By Ian Dunt
Vince Cable was the subject of a scathing attack from human rights groups today, after he refused to prevent a UK company supplying a drug used in executions.
Law firm Leigh Day and Reprieve will today launch a legal action against the government on behalf of Edmund Zagorski, an American prisoner facing imminent execution with drugs imported from Britain.
The groups say one death row prisoner, Jeffery Landrigan, has already been executed in Arizona using drugs supplied by a British company.
US authorities were forced to use British-produced chemicals after they ran out of Sodium Thiopental.
"It is ironic that Ed Zagorski is on death row, accused - falsely, he insists - of playing a role in a drug deal gone bad," Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith said.
"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."
Reprieve and Leigh Day contacted the government on demanding it take emergency measures to avoid "British complicity" in Zagorski's execution - set to take place after Christmas.
The groups said that Mr Cable, business secretary, refused to act on the basis that the drug would be available from other countries and that he preferred not to interfere in US-UK trade.
Jeremy Browne at the Foreign Office also refused to become involved, campaigners said.
The decision came just two weeks after the government published its strategy for the global avbolition of the death penalty.
"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," Richard Stein, partner at Leigh Day, said.
"We will be asking the court to force him to act."
A spokesperson for the Department for Business said it would be inappropriate to comment on the legal action, but said: "We have investigated concerns that a UK company supplied sodium thiopental to the US for the use in the execution process.
"This drug is an anaesthetic with a legitimate medical use. As such, it is not subject to export controls. The British Embassy in Washington is raising our concerns about the possible use of a British manufactured drug in the US execution process.
"EU law prohibits exporting equipment which has a sole purpose in facilitating the application of the death penalty. As sodium thiopental has a number of legitimate uses - including in anaesthetics, medically induced comas and psychiatry - it is not subject to this law."