A husband and wife, who pleaded guilty to concocting at home, and selling online, toxic skin whitening products have been sentenced; following the UK’s first national investigation into the online sale of dangerous lightening products.
Jonathan Ikpere (32) and his wife Holiness Ikpere (29), both of Warren Road in Southsea, were sentenced after pleading guilty at earlier hearings in March and August 2019.
Southwark Council’s prosecution was brought following a raid at the Ikpere’s previous home, in Towpath Mead, Southsea, in March 2018.
Trading Standards officers from Southwark, assisted by local police and Portsmouth City Council, seized nearly 3,000 toxic skin whitening products that the couple had illegally imported from Nigeria.
At the home, where the couple’s two infant children also lived, officers observed a mixing bowl in the family kitchen, where the couple’s own brand of skin lighteners were being concocted. They were using raw hydroquinone, a toxic substance that can remove the top layer of skin, increasing the risk of skin cancer and causing fatal liver and kidney damage.
Products were being marketed under the couple’s own brand name: ‘Favourisms Queenette’.
The label of their offensively titled ‘Half Caste Lotion’ even features a picture of Mrs Ikpere’s face on the bottles.
The lotion was found to contain hydroquinone, despite evidence found on Mrs Ikpere’s phone, which shows that she told one concerned customer that she didn’t use hydroquinone in her products.
More evidence from the couple’s mobile phones, showed that when eBay barred further listings, they agreed to continue selling through their own website, rather than stop.
The continued operation of the offenders’ online shop was raised in court; the offenders explained to the judge that they are only selling legitimate products now.
However, Southwark Council reported their continued online activity to Portsmouth Trading Standards.
The pair were sentenced to costs and fines of £17,000, a community order of 60 hours each, a suspended custodial sentence of six months for him and four months for her, both in place for one year, and a community order of 60 hours each.
It was also noted that were they not parents of such young children, they would have received a much more serious penalty.
Southwark Council undertook the investigation on behalf of London Trading Standards, as part of a National Trading Standards funded initiative.
The court heard that three online, covert, test purchases had been made by Southwark’s Trading Standards team, as part of their investigation. These led to suspicions that the Ikperes’ home was the centre of a supply business for illegal skin lighteners.
During the investigation, Southwark’s trading standards alerted eBay to the Ikperes’ illegal sales, along with other account holders. The company has subsequently put technical restrictions in place, to prevent certain products being listed.
Ikpere, a PhD student studying at Portsmouth University, set up the PayPal accounts to take payments for eBay and other online purchases. These saw a turnover of more than £100,000.
‘NOWHERE TO HIDE’
Cllr Victoria Mills, Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance and Brexit, said: “Sellers of dangerous and illegal skin lightening products should know that they have nowhere to hide. Our Trading Standards team is active on our high streets, but has now stepped up and employed its expertise to help stamp out the sale of these products online. We are proud to have led this national initiative that has seen the perpetrators brought to justice and thousands of pounds worth of dangerous products removed from circulation.”