Branson leads call for inquiry into Home Office ‘aid for executions’

London, United Kingdom (Reprieve) – High profile public figures including Sir Richard Branson and Lord Macdonald QC, the former director of public prosecutions, have called for an urgent inquiry into the UK’s role in anti-narcotics operations that could help fund executions in countries such as Pakistan.

In a letter to Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs select committee, the 37 signatories ask him to launch an inquiry into Home Office support for counter-narcotics activities in countries like Pakistan, which actively pursue the death penalty for drug offences. The UK is Europe’s largest funder of foreign counter-narcotics programmes, and has given at least £13m to the operations in Pakistan alone.

The need for an inquiry is urgent, they say, in light of a global resurgence in the use of the death penalty for drug offences. A number of states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, are executing more people for drug-related crimes than ever before; others, such as Oman, are re-introducing the death penalty for drugs offences; or resuming executions, such as Indonesia and Pakistan. Pakistan has hanged over 200 people since ending its moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014, surpassing Saudi Arabia and the US in its rate of executions. A number of British nationals are among those who have received death sentences for drugs offences in Pakistan.

The letter says: “As the Department charged with developing and implementing the UK’s overseas drug policy, the Home Office has a responsibility to advance Britain’s strict opposition to the death penalty and other human rights abuses, including fair trial violations and the use of torture. Unfortunately, it appears that the Home Office is in fact compromising the UK’s strong stance on these issues by enabling the execution of drug offenders.”

Signatories to the letter include Sir Richard Branson, Lord Ken Macdonald QC, Human Rights Watch, Fair Trials International, Harm Reduction International, Sir David Nutt – former Chair of the Government’s Advisory Council on Drugs, Mike Trace – former Deputy UK Drug Tsar, Alistair Carmichael – former Scotland Secretary, Clive Stafford Smith – the founder of Reprieve, and a range of MPs, Lords, and senior law enforcement officials. The letter follows a similar recent callfor an inquiry by Ann Clwyd MP, chair of the human rights group of MPs, and Lady Stern, co-chair of the MPs’ group on the abolition of the death penalty.

Keith Vaz MP has given no response to the letter, but responded to media enquiries with a statement noting that “we cannot, under any circumstances, fund or enforce the death penalty. That is a red line. The committee will consider whether to examine this matter as part of our upcoming inquiry into drugs when it next meets”.

Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“The British public deserves to know whether its money is being used to enable hundreds, if not thousands, of death sentences and executions. The time has come for the Home Office to stop stonewalling parliament and the public, and come clean about its support for overseas raids which send drug mules to death row.”


This report was prepared by Reprieve.