of guilty he has now accepted that this was untrue".

As well as the costs order, Judge Sherard ordered that the seized DNP be destroyed.

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