A BODYBUILDER ran an illegal business selling potentially deadly fat-burning pills that have been linked to dozens of deaths.

Shaun Thomas Corrigan, 24, operated the illicit online trade between July and September of 2017, selling a substance known as DNP.

Designed to be a fertiliser, the substance has been used by some bodybuilders as a ‘fat burner’, thanks to its ability to speed up the metabolism.

Experts say it is not fit for human consumption and should never have been sold for that purpose.

Of the 60 deaths attributed to the drug worldwide - sold illegally to bodybuilders on the internet - 15 have been in the UK.

Carlisle Crown Court heard that Corrigan’s prosecution was linked to a trial earlier this week which led to the conviction of the firm he was running and using to sell the illegal pills.

Joseph Hart, prosecuting, said the firm Corrigan was running - Enhanced Athlete Europe Limited - came to the attention of Gateshead Council in July 2017. A test purchase from the firm’s website confirmed it was illegally selling DNP.

This led to a raid on a huge storage unit at Croft Court in Wigton, where environmental health officers found evidence of a huge DNP pill manufacturing operation. There was 11kg of DNP powder - enough to manufacture 220,000 pills.

The investigation also found evidence the pills were being sold to bodybuilders in Europe, the USA, and across Britain.

During the firm’s trial, which resulted in it being convicted of selling an unsafe food product, Mr Hart said: “DNP, whilst it can cause rapid weight-loss if consumed, it’s toxic to humans, causing serious harmful side effects and, in fact, fatalities.”

He said the product led to a dangerous heating of the metabolism. The court heard that Corrigan was a registered director and minor shareholder of Enhanced Athlete Europe Limited. The prosecutor continued: “Everyone knew when they put [the DNP pills] on the market that it was unsafe; and when I saw everyone, I mean at the company and Mr Corrigan.”

The firm operated from two registered addresses - one in Gateshead and a second within Station Yard, Wigton. The Cumbrian address was searched in 2017, when investigators found evidence it was being used as a pill-packing plant, said Mr Hart.

Among the items seized by environmental health officers were pill-packing and mixing machines, tablets, vast quantities of yellow powder, along with rolls of labels suggesting the product was being despatched as a “fertiliser”.

According to computer records for August and September 2017, tens of thousands of DNP tablets had been shipped across the UK, Europe, USA and rest of the world. Investigators found evidence that the company’s bosses - including Corrigan - knew exactly what they were doing.

In an email, one customer told bosses at the firm: “The DNP one is the one they will jump all over you on.. I’d advise removing it mate...as it has such a bad rep in the media.” They added: “Last thing you want, bro, is some kid burning himself inside out and you ending up on a manslaughter charge.”

Judge James Adkin said he estimated that Enhanced Athlete Europe Limited had an annual turnover of £2m. Imposing a nine month jail term on Corrigan, of Pottersway, Carr Hill, Gateshead, Judge James Adkin said he was prepared to suspend the sentence because the defendant was not the firm’s driving force.

He also told the defendant, who admitted marketing an unsafe food product, to complete 180 hours of unpaid work in the community.

The judge fined Enhanced Athlete Europe Limited £100,000, and ordered it to pay prosecution costs of £47,161. Investigators working for Allerdale Council, which brought the case, had identified the firm had £200,000 in a Barclays bank account. The judge also disqualified Corrigan from being a company director for the next two years.