Cancer Act In this feature cancer claims medical scam successful prosecution Kernel of lies Susan Pembroke relates how Essex Trading Standards came down hard on the owner of a website advertising potentially poisonous products to people battling cancer A n Essex-based website, World Without Cancer (WWC), was referred to the Medicines Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) because it made claims that a treatment known as metabolic therapy could prevent, treat and cure cancer. The therapy involved taking vitamin B17 also know as laetrile or amygdalin the sale of which is prohibited in the UK. People were also directed to ingest a range of supplements, plus apricot kernels, a natural source of amygdalin. The MHRA reported that the WWC website was registered to an address in Rochford. A hyperlink on the not for prot site took users to a food supplement retailer called The Vitamin Service, based in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. In the MHRAs view, the website was in breach of Section 4 of the Cancer Act 1939 because this hyperlink acted as an advertisement for The Vitamin Service (see panel, The Cancer Act 1939). Apricot kernels are regulated under food law because they are not considered to be a medicinal product, so it was up to Essex Trading Standards to investigate the link between the site and The Vitamin Service. Joining the dots Initial research established that the WWC and The Vitamin Services websites both had Leigh-on-Sea addresses and the same contact number. The supposedly not-for-prot WWC site was able to make claims about cancer treatment including that metabolic therapy was safe and effective because it wasnt selling anything and, therefore, its claims did not constitute advertising. The owner could direct people to buy the therapy via the hyperlink, sending them to, where no claims were made about metabolic therapy and vitamin B17. Leigh-on-Sea falls within the unitary authority of Southend-on-Sea and, with local assistance, we began to establish the links between the sites. This was complicated by the fact that the registrant had been married twice, so we needed to check that this was one and the same person. The registrant was, in fact, the manager of The Vitamin Service and the daughter of that companys director, Roger Shelley. The Cancer Act 1939 covers advertising and thanks to its wording can also be applied to online promotion. However, it has a six-month time limit, so was not suitable for prosecuting the owner of the website in this case. Even so, it was important to establish who beneted, nancially, from WWC.orgs information being up on the web, because they were clearly preying on vulnerable and ill members of society. It was agreed that I should approach the National Trading Standards (NTS) eCrime Centre for assistance in obtaining and analysing computer records. Gathering the evidence There is a considerable risk of serious adverse effects from cyanide poisoning after taking laetrile or amygdalin, especially after oral ingestion First, it was necessary to make sure that the treatments being promoted were not genuine. Research showed that B17 is not a recognised vitamin and is not listed for use in food supplements. It is classied as a cyanogenetic substance that is, one capable of producing cyanide and is a prescription-only medicinal product, as listed in Schedule 1 of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012. There are scientic reports into the toxicity of B17 and its application as an alternative cancer treatment, because it was used extensively in the 1960s and 1970s. The Cochrane Collaboration Report 2011 on laetrile treatment for cancer concludes: The claims that laetrile or amygdalin has benecial effects for cancer patients are not currently supported by sound clinical data. There is a considerable risk of serious adverse effects from cyanide poisoning after taking laetrile or amygdalin, especially after oral ingestion. The risk-benet balance of laetrile or amygdalin as a treatment for cancer is, therefore, unambiguously negative. In addition, the Food Standards Agency advises that people should eat no more than two apricot kernels per day. Eating 30 could kill you. claimed that the treatments were non-toxic. Moving in In October 2014, warrants were granted for the registrants premises and business address. Computers and a server were taken for imaging by the NTS e-crime team. During the search of the business premises, packets of apricot kernels labelled with information on how to use them to prevent, treat and cure cancer were found. Shelley and his daughter attended an interview under caution the next day. He stated that he paid for the website, but believed he was just a sponsor of the site, as he had no control over the content. He added that he had stopped selling laetrile some years previously after being contacted by the Medicines Control Agency. He also admitted that the ban on selling the substance had, if anything, strengthened his belief that alternative therapy information should be given to the public. Over the next ve months, I received 19 CDs of recovered data from the NTS e-crime team. Examining the contents provided a wealth of evidence about the interconnection of The Vitamin Service, and the person responsible for the information on that website. This turned out to be David Bozdogan, the director of Health Genesis a food-supplement business based in the United States. It also established a link between The Vitamin Service and a hyperlink from the, leading to, a website for a company based in Mexico that sold pure B17 for injection. E-evidence The Vitamin Service sent emails to consumers, containing information from that provided details on dosage and reiterated that the therapy was non-toxic. Emails between Shelley and Bozdogan discussed passwords for, and ways to improve the sites. These did not refer directly to, but instead used the code words cherry and source. This clearly indicated that they were aware that their actions were illegal. The site actually carried the information that B17 could not be sold in the UK. Shelley also directed customers to and had access to that sites list of orders, because he received a kick-back for referring customers. Desperately ill people suffering from the symptoms of cyanide poisoning emailed and were advised to reduce the amount of B17 they were taking, and then increase the dose again! Shelley also advised THE CANCER ACT 1939 on a preventative dosage for children. In a second interview, Shelley and his Passed eight decades ago, the Cancer Act daughter were challenged as to the true extent 1939 is still a valuable tool in the fight to protect of their involvement with the and vulnerable people from false health claims. B17source websites. Section 4 states: No person shall take any part in the publication of any advertisement containing Prosecution an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy thereof, or to give any By this time it was too late to take a advice in connection with the treatment thereof. prosecution under the Cancer Act because of It goes on to make exceptions, including for the time limit. Offences under the Consumer medical professionals. Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations The Medicines Healthcare Products Regulatory (CPRs) and, with the aid of our barrister, the Agency believed that the Essex-based website possibility of prosecuting under the Human breached the Act because it was, in essence, Medicines Regulation 2012 were considered. acting as an advertisement for The Vitamin It was decided that an expert, medically Service. Although drafted long before the qualied witness was required for successful invention of the internet, the Cancer Act still applies because of its broad definition of what prosecution under CPR Schedule 1 Banded constitutes promotional material: Advertisement Practice 17 and 22. includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper This proved difcult, but Dr Daniel Showell, or other document, and any announcement a public health consultant, eventually agreed to made orally or by any means of producing or conduct research to establish that nothing had transmitting sounds. been published since the Cochrane report to However, because of the six-month time limit in support the use of metabolic therapy in cancer the Act, trading standards officers had to use other treatment. Our barrister was also of legislation in this case to bring the websites owner the opinion that the publicly accessible to justice. research documents would not breach hearsay rules if exhibited in their own right. A decision was taken to lay information under CPRs and the Human Medicines Regulations 2012. We successfully obtained permission to prosecute under the latter from the MHRA, on behalf of the Secretary of State for Health. Both defendants attended Southend Magistrates Court on 5 November 2014. Shelley pleaded guilty to three offences under the CPRs and two offences under the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 on behalf of The Vitamin Service and as a director. His daughter was issued with a simple caution because of her lesser involvement and on account of Shelleys guilty plea. The case was referred to crown court for sentencing and for Proceeds of Crime hearings. In February 2015, at Basildon Crown Court, Judge Jonathan Black took a dim view of Shelleys selling false hope to vulnerable consumers. He handed him a six-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, plus 120 hours of unpaid work, and he also ordered the company to pay 10,000. Proceeds of Crime proceedings will conclude shortly. The prosecution of Shelley was a great result, but that wasnt the end of the matter. We informed authorities in the US about the activities of Bozdogan, as B17 is also banned there. The case was even featured on The One Shows World Cancer Day broadcast helping to warn the public about an ineffective and dangerous treatment. Credits Published You might also like Susan Pembroke is a trading standards Thursday 7 May, 2015 The acid test December 2014 ofcer with Essex County Council. Images: Angelina Babii / Shutterstock To share this page, click on in the toolbar