Suicide poison seller tracked down by BBC

Connie Queline

Suicide poison seller tracked down by BBC

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A Ukrainian man selling a poison thought to be linked to at least 130 UK deaths has been identified by the BBC.

Leonid Zakutenko advertised his services on a website promoting suicide and he told an undercover reporter he sends five parcels a week to the UK.

He has been supplying the same substance as Canadian Kenneth Law, who was arrested last year and is now facing 14 murder charges.

Mr Zakutenko denied the claims when challenged by the BBC.

He was tracked down to his home in Kyiv and denied that he sold the deadly chemical, which the BBC is choosing not to name.

However, our investigation found that he has been supplying the substance for years.

The chemical can legally be sold in the UK, but only to companies using it for a legitimate purpose.

Suppliers must not sell to customers unless they have carried out basic checks on what the substance is to be used for.

It can prove fatal if ingested in even small doses.

‘Contemptible’

Zakutenko was described as a “contemptible and evil human being” by the family of twin sisters Linda and Sarah, who died in London last year after the Ukranian supplied them with poison.

Linda was given “easy access to a ‘death kit’ for a few pounds” after finding out about the seller on a well-known suicide forum, according to sister Helen Kite.

She described her sisters, 54, as “intelligent, caring and articulate”.

If you’ve been affected by the issues in this story, help and support is available via the BBC Action Line

Ms Kite said that the lack of action by the authorities to prevent her sisters and many others getting access to the chemical was “a national disgrace”.

The chemical Zakutenko sells is openly discussed on the forum used by Linda, with members advising one another on how to buy and then use it.

The chemical may be linked to more than 130 UK deaths since 2019, according to scientist Prof Amrita Ahluwalia, an expert in vascular pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London.

She analysed blood and other samples from people who had died, which were sent to her from pathologists and police around the UK.

Professor Ahluwalia in a lab

Lee Durant

Of 187 tests she found 71% showed high traces of the chemical, indicating that at least 133 people may have died as a result of ingesting it.

“Something needs to be done,” Prof Ahluwalia said.

“With what it’s being used for, there has to be a full investigation of the issues. It has to be regulated so that its use is for its intended purposes.”

Murder charges

Chef Kenneth Law was arrested in Canada in May 2023 and has now been charged with 14 counts of murder and of aiding suicide..

He is thought to have sold the chemical more than 1,200 times to buyers in 40 countries around the world and is linked to at least 93 deaths in the UK.

Our investigation found that Zakutenko has been selling the same chemical since at least November 2020.

He also offers three different prescription medicines, referred to in online suicide guides.

He even briefly promoted his service on the same suicide forum as Mr Law.

Since then, users have passed on his contact details through direct messages.

Leonid Zakutenko on the streets of Kyiv during surprise filming by the BBC

We traced Zakutenko to a small flat in a Soviet-era tower block in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

We challenged him outside his local post office where he had been posting more parcels.

We asked him why he was sending a poisonous chemical to people who wanted to end their lives.

“That is a lie,” he told us, before putting his hand over our camera and trying to walk away.

We know that at least one of the parcels contained the chemical because we placed an order that day and received a tracking number shortly after Zakuetenko left the post office.

When asked what he had to say to the families of the dead, he replied: “I don’t understand what you are talking about”.

Firmer action

David Parfett’s son Tom, 22, bought the same chemical from Kenneth Law, and used it to end his life in October 2021.

Mr Parfett now campaigns to shut down the suicide forum and stop sellers like Zakutenko.

The British authorities have known about the chemical and the online trade since at least September 2020, when they were alerted by a coroner who examined the death of 23 year-old Joe Nihill.

Tom Parfett and Joe Nihill

The coroner wrote to police, the chief coroner and a chemical supplier warning them about the lethal trade in the substance.

  • Suicide website linked to 50 UK deaths still active despite warnings

Since then, coroners across England have written to different government departments on at least five occasions recommending action be taken about the chemical and the suicide forum.

Mr Parfett bought a consignment from Zakutenko in December 2023 because he wanted to test the system to see if the authorities would intercept the parcel.

He had a “welfare check” from police a few days after placing the order, but he still received the chemical within weeks and did not receive another police visit.

“I still can’t believe that was happening today, with everything we know now about the number of deaths,” said Mr Parfett.

Similar welfare checks on UK buyers were carried out after Kenneth Law was arrested in Canada.

The National Crime Agency has confirmed that there are cases of people – who bought the substance from Law – dying after police had carried out welfare checks.

“Such cases are addressed by police forces in line with their policies and national guidelines,” a spokesperson said.

Kenneth Law

Facebook

Mr Parfett and Ms Kite are both calling for firmer action to be taken against the forum where their loved ones Tom and Linda found out about the chemical.

Ms Kite described the site as “an abomination, preying, unimpeded by the authorities, on the most vulnerable and causing untold misery and suffering for those left behind”.

The government says the new Online Safety Act, which became law last year should help restrict access to this kind of forum.

Related Topics

  • Social media
  • UK government
  • Suicide prevention
  • Mental health
  • Ukraine

SOURCE

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