In October 2006, Holby City actor Simon Williams, a Daval shareholder and believer, presented a petition to Downing Street with 20,000 signatures calling for NHS backing of Aimspro.
There was no take up by the NHS, but the following month the MHRA, the medicines regulator, did begin a criminal investigation into Daval as reported in an exclusive Sunday Times expose.
Among other troubling matters, we revealed details of a woman who had a serious adverse reaction when Dr Ian Brooman, a director of Daval at the time, injected her with Aimspro.
No prosecution of the company followed, but the regulator did “strongly encourage” Daval to conduct clinical trials, which the company indicated would be completed in 2009.
They weren’t, but the money continued to pour in from new shareholders led to believe otherwise.
Daval blamed the MHRA probe on rivals and advised supporters to ignore parallel concerns raised by the MS Society and its scientists about the safety and efficacy of Aimspro.
“The very nature of our product means that we have to work with the utmost secrecy,” the company told its many believers.
Meanwhile, Shotton came up with a new funding strategy. In 2009, Daval floated the idea that major pharmaceutical companies were showing “significant interest” in buying the company or Aimspro.
At fundraisers, attendees were told Aimspro was “a finished product requiring no further development research” and had “Holy Grail” attributes for yet another neurological condition – motor neurone disease, and arthritis as well.
But three more years of milking old and new shareholders passed without any meaningful interest from Big Pharma.
Then in November 2012, Rothschild, the private finance company, was brought in and launched Operation Dendrite – a new plan to sell Aimspro to major drug companies.
Rothschild’s glossy sales brochure made no mention of Divine visitations, Mexican guinea pigs, Frankenstein experiments, hit men or the aborted trial at St George’s Hospital.
Nor did it mention the misrepresentation of results when Aimspro was tested at the Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Daval had claimed even severe damage to the optic nerve could be repaired, when the Oxford trial found no evidence to substantiate this.
While Big Pharma was digesting the brochure, newly-appointed Daval director Stephen Hunt recalled an upbeat speech at the December 2013 annual general meeting given by a member of Rothschild’s healthcare team.
A possible £2 billion deal was around the corner shareholders were told, says Hunt, who before becoming a Daval director had sold its shares for a 10% commission.
The Rothschild man’s comment to “get your champagne on ice” inevitably stimulated the greed gene and encouraged demand for Daval shares.
Shotton and Daval chairman, Brian Quick, were ready to cash in, says Hunt. “The share price was £450.”
Shotton claims that although he was the main shareholder, founder, and chief executive of Daval he had no involvement in setting the share price. He further claims he received only 10% of the value of the shares sold on his behalf and the rest went to support Daval. Quick did not return calls.
In the end there was no deal with Big Pharma. Pfizer, GSK, Teva and BioMarin delivered their damning verdicts on Aimspro in February 2014. For the first time independent neuroscientists had examined Daval’s secret data and walked away unimpressed.
In thirteen years, Daval had raised almost £20 million from weary shareholders supposedly for research and development of its ‘wonder drug’. But the Big Pharma boffins were not convinced Daval knew how Aimspro actually worked, its so-called mechanism of action.
Having examined the patent and other data, the scientists felt there was “not sufficient evidence of positive efficacy” to justify getting out the chequebook.
“The biology is too murky for us,” was the conclusion of BioMarin’s scientists – a comment that could equally be applied to Daval’s corporate governance.
Behind closed doors, a nasty row was unfolding at Daval soon after Big Pharma walked away.
Shotton says he sacked Syed Haq, the well-paid lead scientist. Dr Deirdre Macintosh was brought in. She had been with Shotton almost from the beginning and was a shareholder-director of Daval.
Dr McIntosh detested Haq and claims to have reported him to the company’s patent lawyers for “plagiarism” in what was shown to Big Pharma, something he denies. Haq now runs a Harley Street clinic for cosmetic treatments.
None of these matters were fed back to disappointed shareholders. Instead, they were given a positive spin and told Aimspro was too “complex” for anyone but Daval to understand.
It was at this nadir that two of the countries leading Conservative politicians played a role in fluffing the flaccid performance of Daval’s wonder drug.
In October 2014, Damian Green, who became deputy prime minister, alerted health secretary Jeremy Hunt to Aimspro’s possible benefit in fighting another major disease – the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
A constituent and director of Daval had asked Green to make representations to Hunt, who replied on departmental notepaper with an inaccurate but helpful endorsement of the company.
The most important health figure in the country wrote:
“I note that Aimspro already has a proven record in treatment of neurological diseases.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Gloating At The Poor
Undeterred by Big Pharma’s rejection, the Daval board announced in 2015 that shareholders could now invest half their pensions direct into company shares.
The directors needed at least £10 million to fund yet another new scientific direction for Aimspro – this time as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia affecting 1 in 14 people over 65 years of age.
Shotton was also pushing for a smaller trial at the Kent Community NHS Foundation Trust into Aimspro’s ability to heal wounds.
Dr Peter Maskell, his personal physician, was the medical director of the trust. He had been paid in Daval shares for looking after Shotgun’s heart and was married to the company’s clinical director, Dr Natasha Gilani.
Maskell declined to comment on the share arrangement and other dealings with Shotton. The Trust said it decided against the trial.
Meanwhile, Daval’s board were tiring of Shotton’s style and eventually found the backbone to over-rule him, a stance that became the catalyst for the company’s spectacular collapse five years later.
Shotton stepped down in January 2016 citing his wife’s health and straight away declared war on the company he founded. He demanded the immediate return of a disputed £1.5m ‘loan’ knowing it would bankrupt Daval, whose monthly overheads were a staggering £200,000.
Shotton also stopped Daval from making more Aimspro to sell, which had an obvious impact on those users who believed it had some magical benefit.
The move was easy to execute because his wife’s company, Aimsco Limited, owned the patent for Aimspro. Val Shotton also owned a large chunk of Daval shares through Gildredge Nominees Limited, a company Shotton also controlled.
In June 2016, Kevin Norville, a former senior partner at Deloitte, replaced Shotton as Daval’s new chief executive with a brief to end the war and rescue the company.
Almost immediately, Norville, 64, raised concerns with the board about the “eye watering” wage bill of over £100,000 per month for a company that he felt had “achieved little in the past ten years.”
Another “huge issue,” he also wrote, was the way Shotton had sold or gifted huge blocks of shares to private individuals, members of his family and allies, sometimes without board approval.
Shotton accepts no blame and points his tar-stained finger at long serving finance director and friend, Graham Ralph.
“The company sold my shares to support itself. Ralph sold them. I hate the man, he’s a crook … He suddenly got a bloody great house worth a fortune and all the rest of it. Where did that come from? I have no idea. We were all on salaries,” he told The Upsetter.
Ralph, 67, a Daval director for 16 years until 2017, and Shotton’s personal accountant for a lot longer, dismissed the claims as “offensive and unfounded.”
Shotton maintains that Daval only “became a fraud” after he had stepped down and accused Norville and Hunt of having “their hand in the till.”
They “vehemently denied” the claim in a letter to bemused shareholders and cast themselves as men trying to save the company not steal it.
But in late 2018, a group of rebel shareholders mounted a boardroom coup.
Norville and Hunt found themselves having to deny allegations that all along they were secretly trying to “asset strip” Daval.
Just before Norville resigned in December that year he emailed Hunt about sorting out their shareholdings in Daval. He wrote:
“I don’t know what your long-term intention is. Do you want ten years or more of working or sell out and gloat at poor people while sitting on the deck of your boat in Monaco sipping from solid 18ct gold goblets?”
The rebels saw this as further evidence of bad faith and sacked Hunt in May 2019. Norville says the boat reference was “an in joke that doesn’t seem very funny now.”
The former Deloitte partner claimed to still believe in the potential of Aimspro and looked to raise money from City investors to buy out Shotton’s controlling interest at an asking price of £11.5 million – a lot cheaper than the £2bn price tag Rothschild previously suggested to hapless shareholders.
The new caretaker board also were believers in the serum and had their own plan to save the company and raise funds to produce an affordable version of Aimspro based on a much lower cricket score.
But first they decided to expose whatever took place under Shotton and Norville and build from the ashes. Peter Branch, 76, who led the shareholder rebellion, said all directors would have to explain themselves to the authorities when the time comes.
This time last year, Daval’s board sent its 2600 shareholders a report alleging they had been “the victims of a gigantic fraud” going back twenty years, which had been reported to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs and the Insolvency Service.
“I’m not saying I haven’t made mistakes. I probably have,” Hunt said. “But I haven’t ever tried to do anything to disadvantage Daval shareholders. I mean this is my family and friends who invested alongside myself. Shotton has milked it, there’s no question about it.”
Shotton told The Upsetter he welcomed an official probe.
“I never touched any money. Write what you like because there is no dirt on me. Everybody in the world has tried to drag it up. No one has ever proved anything about me. I have nothing to answer but a lot of people have … This is all going come up with the receiver because there’s so much fraud.”
A Cure for Covidiots
But just before he ended the conversation, the 80-year-old salesman couldn’t resist one more claim about Aimspro. Porton Down, the secret government laboratory, had just “passed” his wonder drug as “the answer to Covid- 19”, he said.
By this time, July 2020, some 45,000 people had died in the UK from 295,000 reported coronavirus cases – yet here was Shotton trying to cash in on the pandemic.
Shotton had put forward the serum to Porton Down through his company, Aimsco Limited, which had always owned the patent for Aimspro even though its development had been paid for by Daval shareholders.
At the height of the pandemic and before any vaccine was in sight, Aimsco used Twitter to claim it had what Big Pharma didn’t – a solution to Covid-19.
Porton Down didn’t see it that way. “An initial evaluation of Aimspro was carried out by PHE Porton Down at the company’s request. Like other potential treatments for COVID-19 further evaluation was required to determine its efficacy,” a spokesperson explained.
Porton Down had not carried out any human testing or trials on the goats serum.
Even Shotton’s most loyal scientist, Dr Deirdre McIntosh, an Aimsco director-shareholder, contradicted her boss. “I think he should have said it is possibly the answer [to Covid-19]. I don’t think he should have said it is because you would never know until you’ve tried it and proved it.”
Isn’t such reckless exaggeration the story of Aimspro? Dr McIntosh, 72, paused. “Yes, that’s what sales people do isn’t it? They overegg everything.”
So Aimsco Limited is Shotton’s new front, with a slick website that says very little and promises a lot. He is not a director but owns the company with his wife and brother and advises from behind the scenes.
A promo video for Aimsco Limited and its “revolutionary” drug Aimspro includes contributions from MS patients who had appeared in a run of excitable TV news items from the early days of Daval when journalists dumber than lab goats unwittingly helped prop up the share price.
Once again, Shotton is seeking a cash injection from the vulnerable, the incurable, the desperate to walk, to see, or just to turn over unassisted in bed.
There’s a chance before their savings disappear that all the bad blood will come out, perhaps in an extraordinary meeting of shareholders, perhaps by regulatory action.
Only then will those who oversaw what happened here get a taste of their own medicine.
And so it goes.