A FATHER and son from a village near Thornbury were recently jailed after selling thousands of "useless" hand sanitisers during the pandemic.

William Irving, aged 69, and Alexander Irving, aged 35, both of Woodend Lane, Hill, South Gloucestershire were sentenced at Bristol Crown Court on Monday, April 8.

Both were given prison sentences of two years and two months, with the judge describing their actions as "callous profiteering." 

The pair ran Aquatic Chemicals Limited (ACL) from a unit at Woodlands Farm near Berkeley in Gloucestershire, the court heard.

During March 2020, they started to produce and sell a product called Shield Hand Sanitiser for up to £10 per 100ml bottle.

According to its labels, the product could ‘kill 99.9% of germs’, had an alcohol content of 70 per cent and was ‘effective against Coronavirus’ and said it had been tested by the World Health Organisation.

Concerns raised by customers 

South Gloucestershire Council said its trading standards department soon started receiving complaints from customers who were "suspicious” about the effectiveness of the product.

Many claimed the product was "fake and did not smell of alcohol."

A council spokesperson said: “Trading Standards initially tried to engage with the Irvings about the product they were seemingly producing and selling in huge numbers at a time when there was unprecedented demand for hand sanitisers and the country was entering into lockdown.

“However, the pair refused to engage and a criminal investigation began.

“Customers including retailers, wholesalers, a charity and a housing association were all contacted and over 1,300 bottles of the product were removed from sale.

“Suspicions were further aroused after the Irvings knew Trading Standards were investigating them, when one retailer reported successfully cancelling a payment of £9,600 made to ACL for an order of 2,000 bottles of Shield Hand Sanitiser.

“The order had been delivered but no one ever pursued the money or even the return of the 2,000 bottles.”

Gazette Series: The hand sanitiser was described by an expert as uselessThe hand sanitiser was described by an expert as useless (Image: South Gloucestershire Council)

Police raid premises

Officers from trading standards and police eventually raided the premises of ACL in July 2020 and secured evidence of offending by the Irvings.

During just two weeks in March 2020, the pair sold a minimum of 24,515 bottles, producing a revenue of approximately £95,000 plus unquantifiable cash sales.

Concerns about the hand sanitiser were justified when a sample was analysed by experts for its alcohol content.

The majority of samples contained less than 1 per cent of alcohol and the maximum alcohol content in any one sample was 14.69 per cent.

To be effective hand sanitisers require a minimum alcohol content of 60 per cent.

Results were further analysed by Professor Primrose Freestone from the University of Leicester who concluded "the combined alcohol levels in all of the samples are too low to be effective as an antimicrobial agent against either bacteria or viruses."

She further stated that the product "would be useless as a hand sanitiser and should never have been marketed as such."

Gazette Series: One label claimed the product had been tested by the World Health Organisation and could ‘kill 99.9% of germs’One label claimed the product had been tested by the World Health Organisation and could ‘kill 99.9% of germs’ (Image: South Gloucestershire Council)

Pair "deceived the public" 

A council spokesperson said during the investigation William Irving tried to convince officers that the sanitiser had been produced by an unidentified individual.

He told officials the person had rented a unit from him at his premises but had left the products there, so he decided to sell it all.

Due to the seriousness of the situation, the Irvings were prosecuted for fraudulent trading offences under the Companies Act and initially both pleaded guilty to them at Bristol Crown Court during January 2023.

However, they both subsequently applied to the court to withdraw their guilty pleas claiming they had been "under pressure" to plead guilty at the time.

Both applications were rejected by His Honour Judge Michael Cullum at Bristol Crown Court on February 9.

In sentencing this week, Judge Cullum said it was necessary for him to revisit the time of lockdown in 2020 when there was widespread fear of death and serious illness.

He said the Irvings clearly knew the product was not what it purported to be but persisted in "preying on public fears of an unprecedented national emergency."

He further noted that William Irving in particular knew of the importance of proper labelling and honesty regarding the products he sold, but concluded that "lying might be said to be your natural bedfellow."

The pair will now also be dealt with under the Proceeds of Crime Act at a later hearing on Monday, July 1.

Shaun Fudge, service manager for Trading Standards at South Gloucestershire Council, said: "William and Alexander Irving have been imprisoned for a large-scale fraud which deceived the public at a time of national crisis.

“They blatantly profiteered from a ‘useless’ product that was sold at a premium price due to unprecedented demand for hand sanitisers.

“The importance of this case in bringing such actions to justice cannot be overstated."


Gazette Series: William Irving and Alexander Irving, both from Hill, were jailed for two years and two months at Bristol Crown Court on Monday William Irving and Alexander Irving, both from Hill, were jailed for two years and two months at Bristol Crown Court on Monday (Image: NQ)