Parliamentary report condemns British government dithering over execution drug export ban

April 5, 2011

A House of Commons committee has today criticised extraordinary failures by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills that allowed the export of enough lethal injection drugs from London to kill 80 prisoners in the USA. 

In a report on the Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls, the Parliamentary Committee for the Department noted that Vince Cable’s officials dithered over whether to impose an emergency ban for over four weeks after it was requested by Reprieve — during which British company Dream Pharma exported a massive shipment of sodium thiopental to California.

The report concludes: “the export of sodium thiopental from the UK for use in executions in the United States is deeply disturbing as is the elapse of time between this information becoming public and the Government making an Order under the Export Control Act 2002 during which further shipments were reportedly made. We recommend that the Government…sets out what monitoring and procedural changes it has made to prevent any similar avoidance of export controls occurring.”

The delay was all the more disturbing because it was caused by the government simply getting its facts wrong. Reprieve had repeatedly told the Business Department that the drug was only being exported to the US for execution purposes. The Department insisted, erroneously, that it was being used for legitimate purposes too.

Reprieve was then forced to sue the British government, at considerable expense, in order to persuade officials to acknowledge their basic error of fact.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said: 

“Sad to say it is just not the case that the government acted with expedition. They twiddled their thumbs while Rome burned, refusing to accept our representation that the drug was only being exported to the US for executions until enough had slipped by to kill a further 80 people. And they still have not issued a ban on the other execution drugs, three months after we called for it.”

Reprieve has been asking the government to put in place strict measures regulating the export of two other execution drugs, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, since 16th December 2011 — we have still not received a substantive response. Meanwhile, Reprieve is considering legal proceedings against British pharmaceutical regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), for refusing to recall Dream Pharma’s sodium thiopental in the face of clear risk that the drug is faulty.

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674.