A married couple have been sentenced today (31 March) at Liverpool Crown Court for illegally selling unlicensed slimming pills online.

The court sentenced both James Donegan and Melissa Donegan of Bootle, Merseyside to a 12-month suspended sentence and ordered them to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work.

The pair were connected to 23,000 pills seized Border Force investigators, which were found to contain sibutramine.

A six-year post-licensing study into the long term side effects of sibutamine was undertaken in the EU. This led to the drug being withdrawn in many countries, including the UK in 2010, after it was found that it increased the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The unlicensed slimming pills had been sent from Hong Kong and declared as 'vitamins'.

More than 30,000 of the pills, with a value of over £15,700, were then found at the couple's home by Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) investigators.

In the latest in a string of online pharmacy scandals, it was discovered that the Donegans had made in access of £215,000 from their illegal sale of the slimming pills online.

'Real potential to cause harm'

The head of enforcement for the MHRA, Alastair Jeffrey, said: 'Unlicensed medicines can be dangerous as they may contain impurities, incorrect ingredients, and there is no way of knowing if they are manufactured to acceptable standards of quality and safety.

'In this case, they contained an ingredient that has been withdrawn due to the risk it posed to health. What was being sold here had the real potential to cause harm.

'People involved in selling medicines like these slimming pills are only interested in your money and have no concern for your health.

'Be careful buying medicines online and always buy from websites registered with MHRA and displaying the distance selling logo.'

Andy Ewing, deputy director Border Force postal command, said: 'Border Force plays a key role in securing our borders against the importation of all illegal substances – including unlicensed health products like this.

'Thanks to my officers, tens of thousands of pills, which posed a potential serious health risk, have been prevented from entering the UK.

'We will continue to work closely with experts at MHRA in order to ensure that those involved in this criminal trade are brought before the courts.'