UK firm 'has sold enough drugs to execute 90 inmates'

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The Independent Online

Another prisoner on death row in the US is set to be executed today with a drug bought from a British company.

Newly released documents reveal that Georgia is the second state to have bought sodium thiopental, one of three drugs used in lethal injections, from Dream Pharma, a small wholesale company based in Acton, west London. The state is due to use it in the execution of convicted murderer Emmanuel Hammond later today.

A judge in Georgia said yesterday that the drug had already been used to execute another of the state's inmates, Brandon Rhode, in September.

Dream Pharma, run from the offices of Elgone Driving Academy by Mehdi "Matt" Alavi, also exported sodium thiopental and two other drugs used in the procedure to Arizona, where they were used in an execution in October.

Reprieve, a group which campaigns against use of the death penalty, said that new documents suggested Dream Pharma had exported enough of the drug to America to execute at least 90 people. Mr Alavi, 50, said earlier this month that he had "no idea" why the warden of the Arizona State Prison Complex ordered the drugs. However, documents that came to light in court proceedings in Georgia suggest he was well aware that they were needed for executing prisoners. In emails obtained by Reprieve, state officials told Mr Alavi they used the thiopental injection "in its death sentence cases". He replied he was "more than happy to assist" in delivering the chemical.

Mr Alavi would not comment when approached by The Independent yesterday. The Georgia Department of Corrections ordered two 25-vial packs of sodium thiopental, at £91.88 per pack, on 15 July last year and another 25-vial pack on 4 August. Since then, the Government has banned the export of sodium thiopental for use in lethal injections. However, it remains legal to export the other drugs used in the procedure. Sodium thiopental is injected first to bring about unconsciousness, after which pancuronium bromide is administered to cause paralysis, followed by potassium chloride, which triggers a heart attack.

US states have struggled to source sodium thiopental because of production problems at the country's only domestic supplier, Hospira. The firm has since announced it will no longer make the compound.

Lawyers for Hammond failed in an attempt to have his execution delayed yesterday, despite handing the judge a letter in support of their case from the British Foreign Office. Reprieve had asked the Government to intervene.

Last year, British diplomats wrote to the US State Department to complain that prisoners were being put to death using drugs sourced in Britain. Reprieve has also demanded further details from Mr Alavi of which other states he supplies with execution drugs.

"It is not too late for Mr Alavi to come forward and help save Emanuel's life," said Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business. said: "The Business Secretary is willing to consider future requests of use of other drugs in such circumstances based on fact and without impacting on legitimate trade."

Condemned to die by lethal injection

Emmanuel Hammond, who is due to be executed today, has been on death row in Georgia since 1988 for killing Julie Love, 27. He raped the nursery teacher and shot her in the head. For his last meal he has requested a fried chicken dinner, ice cream and cherry limeade.

Yesterday, Hammond's lawyers failed to get his execution delayed after they raised concerns about the quality of the sodium thiopental that state officials had obtained from London-based Dream Pharma. However, the judge revealed that the British batch of the drug had already been used to execute another prisoner, Brandon Rhode, in September.

Rhode, 31, was apparently so terrified of the lethal injection process that he attempted suicide to avoid it.