Government inaction over export of execution drugs

By agency reporter
December 29, 2010

The legal charity Repreive gave notice to the Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary Vince Cable on 16 December that the UK has exported two further execution drugs (in addition to sodium thiopental) to the United States: pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Reprieve called on him to impose an immediate export ban.

Reprieve's Director Clive Stafford Smith has now written to the Minister asking him to dentify his intentions or face legal action. He now has up the 30th December to respond.

Similarly, Mr Cable has done nothing in the last three weeks to prevent a large quantity of British-supplied sodium thiopental from reaching California's death row. On 6th December, Reprieve informed Cable that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had ordered 85 doses from Archimedes Pharma, a company based in Reading. The shipment has now left Britain (Archimedes insists that it did not export the drug; it does not deny that it was the original British source, but the sodium thiopental seems to have been exported by an intermediary). The drugs have reportedly not yet been released by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and urgent action by Cable could still prevent its shipment to California.

Meanwhile, Reprieve has called upon various pharmaceutical companies to assist in the task of preventing their drugs from being used to kill people. Thus far, the response has been poor – with the sole exception of Hameln, which has taken urgent action to ensure that its drugs would not be used for executions and has helped Reprieve in trying to identify the source. Other companies – including Goldshield and Hospira UK – have not replied to the request.

Working with the major law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, Reprieve gave notice on Christmas Eve to the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, that the Commission has the legal sixty days in which to impose an EU-wide ban on the export of the three drugs, or face litigation in the European Court of Human Rights to override the bureaucratic indifference that the Commission has shown to date.

Death rows across America are now sharing their dwindling stocks of execution drugs, so a successful import of 85 doses to California may be used to kill prisoners in other states. One prisoner, Jeffrey Landrigan, has already been killed by British drugs in Arizona, and at least 85 now face the same fate – including various British prisoners on death row in California. Reprieve says that is crucial that the British government acts immediately to prevent complicity in further tragedies.

Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said: “Vince Cable has had a difficult few weeks, but it is never too late to refocus on what he entered government to do. We are asking that he devote half an hour to helping to prevent scores of executions. Since he apparently spent 20 hours rehearsing his foxtrot for Strictly Come Dancing, this does not seem too much to ask.

“The Foreign Office is struggling to help us prevent the execution of British nationals in the US, at the same time as Mr Cable sits on his hands and allows the export of British drugs that will kill those same prisoners. Mr Cable’s department can hardly claim to be in a coalition, when he is acting in opposition.

“Somewhere an unethical British company is marking the price of these drugs up 3,500 per cent, making obscene blood money selling them to America’s executioners. The response by various pharmaceutical companies has been pitiful, placing their commercial interests far above any concern for human life. Hameln is the sole exception. While there is no reason to suppose that their drugs were the ones actually exported to the US, their Managing Director immediately took every step possible to help plug the leak to the executing states.”


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