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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Application Developer / Software Developer

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software development compa...

Recruitment Genius: Brand Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you wish to be part of an exciting journey ...

Anna Woodward: Anna Woodward

£25,000: Anna Woodward: My client is a rapidly expanding global company who sp...

Beverley James: Transactions Manager

£30,000: Beverley James: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a person looki...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower