UK raids uncover suspected suppliers of deadly diet drug
Exclusive: US bodybuilding star and an ex-conman are linked to UK sales of the toxic diet drug DNP following searches on premises in Cumbria
A series of raids in northern England has uncovered an operation suspected of selling a deadly fat-burning chemical used by bodybuilders that has killed eight young people in Britain in the last two years.
Around 11 kilos of the chemical 2,4-dinitrophenol, known as DNP, was found last month at premises in Wigton, Cumbria, alongside other legal supplements and equipment that could be used for making tablets.
The premises are believed to be used by a company called Enhanced Athlete Europe, set up by a flamboyant ex-lawyer turned bodybuilding star who calls himself Dr Huge and has his own YouTube channel on which he extols the virtues of “the world’s most dangerous fat loss drug”.
DNP is a fertiliser that can be used in explosives. Because it is not intended for human consumption, it is not regulated by the drug licensing authority but by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The raid last month was led by their National Food Crime Unit.
Three local authorities and Northumbria and Cumbria police also took part, along with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA). Other sites were searched too.
The FSA says it is still trying to speak to “those identified and connected” with the alleged DNP pill factory. In a statement, its chairman, Heather Hancock, said: “DNP can and does kill. We are relentless in pursuing those seeking to profit from the illegal sale of this toxic substance for human consumption.
“We have been able to disrupt supply routes and close down websites. That stops people being put at risk from the severe harm that comes from consuming DNP.”
It is believed that more than 60 people have died worldwide as a result of taking DNP, eight of them in Britain since 2015. They include Sarah Houston, 23, a medical student at Leeds, Chris Mapletoft, 18, from Twickenham who had just taken his A-levels and Eloise Parry, 21, a student in Wales.
The substance heats up the body’s metabolism, burning fat, but it can cause drastic overheating. Its victims’ organs literally cook inside the body. Once taken, there is no antidote.
Enhanced Athlete is based in Sacramento, California, fronted by Charles Anthony Hughes (aka Dr Tony Huge) who is said to have given up his legal practice to run the business.
On his YouTube channel, he openly discusses the use of DNP with other bodybuilders. Other videos flaunt his lifestyle, showing off a Ferrari costing in excess of $150,000 and lifting women over his head.
He runs the business with Scott Cavell, who was released from prison last year after serving time for mortgage fraud. Cavell was captured and deported from Ireland, where he had fled with a false passport and the proceeds of the fraud, turned into gold and coins. He resorted to drug dealing when it ran out.
The pair are listed as the original directors of Enhanced Athlete Europe, which was set up in Gateshead.
On Enhanced Athlete’s YouTube site, one of the staff in the US, Ryan Russo, told customers on 11 September that the Europe office “got raided”. But he reassured them that their orders would be fulfilled. “Everyone who ordered from Europe do not worry – the US will be taking over all those orders and getting them out to you.
“Is Europe done with? No. Europe will be back online within the next coming weeks but the real reason that they were down for maintenance is that they were raided,” he says.
The previous day, all customers were sent an email headed, “Freedom is under Attack!”.
The email continued: “Enhanced Athlete Europe was visited by the regulatory authorities last week. All inventories, machines, and computers were taken until the investigation is concluded. As a result of this Enhanced Athlete EU will be temporarily closed for approximately two months whilst all our products are tested to ensure they meet label claims and we have all appropriate licenses so we are 100% legit.
“Enhanced Athlete may have move to a more friendly European country as a result,” it said. It is signed: “Stay Swell & Swole My Friends of Freedom, Tony Huge.”
For DNP orders, it directed customers to a website selling fertilisers, which shares the same US business address as Enhanced Athlete.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is understood to be collaborating with the UK agencies. Meanwhile, Enhanced Athlete is being sued in the California district court by an attorney, Rob Tauler, who has been pursuing supplement companies that promote potentially harmful substances for years.
Supplement manufacturers and suppliers have a great deal of freedom within the law on the basis that they are selling products that occur in nature, he said. Some companies, however, are packaging dangerous substances as supplements and making millions before the FDA is alerted. “The problem from law enforcement is that there simply aren’t resources to police niche marketplaces like bodybuilding,” Tauler said.
“DNP is basically pesticide coming out of a smoke stack and these folks are ingesting it and losing weight because their body is trying to get rid of it. It is ingested poison.
“The problem with the way the defendants in this case are marketing it, as if it is just a fun thing to do. Wow – we’re experimenting with our bodies and that’s so much fun. Well they’re making money, they are laughing all the way to the bank,” Tauler told the Guardian. “These guys are leaving all these casualties in their wake and the consumers have no idea. In fact they’ve been brain-washed in the other direction. They think that anyone trying to stop this is somehow infringing on their freedom.”
Cheryl Gillan, the constituency MP of Sarah Houston, who died, and who has lobbied for DNP to be classified as a category C drug, said: “This dangerous drug is still being made available illegally and the suppliers must be stopped. People should be aware that it has been the cause of many deaths, cutting off the lives of young people in their prime.”
The Guardian attempted to contact Hughes through his lawyer without success. Staff at Enhanced Athlete in the US said they did not sell DNP. In a court filing, the company denied Hughes had set it up and described him as a spokesperson.
Cavell had not responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.