The cash funded a lavish lifestyle including a £500,000 country home, a £2.4m Chelsea flat and a home in Marbella.Between 2003 and 2007 Hickman, a former businessman who was made bankrupt in 1998 after being jailed for 10 months for conspiracy to trade in steroids, pocketed £3.4m himself running the enterprise from his farmhouse in Lily Lanes, Ashton under Lyne. He later moved his factory to a nearby office above a shop in Market Avenue. But experts say he was playing 'Russian roulette' with his customers' health. He was caught out selling the fake and unlicensed drugs on his MSH World Traders website after a tip-off triggered a four-year probe by the government department Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
His Range Rover had a personalised number plate with his initials on and his Bentley had the number plate 'L13 RGE'.
Hickman was sentenced to three months in jail and fined £20,000 for contempt of court in April 2007 after he became the first retailer in Britain to be convicted of failing to abide by a High Court injunction to close the illegal websites.
But within days of going to jail, the M.E.N ordered Kamagra tablets - a generic and cheaper version of Viagra - from his company's website. investigator was sent a batch of 'Lovegra' tablets, which is another name for Kamagra. We bought eight tablets and were given another eight 'free' at a total cost of £32 plus £5 postage and packaging. Hickman's website offered a wide range of 'erectile dysfunction' medication and boasted there were no prescription, consultation or administration charges. It is believed that most of the medicines he sold were produced in India.
The website offered to supply a maximum of three months' medication in one order.Experts say that if the drugs are taken without an initial assessment by a GP, users run the risk of suffering serious side effects - including a heart attack.
Hickman is due to be sentenced today (Monday June 8th) at Southwark Crown Court in London after pleading guilty to six charges of selling and supplying counterfeit and unlicensed medicines and money laundering the sum of £1.4m. The M.E.N test purchase was one of the offences Hickman pleaded guilty to. He has already paid about £1m in an out of court settlement after civil action against him by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. A MHRA spokesman said: "There is a risk to public health because when you buy these products via the internet you do not know where they have been manufactured, how they have been stored and what the true content of the medicines are. "Tablets could have the correct basic ingredient but also be contaminated with other substances. "Prescription drugs have significant risks and possible adverse affects if used improperly - without patient's first having a consultation with their GP." Mick Deats, MHRA Head of Enforcement, said: "We have people with no medical qualification whatsoever running websites and running multi-million pounds businesses. "It is a really risky practice to turn to the internet for your medicines. People often use the internet to buy these drugs because they are too embarrassed to go to their doctor or because they wouldn't be prescribed them. And if something goes wrong that could mean they are more reluctant to seek treatment."
MHRA officers did a test purchase from his MSH website and officers raided his home.
They found various erectile dysfunction drugs plus orders, cash, cheques and customer lists. Hickman was interviewed in August and December 2005 but said he was just running a call centre and doing nothing illegal. His website at the time was registered in Germany with an internet service provider - outside the MHRA jurisdiction. But in March 2006 the agency did another test purchase and bought a multi-pack of drugs which included counterfeit Viagra - which is made under licence by Pfizer. A High Court injunction was issued in September 2006 ordering him to shut down the websites but he failed to do so and was jailed in April 2007.
The following month the M.E.N investigated Hickman and made the test purchase.
In August 2007 Hickman's assets were restrained under the Proceeds of Crime Act - including bank accounts, his house, and cars. And the MHRA continued to pursue him because he continued to trade. In January 2008 he appeared in court at the City of London Magistrates Court and was committed to Crown Court in April. 2008. He pleaded guilty to six charges in March this year.