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Pharmacist avoids jail over drug ad

A pharmacist who deliberately flouted the law by illegally advertising the impotency drug Viagra has avoided an immediate jail sentence.

William Parsons, 60, from Manchester, advertised Viagra and other drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction on his website Potency.co.uk despite being warned that his actions were illegal.

Parsons, who also ran a pharmacy in the Peak District, was given a suspended nine-month jail term at London's Southwark Crown Court after previously being convicted of three counts of advertising prescription-only medicine.

Passing sentence, Judge Peter Testar said: "This defendant has behaved in a way that he knows was illegal. That's the mischief of what he has done. He sought to defend the indefensible."

The court heard Parsons ran the website and the Hayfield Pharmacy in Derbyshire from 1999 until he sold the combined businesses and premises for just under £500,000 in 2007.

Parsons used blank prescriptions obtained from a doctor in Cyprus to prescribe the drugs himself to customers visiting the website. The site boasted "special offers" on the drugs and claimed the "lowest prices in the UK".

Kennedy Talbot, prosecuting, said he estimated Parsons made more than £1,000 a month from the online business.

An inspector from regulatory body the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) visited the pharmacy in 2006 where the blank prescriptions were discovered. The inspector subsequently visited the website where he discovered the illegal offers. Parsons was warned by the MHRA he would have to change his website in order to comply with the law, but the pharmacist refused.

Nigel Ingram, mitigating, accepted his client had exhibited a "massive lapse of judgment" by refusing to change his website despite being asked to do so by the MHRA.

The Judge said he had intended to pass an immediate custodial sentence but had decided not to as Parsons was the main provider of care for his sick wife. Parsons was also ordered to carry out 150 hours unpaid work in the community.

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