An online steroid dealer who sold a bulimic student a ‘Russian Roulette’ toxic slimming drug was jailed for seven years today after being convicted of manslaughter.
Eloise Parry, 21, bought pills containing lethal DNP from Bernard Rebelo, 32, before collapsing dead on 12 April 2015.
DNP was first used to manufacture explosives in the First World War and is not designed for human consumption.
Bernard Rebelo (pictured), 32, the husband of an NHS worker, denied but was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and was jailed for seven years
Taking the drug has been compared on social media to ‘playing Russian Roulette’ and it has killed 16 people but is popular among dieters for its ‘fat-burning’ qualities.
Ms Parry, who was ‘vulnerable and deeply troubled’ suffered a fatal heart attack after taking eight capsules advertised by Rebelo on online forums such as Reddit.
Rebelo, the husband of an NHS worker, imported the drug from China and tricked UK customs by mislabelling packages as turmeric.
He continued to sell the deadly drug to customers even after discovering Ms Parry had died and ‘opportunistically’ targeted vulnerable people online.
Rebelo sparked an Interpol Orange Warning when a second victim was hospitalised after buying the substance from him but carried on dealing.
He demanded online payment via the crypto-currency Bitcoin and managed to resurrect his websites after they were repeatedly taken down by the FSA and Interpol.
He was importing the chemical for £340 for a 24 kilo drum and repackaging it in capsules to make a profit of £200,000 per drum.
It enabled him to live a life of luxury and he posed for pictures behind the wheel of a his Porsche and Corvette sports cars wearing one of his collection of Rolex watches.
Eloise Parry (pictured), 21, bought pills containing lethal DNP from Bernard Rebelo, 32, before collapsing dead on 12 April 2015. DNP is not designed for human consumption
He admitted selling Ms Parry the pills but said a warning on his website indicated it was not for human consumption – even though the drug was sold in capsule form.
Rebelo spent 10 months in custody after being sentenced to seven years in June 2018 when he was convicted of manslaughter and placing unfit food on the market at Inner London Crown Court.
Jurors were told Rebelo’s latest trial followed a ruling by the Court of Appeal that he should be retried for manslaughter.
Mother Fiona Parry said in a statement read to the court today (weds): ‘Eloise had many problems in life but I always hoped somehow they would be sorted.
‘In the latter part of her life there were positive signs things were getting better.
‘She was working towards achieving her goals, she had found a degree course she wanted to follow, she had plans for the future including travelling and seeing the world, not just a career.
‘When she died that was undone and her possible future was unravelled. In that moment my hopes for her was also destroyed.’
Speaking outside court Mrs Parry said the effect of the death had rippled throughout the family but she wanted her daughter to be remembered for the ‘smiles and joy’ she brought to those around her.
Mrs Parry said: ‘It is overwhelming. If I really stop to think about it I don’t function so* it’s about trying to distance yourself from it.
‘But I am so relieved that this jury have found him guilty because you never know and it vindicates the first decision.
‘At the end of the day the sentence doesn’t bring Eloise back. The person who has found that hardest has definitely been Rebecca. She had literally only just two weeks beforehand turned 17.
‘She is now older than her sister was when she died and you’ve got to think about the impact that’s going to have on a young person through no fault of their own.
‘There hasn’t just been one victim to what he’s done. There have been ripples out through the family. Although I don’t know who they are there must be many many other families who this behaviour has affected the damage is far greater than what was talked about during this trial.
‘I would just ask that people remember the best of Eloise. The good times, the smiles, the joy she brought to others, so the time she did get is remembered in a positive light and we appreciate the joy and the happiness that she did manage to bring in the time that she had.’
John Burton QC, defending, said Rebelo had not compounded his guilt by lying under oath as he refused to give evidence during the second trial.
The barrister said: ‘He has not [gone] into a witness box and given false evidence. The only way you can glean anything from his background and character comes from reality in the character references. They say a lot for him.
‘They give you the man rather than the convicted criminal. He has learned from this experience. He was a young man, possibly a naive man. The character references show a man who dotes on his family particularly his three-year-old child.
‘His wife works for the NHS and sleeps during the day so he is effectively the primary carer.’
Rebelo sat expressionless in the dock and stared straight ahead as Mrs Justice Whipple told him the time he had already served in custody would not count towards his sentence today.
The judge said: ‘On 12 April 2015 Eloise Parry died. She was a bright student, a loved sister and daughter and friend to many. I acknowledge the family’s pain in losing Eloise so young and so unexpectedly.
‘Eloise had struggled with her mental health for many years. When she was 17 she was diagnosed with bulimia nervosa. When she was 18 she was diagnosed with a personality disorder.
‘She was extremely vulnerable. In this mentally disordered state she started to take [DNP]. DNP is an extremely toxic substance.
‘It was banned in the US in 1938 because it was dangerous and not fit for human consumption.
‘It has a market in the UK amongst bodybuilders and those who want to lose weight. A by-product of the process [DNP causes] is that damage can be done to muscular tissue which can lead to serious physical damage or death.
‘Even small amounts can have devastating consequences. There is no antidote or remedy once taken.
‘As a consequence it has a staggeringly high mortality. Of those presenting at hospital in the UK, 18% died. This puts DNP close to cyanide in its toxicity. You don’t know if you’re going to live or die.’
The judge said she would have imposed a harsher jail term on Rebelo were she not limited by the sentencing after the first trial.
She said a second victim had been hospitalised after buying the drug from him, leading Interpol to issue an Orange Warning in August 2015.
But he continued to flog the substance with ‘reckless sales talk’ for ‘opportunistic’ financial gain.
Mrs Justice Whipple went on: ‘Eloise Parry had a distorted body image and morbid desire for thinness. She started taking DNP in February 2015. In the early hours she took eight tablets at 250mg strength.
‘Later that morning she drove herself to hospital. She knew she was in trouble. She sent messages to friends and colleagues. She started to exhibit harrowing signs of illness. She died at around 3pm.
‘You started selling DNP through your internet business. You sold the DNP that proved fatal to her. The jury was sure of that, despite your efforts to suggest otherwise.
‘By selling it you caused her death. It’s that simple. You packaged the DNP into capsules in two strengths, 125 and 250mg. You sold them at a significant mark-up.
‘You encouraged customers to use it with reckless sales talk, often using Dr Muscles Pharma when you participated in discussions online.
‘When customers told you of symptoms you told them to ignore them. The FSA issued warnings in 2003 and 2012 and you ignored those.
‘Even after Eloise Parrys death you continued trading despite Interpol issuing an orange warning which related to a different victim who was hospitalised after taking DNP from you.
‘Despite knowing about her death from downloads of her inquest found on your phone, still you carried on trading DNP. As well as selling a dangerous substance and lying about its effects, your business was dishonest.
‘You disguised your packages with false descriptions such as ‘optimum gold’ the description of the DNP you sold to Eloise Parry. You did all you could to avoid detection and keep your DNP business going.
‘By that business you sold a seriously dangerous substance and exposed many people to an obvious risk of health. What you did was truly, exceptionally bad.
‘This is a retrial. This is a retrial which means I cannot impose a sentence more severe than that of your original trial. The harm you caused is obviously of the highest order.
‘It seems to me your business was opportunistic and exploited the desperation of many vulnerable people… like Eloise Parry.’
Rebelo started his business in 2012 initially selling steroids, before importing DNP as a yellow powder from China.
It had been banned in the 1930s after a series of deaths but was produced again after the internet allowed buyers to purchase the drug online anonymously.
The capsules were filled with powder in his Harrow flat, where the process stained the carpets yellow.
The two websites to shift the pills used Bitcoin because it was an ‘anonymous and safe method’.
A single DNP pill can be fatal and the chemical causes vomiting, restlessness, dizziness and an irregular heartbeat.
Consuming lower amounts over longer periods could lead to cataracts and skin lesions and shut down the impact on the heart, blood and nervous system.
Prosecutor Richard Barraclough, QC, told the court: ‘DNP was first used as a base material for munitions in the First World War. It was then used in the 1930s to promote weight loss because it was found to stimulate the human metabolism and eat away calories consumed.
‘Despite its toxicity, it has also been used as a ‘fat burning’ and weight reducing product.
‘It caused a number of deaths and was banned in the USA. With the advent of the internet it was again sold worldwide with, in certain cases, devastating consequence.
‘The defendant bought the DNP which is a yellow powder from an industrial chemical factory in China. It was supplied in drums.
‘He operated out of a flat in Harrow, where he put the powder into capsules and then sold it on the internet. The profits from the undertaking were considerable. The defendant had started his operation with the sale of steroids to bodybuilders and then moved into the DNP market.
‘His websites were linked to posts and reviews on popular bodybuilding forums e.g. www.eroids.com, musclegurus.com and the social media site www.reddit.com.
‘He went to great lengths to disguise the product he was supplying by labelling and misdescribing it in such a way as to deceive customs and enforcing authorities in the UK and elsewhere.
‘His website was closed down on occasion but he was able to resurrect it. He knew it was dangerous not only because one of his associates had consumed DNP and had suffered some of its toxic effects which in his case were not fatal but because it was well known that any number of authorities and organisations were warning against the dangers of consuming the chemical.
‘He knew that the product which he sent to customers was being seized by the authorities. He did his own research which described the dangers of the chemical.
‘Messages on specialist social media sites with which he was engaged described it as “straight poison” and “the devils cut agent”. The business also used Bitcoins and would offer a generous discount for customers using this method because ‘it is an anonymous and safe method of paying that saves us the hassle of frozen bank accounts and Western Union transactions.’
Professor Simon Thomas, a consultant physician, had told the court using DNP was known as ‘Russian Roulette’ because the user could either lose weight – or die.
‘There is uncertainty whether a particular dose will give the desired effects, or in fact produce life threatening and fatal effects,’ he told the court. I think that is where the phrase comes from.
‘DNP causes some degree of weight reduction and loss of fat, but that is at the expense or risk to the cells of the body and the organs. The dose required to produce these more severe symptoms is relatively low and not much higher than the dosage required to secure weight loss.’
Eloise messaged best friend Lydia-Jane Rogers on 10 March after overdosing on the capsules just a month before her death.
‘I f***ed up. A and E. DNP overdose. Feels so f***ing stupid. I knew I could not control my eating disorder well enough to take them safely. I knew it!’ the text read.
Her friend was about to board a plane to Cyprus when she received a message reading: ‘I f***ed up big time. Binged/purged all night long and took 4 at 4am. Took another 4 when I woke.. Started vomiting. In a and e.
‘I think I’m going to die Lydia. No one is known to survive if they vomit because of DNP. I love you so much. I’m so sorry if I leave you behind. Promise me you will prove [to] everyone how amazing you are. I love you’.
By the time Ms Rogers tried to call back when she landed the victim was dead.
Mr Barraclough said: ‘She tried to contact Eloise when she landed at 17.05 without any success. During the morning the doctors consulted the National Poison Unit Information Service.
‘She collapsed and was taken to resuscitation at around 12.30 and was noted to be sweating profusely and agitated. At around 13.00, Eloise had become ‘agitated, shouting out, rolling around’ and was noted to be ‘frothing at the mouth’.’
Rebelo, of Harrow, denied but was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and was jailed for seven years.
His then partner Mary Roberts, 34, was cleared of money laundering at the first trial after she transferred £20,000 on his behalf in February 2016. She claimed she thought the money came from his motorcycle parts business.
She was earlier cleared of manslaughter at the end of the prosecution case due to insufficient evidence.