British government sued for allowing the continued export of lethal injection drugs from Britain for American executions

November 2, 2010

Reprieve and Leigh Day & Co. will today launch legal action against the British government on behalf of Edmund Zagorski (right), an American prisoner facing imminent execution with drugs imported from Britain.

The US has recently run short of Sodium Thiopental, one of the drugs used in the execution protocol. On Monday 25th October, Jeffery Landrigan was executed in Arizona using drugs supplied by a British company – despite a plea for clemency from the judge who sentenced him to death. The Arizona consignment was sufficient for four executions, so the British company will contribute to three more deaths there.

Soon afterwards, the American lawyers for Edmund Zagorski contacted Reprieve with a plea for help: Tennessee was seeking to purchase the drugs to kill Mr Zagorski, apparently from the same British company. On Thursday 28th October, Reprieve and Leigh Day contacted the Government and asked for emergency measures to be taken to avoid British complicity in Mr Zagorski’s execution.

All it would take to prevent the death of Mr Zagorski and others would be for Vince Cable to issue an emergency order regulating its export. On Monday, November 1st, Mr. Cable responded that the British government would take no such step, because if the US did not get the drug from the UK it would just go elsewhere. Mr. Cable also said he was unwilling to interfere unnecessarily in US-UK trade. On behalf of the FCO, Jeremy Browne took the same line.

On Tuesday 2nd November, therefore, lawyers with Leigh Day & Co. will file a judicial review of the Government’s refusal to lift a hand to prevent British complicity in a series of American executions.

The case is particularly urgent because Mr Zagorski’s lawyers have learned that the Sodium Thiopental has not been shipped to Tennessee yet but may leave any day: the anonymous “Sales Agreement”, dated September 30, 2010, indicates that the shipment may take place in November.

Ed Zagorski is scheduled to die on 11th January 2011. He has been on death row in Tennessee for almost 27 years, and he has been a model prisoner. He protests his innocence, and an independent assessment from Physicans for Human Rights concluded that he had been “tortured” into implicating himself. The original trial prosecutor offered a life sentence, with eligibility for parole – evincing a clear view that the death penalty was not a necessary punishment.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

“It is ironic that Ed Zagorski is on death row, accused – falsely, he insists — of playing a role in a drug deal gone bad. If the British government continues to adhere to its policy of gutless inaction, he will die as a result of another drug deal gone bad, this time with a British company pocketing $18,000 in blood money.”

Richard Stein, Partner at Leigh Day & Co solicitors said:

“It is most disappointing that although Vince Cable says he and his government oppose the death penalty, he is unwilling to take this small step which could save the life of Mr Zagorski and others.We will be asking the court to force him to act.”

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH