The suspected source of the drug used in the execution of death-row prisoners in the US has been identified as a British company in Berkshire.
Archimedes Pharma – which is based in Reading and describes itself as a "fast-growing specialty pharmaceutical business marketing a portfolio of products to specialist prescribers" – confirmed last night that it did produce the drug sodium thiopental. But it denied it was involved in the export of the drug to the United States.
The company's directors are now under pressure to disclose the identity of all third parties that may have supplied the state of Arizona, which yesterday used a lethal injection to put to death the convicted murderer Jeffrey Landrigan.
The execution had been stayed by a federal court after it emerged that Arizona imported the anaesthetic sodium thiopental when US supplies ran out. Arizona's attorney general later revealed the drug had come from England, but did not name the supplier.
The admission led to calls for the exporting company to be named and shamed for "making a business out of killing". The UK-based charity Reprieve, which campaigns against the death penalty, also pointed out there are EU rules that might be used to stop the drug being exported to the US for the purpose of executions.
Reprieve's legal director, Clive Stafford Smith, added that Mr Landrigan, 50, had been severely brain damaged from birth, probably as a result of his biological mother's substance abuse during pregnancy.
Amnesty International UK's campaigns director, Tim Hancock, said: "If sodium thiopental was supplied by a UK company to the state of Arizona for use in Jeffrey Landrigan's execution, then this raises serious questions about whether there are proper controls on equipment that could be used to torture and kill."
The group has previously documented how lethal-injection executions in the US and elsewhere have caused excruciating pain and extreme mental suffering before death, with prisoners trapped in a "chemical straitjacket" as the cocktail of three drugs is administered.
Sodium thiopental, one of three drugs in the lethal cocktail, is used to render the defendant unconscious. In a statement issued last night, the British company said: "Archimedes Pharma holds a marketing authorisation for sodium thiopental, an anaesthetic licensed in the UK for general anaesthia and other indications. The company supplies the product in the UK, in accordance with regulations, through the recognised pharmaceutical supply chain, primarily to wholesalers and hospital pharmacies.
"Consistent with applicable regulations, the company does not have information on specific end purchasers or users of its products. The company neither exports the product to the US for any purpose, nor is it aware of any exports of the product."
However, a company source said its directors could not say for certain where the drug had been exported to through the supply chain.