Diplomats object to US over import of drug for executions

British diplomats have complained to the US government about a drug imported from the UK being used in the execution of death row prisoners.

Officials from the British embassy in Washington said they were "dismayed" and "very concerned" that UK-sourced sodium thiopental, a barbiturate injected to induce unconsciousness, would be used in future executions. They have also objected to its use in the execution of Jeffrey Landrigan, a death row prisoner who reportedly suffered from mental health problems.

In a letter sent to the Department of State, a copy of which has been obtained by The Independent, the British officials also warn that it would be illegal for the drug to be used again – such as in the planned execution of Edmund Zagorski in Tennessee – because the imported compound has not been officially approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"As you know, the UK firmly opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle," states the letter, from the embassy's political counsellor, Ian Bond.

"I am aware that the UK and US governments do not see eye-to-eye on this. It is nonetheless deeply concerning to hear reports that US states may be importing sodium thiopental from the UK in order to put convicted persons to death.

"We were especially dismayed to hear about the execution of Jeffrey Landrigan in Arizona on 26 October, given reports that he suffered from severe mental health problems; the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals had previously stayed his execution because of the lack of clarity about the provenance of the sodium thiopental to be used."

The diplomat adds: "We are also very concerned about the possibility of UK drugs being used in future executions in the US.

"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."

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, recently introduced restrictions on the export of the compound, with manufacturers now requiring a licence to ship it abroad. But some American states have already bought enough of the UK-sourced drug to go ahead with further executions, while others have refused to disclose their suppliers.

The only British manufacturer of the drug, Archimedes Pharma UK in Reading, denies providing it for the purpose of executions. US states have had to look abroad for a supplier because the only domestic manufacturer, Hospira, has run out – a raw material shortage means it will not have a new batch ready until early next year.

Last night, campaigners praised the strongly worded diplomatic letter, but said Britain needed to take further action to ensure British-sourced drugs already purchased by US states were not used to put more people to death.

"I was surprised and pleased to see such a robust approach from the British Government," said Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, which campaigns against the death penalty. "We now need to see the Government take a much tougher stance with the British companies involved in the exports. It is not good enough for them to say that they simply sell the drugs and then wash their hands of what it is used for.

"It is illegal under FDA rules for US states to import sodium thiopental. We know for sure that Arizona bought four batches from Britain. Tennessee has already bought it, too. California has bought some and it is currently en route there."

Two other drugs used in the execution process have also been supplied by British companies, documents from California show, leading to calls for a total ban on the whole group of drugs used in lethal-injection procedures.

Pancuronium bromide, used to cause muscle paralysis, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart, have both been exported, according to documents obtained by Reprieve from the California Department of Corrections.

"I suspect one London-based company is buying these drugs and shipping them to the Americans," Mr Stafford Smith said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us