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US 'execution drugs' row flares up again as trail points to London

The controversy over the use of British-made drugs in executions in the United States flared up last night after court documents emerged in Arizona which suggested that the supply could be traced to an address in west London.

An invoice seen by The Independent shows the Arizona State Prison Complex invoicing a small company for a cocktail of three drugs used in the lethal injection process.

Sodium thiopental, potassium chloride and pancuronium bromide – worth a combined £4,253.25 – were supplied to the Arizona State prison complex in September.

American states have been forced to look abroad for the drugs because of problems they encounter sourcing them domestically. According to the invoice, the quantities sold to Arizona by the firm suggest that the state still has enough supplies to execute further prisoners using British-sourced drugs.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has now tightened rules on the export of sodium thiopental to stop it being used in executions. However, similar restrictions have yet to be applied to the other two compounds. It is as yet unclear whether the firm registered at the address might have had any role in supplying the chemicals to other states.

Documents from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) have already shown that at least one British company also supplied it with all three drugs used in the execution process.

However, there is no suggestion in the document that the same company was involved. The only British manufacturer of sodium thiopental – the Berkshire-based Archimedes Pharma – has always denied exporting the drug for use in executions.

Campaigners are now pushing for a total ban on the export of all three drugs, if they are destined to be used in the lethal injection process.

Sodium thiopental is the first chemical which is injected into a condemned inmate, causing unconsciousness, just a few seconds after being administered. Pancuronium bromide is then injected into the prisoner, causing paralysis of their respiratory muscles. The final drug used is potassium chloride, a toxic compound which stops the heart, causing a cardiac arrest and then death.

Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, which campaigns against the death penalty, has now written to Mr Cable, asking him to take action against the firm involved.

"Please let me know immediately that you have taken action to impose export controls on pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride," he states.

"I am making a formal request on behalf of the prisoners in the US who I am assisting, who face execution with British drugs."

Mr Stafford Smith has also warned that Britons could be put to death using the drugs in the US. They include 50-year-old Kenny Gay, from Swindon, who is on Death Row in California, having been convicted of killing a police officer 25 years ago. Last month, The Independent disclosed that British diplomats had privately contacted the US State Department to complain about the use of British-sourced drugs.

"We are also very concerned about the possibility of UK drugs being used in future executions in the US," their letter stated.

"Our understanding is that sodium thiopental sourced from the UK is not FDA-approved for use in the US. We would therefore be grateful for any steps the Federal Government can take to prevent it being used here."