The £30m 'Fraud' on Multiple Sclerosis Sufferers
A government-backed drug company claiming to have a ‘Holy Grail’ treatment for Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer's and Covid-19 has collapsed and now faces an official probe amid allegations that thousands of vulnerable patients and shareholders are victims of a “gigantic fraud.”
Daval International used political connections, celebrity friends and tame journalists to push an unproven serum called Aimspro as “a miracle drug [that] gets people out of wheelchairs” and makes the blind see.
But after raising £30m over the past two decades, mainly from sufferers and their families, the company is being put into liquidation following a boardroom coup that has left directors trading accusations of fraud, money-laundering and tax evasion.
Among the high profile shareholders affected by Daval’s collapse are Lady Annabel Lindsay, a friend of the Duchess of Cornwall, sisters Countess Charlotte Peel and Lady Emma Soames of Winston Churchill’s family, actors, military leaders and members of the clergy.
But it is mainly common people who have lost the most. “2500 [shareholders] have been mugged off,” said Peter Branch, the remaining Daval director who led the boardroom coup and said he will be presenting evidence of “the scam” during the liquidation process.
“At least fifty per cent have some sort of medical problem. There are a lot of people who’ve given up their pension pots, mortgaged their houses. They need justice,” he added.
An investigation by The Upsetter has found that:
· Shareholders invested £25 million in Daval to fund human trials. Instead, millions were spent on excessive boardroom pay and consultant fees, perks for family and friends and security costs to combat fantastical claims of corporate espionage and death threats used to justify a culture of secrecy.
· Shareholders were pumped for money based on newsletters that exaggerated the company’s achievements, misrepresented scientific data and downplayed internal governance problems.
· Daval pocketed another £4.5 million from the families of desperate patients with chronic neurological diseases by selling Aimspro at a grossly inflated price, which insiders say was based on a random cricket score.
· The drug company was given credibility through its links to a Labour Peer and former adviser to Tony Blair who lobbied Gordon Brown and senior health figures to award a ‘specials licence’ from the medicines regulator that allowed the company to sell Aimspro through GPs linked to the company.
· More recently, Damian Green, the former Tory deputy prime minster, lobbied Jeremy Hunt while he was health secretary over the therapeutic benefits of Aimspro. Hunt responded by claiming the serum had “a proven record” when the efficacy has never been properly tested.
Rebel shareholders took control of Daval in 2019 and claim to have found evidence of “unlawful” share selling, tax evasion and money laundering, which was passed to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs and the Insolvency Service. The two government agencies declined to comment.
“There’s a four-man team at HMRC looking at it,” said Branch, who called Daval a “pump and dump” operation.
David Price, a retired government rocket scientist and former Daval director, described the company as a “Ponzi-like scheme” that milked the vulnerable of hope and their life savings.
The drug company was founded in 2000 by David Shotton five years after a High Court judge described the Kent businessman as a “wholly unreliable witness” who had a “willingness to advance claims he knew were unjustified.”
When confronted at his Kent home, Shotton, said: ‘‘I’ve not scammed anything. Everything was done legitimately.” He blamed other directors for “all the fraud” at Daval and welcomed an investigation.
However, Shotton continues to market Aimspro through another company that seeks public money in return for shares.
He also tried to cash in on the coronavirus pandemic by falsely claiming Aimspro is “the answer” to Covid-19.
What follows is a cautionary tale of dangerous quackery, financial irregularity, failed regulation and trading on the hope of the incurable.
I Had A Dream
Most new drugs start life in a test tube. Aimspro, however, began when God appeared in the dream of an American medic from Tulsa with a drink problem.
Dr Gary Davis liked to regale people with the story of how in the late nineties he woke one day with a cure for the global AIDS crisis. The solution involved creating a serum of antibodies by mixing goats’ blood with inactive HIV virus.
Shotton, a wiry Kent businessman, then in his late fifties, got wind of these strange goings-on and smelt an opportunity.
He had moved to America from the UK after losing a lengthy high court battle with Westpac bank and making himself bankrupt in 1996. The previous year, a High Court judge had effectively branded him a liar.
The chain-smoking stockbroker was banned from running a UK company for three years, but in the US he quickly partnered with Dr Davis, a man he considered “a drunk”.
The bankrupt liar and the alcoholic medicine man took the goats’ serum across the border and experimented on 240 hapless Mexican AIDS patients. The results were “unbelievable”, said Shotton, who decided to buy out his business partner.
While still an un-discharged bankrupt, but claiming to be acting as a “business angel”, Shotton claims he paid Dr Davis “over a million pounds” for the Divine-inspired goats serum.
Shotton readily admits having no background in medical science when he decided to personally alter the serum. But the untrained alchemist refuses to explain why and how.
“I changed it one day and then it became what it is. It was a theory I had and I used it on myself,” he said puffing aggressively on a fag.
The Man In The White Suit
The Divine meets Frankenstein story soon turned into an Ealing comedy as Shotton claims he was “chased out” of the US by forces he wouldn’t identify before landing back in Blighty with a serum he was now calling Aimspro that was “going to change the world.”
In 2000, he set up Daval International Limited with the help of his Eastbourne accountant, Graham Ralph, another discharged bankrupt, who became the financial director for the next sixteen years.
Shotton claims money he made in the US as a “business angel” enabled him to invest £800,000 developing Aimspro.
He repaid himself by owning the entire equity in Daval, some of which he gave to members of a new board who he dominated as chief executive and majority shareholder.
All new drug companies eventually need respectable scientists. Into this vacuum stepped oncologist Professor Angus Dalgleish from St George’s Hospital, University of London, who agreed to lead research into Aimspro.
The professor and former UKIP candidate more recently made the news for co-authoring a controversial scientific paper hinting Covid-19 was man made in a Wuhan laboratory, a theory punted by anti-China hawks, including a former head of MI6.
In early 2005, Prof Dalgleish began a trial at St George’s to test Aimspro as a potential treatment for secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. The disease affects the central nervous system and some 130,000 people in the UK.
News of the small-scale safety trial helped sell shares in Daval, which the board had happily priced at £200-300.
But the trial was dramatically halted when Shotton claimed unnamed persons were sabotaging the samples by leaving them out of the fridge.
St George’s denied any wrongdoing. Daval never sued and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society did not confirm Shotton’s claim that a “year-long investigation” had concluded in his favour.
Matters took an even darker turn, when Shotton accused Prof Dalgleish of plotting with others to steal Aimspro and, what’s more, hiring a hit man to have him killed.
Daval launched a court action to protect Aimspro from the alleged plotters but never followed through to a trial.
As for the assassination plot, prosecutors were distinctly unimpressed with the credibility of the man allegedly hired to carry it out, and took no action.
Shotton’s own credibility was already an issue as a second High Court judge, this time in 2002, had described him as a “most unsatisfactory and untruthful witness ... well practised in the use of lies and half truths.”
The ‘hit man’ plot, however, was sold to the growing number of Daval believers as evidence of the lurking threat of industrial espionage because Aimspro was so effective. It also justified £250,000 apparently spent on Shotton’s personal security.
Stephen Hunt, a former director of Daval, said Shotton also claimed a gun was pulled on him while driving his Bentley on the motorway.
“I swallowed that whole at the time. We all accepted this. It sounds outlandish now. He was going to be the saviour of medicine and everybody wanted Aimspro.”
Into this corporate culture stepped the recently ennobled Murray Elder in 2003. Documents indicate he was offered £48,000 a year as a consultant to work his political connections with the then Labour government. “[Lord Elder] was there to add a name and credibility,” said Hunt.
Shotton wanted government support for Aimspro, which he was calling “a British asset.” He also wanted a new income stream from selling the unproven serum to MS sufferers without having to go through full clinical trials and a higher-regulatory standard.
In 2005, meetings were arranged with then health minister Lord Warner and Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer at the time.
Documents indicate the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and health officials encouraged Daval to look at a ‘specials’ licence to produce Aimspro for sale.
Peter Branch, the remaining Daval director, told The Upsetter:
“They shouldn’t even have got a specials licence. They got it because Lord Elder was a friend of Lord Warner. They’ve never done sufficient data from trials. It was just mates together.”
Lord Elder, who owns 1000 once valuable Daval shares, declined to comment.
The MHRA provided the licence in January 2006. It is not proof of efficacy, but allowed the serum to be manufactured safely and prescribed by GPs on a ‘named patient’ basis as long as there was informed consent.
The key GPs prescribing Aimspro were often shareholder-directors of Daval or had a commercial interest in the serum. Doctors like Ian Brooman.
These GPs were supposed to record anecdotal data of any adverse effects on the patients they injected, but claimed only positive feedback.
David Price’s wife had multiple sclerosis. He recalls buying £5000 worth of shares in 2005 in order to attend a road show where GP’s connected to Daval were offering free samples of Aimspro. Price ended up investing £65,000 more in shares and spending thousands on the serum.
On average patients required one injection a week but some were taking Aimspro daily, said Branch, who had set up a charity in support of the unproven serum.
When he became a rebel director in 2019, Price, 78, was shocked to discover that Daval was making what he called “obscene” profits by charging patients £182 per injection, an estimated five times the cost.
Two other former directors of Daval said it was known within the company that Shotton and his circle of advisers had set the price of Aimspro in an unusual way.
“They were talking about what the price should be and Richard Gerstein saw the cricket score and said, ‘what about 182?’ And that’s how they decided on the price,” said Hunt.
Branch has the same understanding. He said Aimspro could have been sold for £30-40 per injection and still have made a reasonable profit and been affordable to low income sufferers.
Daval made £4.5m from selling Aimspro to desperate patients attending investor road shows where stories of users abandoning walking sticks encouraged them to dig deep.
Shotton took a 3% commission on drug sales, which was paid into a company, Aimsco Limited, controlled by his wife, who is also a discharged bankrupt. He claims to have “no idea” about the pricing of Aimspro.
Gerstein, a lawyer at Mishcon de Reya, advised Daval and according to Shotton attended most of the board meetings and dealt with litigation. Documents show he also helped set up an offshore company for Daval.
Gerstein’s family has shares in the company but the lawyer refused to comment on this or the pricing of Aimspro based on a cricket score.
Tomorrow: More Cash Injection: How with Tory help Daval targeted Alzheimer’s sufferers and tried to cash in on Covid.