Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Civil servant told 'Chinese herbal pills are like cola'

A civil servant allegedly made ill by Chinese herbal pills sold at a shop in Essex was told they were as safe as Coca-Cola, a court has heard.

Patricia Booth suffered kidney failure and developed cancer after taking the medicine, Old Bailey jurors have heard.

Ying "Susan" Wu, 48, of Holland-on-Sea, denies charges in relation to the sale of the pills at a shop in Chelmsford.

She and Thin "Patrick" Wong, 47, of Southend, deny charges of possessing medicines without authorisation.

'Little brown tablets'

Mrs Booth, who took the tablets for five-and-a-half years, told the court she became concerned after reading "something in the newspaper" about Chinese medicine and asked about it at the shop where she got the tablets.

She told the court Mr Wong told her: "When we were children in China we used to drink a liquid form of this rather like you drink Coca-Cola in this country."

Ms Wu had also reassured her that "everything was ok", she said.

Mrs Booth, a grandmother in her 50s, gave evidence via videolink as the court was told her condition meant travelling to the hearing would make her too tired.

She paid about £35 for a consultation about her acne at the Chinese Herbal Medical Centre and was given a bag of herbs to boil up as tea, she said.

But the treatment tasted and smelt "revolting", so Ms Wu, who worked at the shop, offered her bottles of "little tiny brown tablets" as an alternative.

Ms Wu told her that if she took three capfuls - each being about 30 pills - a day it would be equivalent to taking the herbs, Mrs Booth said.

Urgent blood transfusion

She said that when she asked Ms Wu how long she would have to take the pills, she replied, "Probably until the menopause", the jury heard.

Mrs Booth stopped taking the medicine in November 2002 and at the time noticed she was losing her appetite.

She went to see a GP in February 2003 and was admitted to hospital for an urgent blood transfusion.

She was diagnosed with kidney failure, and later with cancer, both allegedly caused by the pills.

Analysis of a bottle of pills she brought with her to hospital showed they contained a banned substance, aristolochic acid, jurors have been told.

The trial continues.

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