Dealer who sold toxic industrial chemical as diet pills online jailed

Dealer, 25, who flogged a highly toxic industrial chemical as a diet pill for weight loss on the dark web is jailed – after it was linked to 33 deaths in the UK

  • Jack Finney, 25, of Northwich, Cheshire, jailed for 28 months after selling DNP 
  • Life-threatening drug is billed as a ‘slimming aid’ but is poisonous to humans  
  • Highly toxic chemical 2.4-Dinitrophenol has been linked to 33 fatalities in the UK
  • Its victims include university students Eloise Parry, 21, and Sarah Houston, 23 

A dealer has been sentenced after he disguised a deadly industrial chemical as ‘diet pulls’ for weight loss and sold them online.

Jack Finney, 25, of Northwich in Cheshire, illegally sold the highly toxic chemical 2.4-Dinitrophenol (DNP) between June 2017 and July 2020 on the dark web.

He sold the lethal substance to people across Europe and America, and products containing DNP were found at an address in the town during an investigation.

Finney was sentenced at Chester Crown Court on Tuesday and was handed a 28-month prison sentence.  

DNP is poisonous to humans and can cause death, as well as other serious physical side-effects.

Adverts online have hailed the life-threatening substance as a ‘wonder slimming aid’, even though UK laws state it is an offence to sell it for human consumption.  

In recent years, experts have called for tighter regulation on the drug which can be purchased online, after it is said to have caused 33 deaths across the UK to date.

Jack Finney, 25, (pictured) of Northwich in Cheshire, illegally sold the highly toxic chemical 2.4-Dinitrophenol (DNP) between June 2017 and July 2020 on the dark web

Adverts online have hailed the life-threatening substance DNP as a ‘wonder slimming aid’, even though UK laws state it is an offence to sell it for human consumption

Several deaths have involved people in the bodybuilding world or those trying to lose weight.

After the use of DNP was banned in the US after it was linked to heart attacks, the message that the chemical was unsafe seemed to have sunk in. 

But in the past decade all that has changed. Since 2002 there have been 33 fatalities linked to the drug. 

In 2018, 31-year-old businessman Bernard Rebelo, from east London, was the first person to be convicted of manslaughter in relation to the sale of DNP pills.

Mr Rebelo became a millionaire after selling the ‘weight-loss capsules’ to clients, but he was jailed for seven years after selling them to bulimic student Eloise Parry, who later died. 

Bodybuilder Sean Cleathero, a 28-year-old, died at hospital in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, in October 2012 after taking DNP. 

In another high-profile case, 23-year-old Sarah Houston tragically died after the medical student consumed a fatal dose of DNP while studying at Leeds University in 2013.

In 2007, 26-year-old Selena Walrond, died after having taken DNP in a bid to lose weight. She too bought the deadly pills over the Internet.

DNP is marketed mainly to bodybuilders as a weight loss aid as it is thought to dramatically boost metabolism, but its first use came during the First World War, when the French used the chemical to craft ammunition.

The manufactured drug is yellow and odourless and was previously used as a herbicide and fungicide.

The drug can cause weight loss, but has been linked with a string of fatalities in the UK – leading experts to call for tighter regulation.

In 2018, 31-year-old businessman Bernard Rebelo, from east London, was the first person to be convicted of manslaughter in relation to the sale of DNP pills.

Mr Rebelo became a millionaire after selling the ‘weight-loss capsules’ to clients, but he was jailed for seven years after selling them to bulimic student Eloise Parry, who later died. 

Ms Parry she drove herself to A&E after taking eight pills and becoming unwell. Within three hours, she was dead. 

Bodybuilder Sean Cleathero, a 28-year-old, died at hospital in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, in October 2012 after taking DNP. 

He collapsed at home and died after being taken to hospital with poisoning from the substance. 

In another high-profile case, 23-year-old Sarah Houston tragically died after the medical student consumed a fatal dose of DNP while studying at Leeds University in 2013.

Reginald Bevan, Deputy Head of the National Food Crime Unit, said: ‘We welcome today’s sentencing as it sends a strong message to anyone seeking to profit from the illegal sale of this life threatening substance.

‘We continue to be relentless in pursuing and bringing to justice those who are endangering the public and breaking the law.

‘This operation continues to demonstrate how seriously the NFCU takes the illegal sale of DNP for human consumption in the UK and through our close working partnership with local authorities and other law enforcement agencies in the UK and abroad that we are able to tackle offenders, close websites and work to disrupt possible supply routes within and into the UK.’

The investigation was carried about by the FSA’s NFCU and supported by Cheshire Police, UK Border Force, West Midlands Cyber Crime, the United States Food and Drugs Administration and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

‘Selling dangerous unapproved drugs, disguised as dietary supplements, can cause serious harm to those who buy and use the drugs,’ said US Food and Drug Administration Assistant Commissioner for Criminal Investigations Catherine A. Hermsen.

‘We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who jeopardise the public’s health.’

Bulimic student Eloise Parry, 21, she drove herself to A&E after taking eight DNP pills and becoming unwell in 2015. Within three hours, she was dead

23-year-old Sarah Houston tragically died after the medical student consumed a fatal dose of DNP while studying at Leeds University in 2013

DNP is an industrial chemical, there is no safe dosage and it is not made to be consumed as a diet supplement, which are often claims made by those selling the substance.

The outcome of the case comes as the Home Office last week launched a consultation on proposed amendments of control measures for sales of explosives precursors and poisons under the Poisons Act 1972, which the FSA is supporting.

The consultation is aimed at businesses who supply chemical products, online marketplaces who facilitate the supply of chemicals through their marketplaces and members of the public who use certain chemicals and chemical products in their hobbies in England, Scotland and Wales.

What we know about the deadly toxic chemical 2.4-Dinitrophenol

2.4-Dinitrophenol, more commonly known as DNP, is an industrial chemical used in the making of fertiliser, explosives and dyes.

It is sold mostly over the internet under a number of different names but contains 2.4-Dinitrophenol.

It is marketed mainly to bodybuilders as a weight loss aid as it is thought to dramatically boost metabolism.

The manufactured drug is yellow and odourless and was previously used as a herbicide and fungicide.

The drug can cause weight loss, but has been linked with a string of fatalities in the UK – leading experts to call for tighter regulation. 

DNP was used by doctors in the early 20th century to treat obese patients, but was scrapped as a viable medical option after adverse side effects were discovered. 

The drug prevents energy being stored as fat – instead the energy is released as heat.

This increases body temperature, which can damage the cells of organs such as muscle, kidney and even the brain.

The result can be seizures, coma, kidney failure, muscle damage and bone marrow failure.

Selling DNP has been a criminal offence since 2003, after it was made illegal for human consumption.

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