A pharmacy owner has hit out at the BBC for making "awfully inaccurate" allegations in its investigation into illegal medicines sales.
Ghazi Auda of Safeer Pharmacy, north London, told C+D that last year's BBC Inside Out investigation led to a "very stressful" police investigation of the pharmacy and the suspension of his employee pharmacist – both of which were dropped in October this year.
The BBC Inside Out investigation accused nine London pharmacies of selling prescription-only medicines without a prescription, including Safeer Pharmacy, which the reporters said had illegally supplied diazepam, Viagra and amoxicillin.
The BBC Inside Out investigation accused Safeer Pharmacy of selling diazepam, Viagra and amoxicillin without a prescription
More on the BBC exposé
The BBC told C+D last week (November 19) that it stood by its "fair, accurate and balanced" investigation, which it said was conducted according to its editorial guidelines. But Mr Auda claimed the "completely untrue" allegations had unfairly damaged the reputation of his pharmacy, which became the target of public abuse, and that he was now considering legal action.
Mr Auda first heard of the allegations in November last year, when he received a handwritten letter from the BBC informing the pharmacy that it had been found supplying medicines illegally and would appear on its Inside Out London programme. He suspected that the letter was a hoax, he told C+D, as there were no stamps indicating it was official BBC communication, but he attempted to reply within the deadline for response – three business days.
Mr Auda said he was satisfied that his staff members had not acted inappropriately or made illegal medicines sales but that he was unable to contact anyone using the supplied phone number to deny the allegations
Mr Auda did not hear from the BBC until later that month, when he claimed a BBC Inside Out representative came into his pharmacy "shouting and intimidating" staff members.
The programme aired in December and showed footage of what it claimed was a Safeer Pharmacy staff member giving out prescription-only medication without a prescription.
Following the broadcast, Mr Auda said the pharmacy became a target for public abuse. "People came in saying ‘you're selling drugs' and shouting at our team," he told C+D. "We started to receive calls from people shouting and intimidating our staff."
The police launched an investigation into Safeer Pharmacy but this was dropped on October 10 this year because of a lack of evidence. The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) handed its employee pharmacist Mohammed El-Hadi Abdul-Razzak an interim suspension order in April but revoked this the same day the police investigation was dropped.
Mr Auda said the experience had been a "very stressful ordeal" for everyone involved – particularly Mr Abdul-Razzak. "He's a young man and for six months he wasn't practising," Mr Auda told C+D. "He was sitting at home and it was horrible for him."
"Because of the lack of opportunity to respond, we had no power to stop these false allegations being broadcasted," he added. "As a result, the reputation of Safeer Pharmacy was tarnished and our staff were effectively accused of being drug dealers."
Noel Wardle, partner at law firm Charles Russell, said he had heard similar complaints from some of the pharmacists he was representing against the allegations. "We did express concerns about the way in which the BBC had gone about its investigation," he said. "It does have a duty to engage with people and I think there was a general feeling that there wasn't enough information given to allow pharmacists to engage – such as what happened, when, and who was involved."
The BBC stressed that its Inside Out London division had an "excellent record" of managing investigations and stood by its findings.
What do you make of the BBC's allegations and subsequent actions?