Unmasked: the Briton accused of supplying drugs to US death row

In an anonymous west London office, Michael Savage confronts Mehdi Alavi – the 'wholesaler' linked with a grisly trade

At first glance, there appears to be nothing out of the ordinary about the small shop front for a driving school, located on a grey industrial strip in Acton, west London.

But after weeks of investigation, the unremarkable offices of Elgone Driving Academy, on Horn Lane, can be exposed as the home of another company, one accused of exporting a cocktail of British-made drugs to the US for use in executions.

The Independent revealed yesterday that the three drugs used in the lethal injection process in Arizona had been shipped to the American state by the small business in London.

An invoice, retrieved from US court documents, reveals that the company facing these allegations is Dream Pharma Limited, run from the Acton property by the man listed in company accounts as its director, Mehdi Alavi. He described his job as "wholesaler".

The invoice indicates that on 28 September 2010, Dream Pharma charged the Arizona Department of Corrections £4,528.25 for the supplies of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. The chemicals were dispatched to Carson McWilliams, the warden of the Arizona State Prison Complex.

Sodium thiopental is used to render the inmate unconscious. Pancuronium bromide is then administered to cause paralysis of the respiratory muscles. Potassium chloride is then given in a high dose to stop the heart, causing a massive heart attack. (Supply of these drugs was not illegal at the time.)

Confronted by The Independent yesterday, Mr Alavi, 50, said he did not wish to comment about any of the allegations he faced. "It does not matter what I do, I am not even going to comment on anything," he said. When presented with the Dream Pharma invoice, he declined to comment on whether he had supplied the drugs.

Just a short drive from the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, the curtains were drawn at Mr Alavi's large home in the leafy village of Hampton, in Richmond-upon-Thames. Neighbours were unaware of the nature of Mr Alavi's business interests. One said the entrepreneur was friendly but private.

The latest accounts for Dream Pharma Limited, filed in January 2010, show it had an annual turnover of £844,229. Mr Alavi was listed as the director and main shareholder. It made a net profit of around £95,000 during the year.

US states have had to look abroad for supplies of the drugs because domestic manufacturers have been unable to source the necessary raw materials. This combination of drugs has already been used to kill one prisoner in the state: Jeffrey Landrigan, a convicted murderer, was put to death in October.

Emails secured under the Freedom of Information Act also show that Arizona agreed to supply its neighbouring state, California, with the same drugs. Some British nationals are facing the death penalty in California. Dream Pharma is not thought to have made the drugs. Instead, it is alleged that it acted as a middle man by purchasing them from British manufacturers and selling them on to the US. The only British supplier of sodium thiopental, the Reading-based Archimedes Pharma, has always denied shipping the drug to US states.

The Independent has learnt that potassium chloride supplied to Arizona under the Dream Pharma invoice originated from Hameln pharmaceuticals, based in Gloucester. The firm immediately contacted all its suppliers when it learnt its product, designed to help patients with a potassium deficiency, could have been used in the lethal injection process. It has now tightened its supply guidelines to ensure it does not happen again.

"This is misuse of our product," said its managing director, Stephen Watkin. "It is primarily designed for saving and improving lives. We are one of five suppliers of this product in the UK and our absolute first concern is the safety of our medicines and our patients."

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, tightened the rules on the export of sodium thiopental when suspicions emerged it had been supplied to the US by a British firm for use in the lethal injection process. It can no longer be exported for that use.

However, no such restrictions exist for the export of pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. A spokeswoman for the Department for Business said: "No action is currently being considered against Dream Pharma because it has not broken any laws in selling the chemicals to the US."

Campaigners urged Mr Cable to take urgent action last night. Clive Stafford Smith, head of the Reprieve charity which opposes the death penalty, said that pharmaceutical firms also had to do more to ensure their products did not end up being used in executions.

"It is not sufficient that a business should avoid being irredeemably evil. Rather, it should be ethical," he said. "Recently, we have all learned to despise bankers and their bonuses. Yet when we criticise venal corporations, we tend to forget to demand more than minimally reprehensible behaviour."

The spokeswoman from the Department for Business said that the Government was taking note of the export of the drugs. "Vince Cable has already made clear his personal and the Government's moral opposition to the death penalty. He has already taken decisive action by placing a control order on the export of sodium thiopental and the department is considering a request to place controls on two other pharmaceuticals that are currently used in the execution process in the US."

... and what alavi is accused of selling

Sodium thiopental

A fast-working anaesthetic often used in veterinary operations. It is the first drug injected into a prisoner, bringing about unconsciousness in seconds.

Pancuronium bromide

The next drug administered to the inmate, causing paralysis. Recommended in the protocol for euthanasia in some European countries.

Potassium chloride

Often given to patients suffering from potassium deficiencies in small amounts. Causes cardiac arrest and death when administered at the end of the execution process.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Training Coordinator - Financial Services

£32000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, inte...

Recruitment Genius: Supply Chain Administrator

£8000 - £10800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Supply Chain Administrator is ...

Recruitment Genius: Client IT Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client IT Account Manager is ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor