Five Britons in court over EU's 'worst fake medicines fraud'

Five men put the health of sick patients at risk in the most serious fake medicine scam ever seen in the European Union, a court heard yesterday.

Motivated by greed, the British businessmen were involved in an operation to import counterfeit prescription drugs for conditions including prostate cancer, heart disease and schizophrenia, from China to the UK, and pretend they were genuine products, to sell them, Croydon Crown Court was told.

By mimicking authentic, properly manufactured and tested medicines to suggest they were of EU origin, they illegally infiltrated the highly regulated system designed to protect the public and pharmaceutical industry, the court heard.

Peter Gillespie, 64, of Bovingdon, Hertfordshire; Richard Kemp, 61, of Y Waen, Flint, north Wales; Ian Harding, 58, of Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire; James Quinn, 69, of Virginia Water, Surrey; and Ian Gillespie, 59, of Marsh Baldon, Oxfordshire, all deny conspiracy to defraud.

They are accused of conspiring together and with others to defraud pharmaceutical wholesalers, pharmacists, members of the public and holders of intellectual property rights in pharmaceuticals between January 1 2006 and June 30 2007.

Andrew Marshall, prosecuting, said: "At its heart is a human story.

"The system has been corrupted and in particular patients, we suggest, put at risk.

"This case is considered to represent the most serious breach of the medicine control regime – it's the most serious breach that has happened in the EU.

"They were prepared to make their money by feeding duff drugs to people with serious illnesses such as schizophrenia, heart disease and prostate cancer."

Mr Marshall told the jury the prescription-only drugs involved were Zyprexa, a medicine to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder with a registered trademark belonging to Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company; Casodex, an AstraZeneca-owned product used to treat advanced prostate cancer; and Plavix, prescribed to treat ischemic heart disease, and with a registered trademark owned by Sanofi-aventis.

The prosecutor said 145,000 patients in the UK were prescribed Zyprexa, which cost 79.45 for a 28-tablet packet, so if all the patients had one pack a year that would equate to 13.8m.

Casodex costs 128 a pack, while Plavix costs 35 a pack, the court heard.

The case arises from a "massive" investigation by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which regulates the industry in the UK.

Mr Marshall told the court the man responsible for manufacturing the counterfeit medicines in China was prosecuted by US authorities and was in prison there.

All five men also face charges of selling or supplying Casodex and Plavix without a marketing authorisation and of selling or distributing counterfeit Casodex and Plavix.

The two Gillespie brothers, Kemp and Harding, are also accused of selling or supplying Zyprexa without a marketing authorisation and of selling or distributing counterfeit Zyprexa between January 1, 2006 and June 30, 2007.

Peter Gillespie also faces a charge of acting as a company director while disqualified for allegedly being concerned in the management of Basingstoke-based Consolidated Medical Supplies Limited despite having been disqualified for bankruptcy in 2005.

The defendants deny the charges. The trial, which continues today, is expected to last for four months.