Harrow Council wins landmark DNP manslaughter case

First-ever manslaughter conviction for sale of killer capsules after online seller uncovered

  • Bernard Rebelo sold toxic industrial chemical as “slimming aid”
  • Put DNP into capsules and shipped them for human consumption
  • Vulnerable student Eloise Parry died from taking DNP he sold
  • Harrow Council raided Rebelo’s flat, finding massive DNP cache
  • No DNP seller has ever been convicted of manslaughter before

Harrow Council today won a landmark victory by securing the first-ever manslaughter conviction of a seller of industrial chemical “2,4 dinitrophenol” (DNP) for human consumption.

Bernard Rebelo, 30, of Gosport, Hampshire, put the dangerous pesticide into capsules, then marketed and sold the poison online as a “fatburner” and “slimming aid”. Student Eloise Parry, 21, a bulimia sufferer, was one of the people who bought the toxic chemical from Rebelo’s websites and was killed in 2015 by the effects of taking the substance.

Rebelo was convicted at Inner London Crown Court of manslaughter and supplying an unsafe food supplement.

Cllr Graham Henson, leader of Harrow Council, said:

“We brought this case because we were the last chance for justice for the family of a vulnerable young woman, who was poisoned by the vile toxins that this criminal knowingly peddled. Harrow Council had the best chance in years to bring those responsible to justice and help prevent the same fate befalling another innocent victim in the future. We simply had to take that chance.”

Eloise Parry died after taking just 8 of the DNP capsules she bought online from Bernard Rebelo’s websites. When Harrow Council environmental health officers raided Rebelo’s flat in 2016, they found enough DNP there to make 200,000 capsules.

Professor Simon Thomas is Director of the National Poisons Information Service at Public Health England. He told the trial there is no safe dose of the substance. He called DNP “frightening” and said “between 15 and 17% of those that referred (including those asymptomatic) will die. That is an enormous mortality. I cannot think of another poison which causes that amount [of deaths]”.

Despite knowing about Eloise Parry’s death, Bernard Rebelo continued selling his product online, making further efforts to disguise the true purpose by including confusing disclaimers and labels on his websites and packaging.

Cllr Henson said:

“We know that other people have died from taking this extremely toxic chemical for weight loss, not just Eloise Parry. I hope this conviction will stop anyone else from selling DNP in this way. Rebelo thought he could hide online; hide from justice behind obscure laws. But he was wrong – we found him, we brought him here and now we’ve convicted him.

“And I hope we have raised awareness of the dangers of DNP, so people stop taking it. It is not something that can make you lose weight. It is a powerful poison, a pesticide that kills at very low doses. Anyone who tells you otherwise, like Rebelo, is lying to you.”

It was a raid by Harrow Council in February 2016 of 34a Herga Court, Sudbury Hill, which uncovered Bernard Rebelo’s workshop. He was using the flat to prepare DNP powder into capsules, then package and label them to sell to consumers worldwide through various websites, including one called “Dr Muscle Pharmaceuticals” – the same as Bernard Rebelo’s business name. The labels were designed to evade customs in the USA and Australia, with some packets falsely labelled as ‘plant pigment dye’.

Rebelo sold the capsules over a period of two years with other products designed to help with weight loss, body building or body sculpting.  During this time the websites had images of muscled and toned male and female figures, recommended dosing information and links to DNP-related threads on bodybuilding forums.

The raid followed a joint investigation with Ealing Council and the Metropolitan Police. Led to his flat by a trail of evidence from Eloise Parry’s purchase history, environmental health officers from Harrow Council uncovered a vast amount of evidence, including a full 25 kg drum of DNP powder – enough to make 200,000 deadly capsules. The raid also found an empty drum, also imported from China; thousands of home-made DNP capsules and capsules waiting to be filled; the equipment that made the powder into capsules; and the paraphernalia to package and ship items to customers around the world.

Additionally, electronic equipment was seized, which connected Bernard Rebelo to the online selling of his products including the design of websites such as drmusclepharmaceuticals.com; emails and text messages with customers; evidence of postings on internet forums; evidence of thousands of past orders from all over the globe; and links to his bank accounts which received the proceeds of the sales.

Harrow Council undertook the prosecution itself because local authorities are the enforcing authority for food safety. DNP is illegal to sell for human consumption in the UK, under food safety laws, as well as in many other countries. It is not a medicine or controlled substance. Due to the facts of the case, manslaughter was charged in two different ways, unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter and gross negligence manslaughter.  The jury convicted Rebelo on both manslaughter counts.  The court victory is the first time an online seller of DNP has been charged and convicted of manslaughter.

Harrow Council worked on the case with support from West Mercia Police and the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) National Food Crime Unit. Dr Colin Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer at the FSA, said: ‘‘This guilty verdict sends a strong message to anyone seeking to profit from the illegal sale of this toxic substance for human consumption. We will continue to be relentless in pursuing and bringing to justice those who are breaking the law. We acknowledge the great work that Harrow Council, working with our National Food Crime Unit, has done in preparing this landmark case for trial.”

Sentencing will follow.