U.K. police in spotlight for not charging alleged Ontario poison seller

WARNING: This story contains distressing details

A British coroner on Friday urged police near London to wrap up their investigation into a student’s 2021 suicide, amid authorities’ renewed scrutiny of an Ontario man’s controversial website.

A detective in England’s Surrey county last year reached out to Kenneth Law, months before he was arrested at his Mississauga, Ont., home, but British police declined at the time to pursue charges against him. 

Law is accused of selling a toxic substance online to at-risk individuals in multiple countries. Police in Ontario’s Peel Region charged Law this month with two counts of counselling or aiding suicide in connection with deaths in Toronto’s suburbs.

The Surrey coroner is probing the death of 22-year-old Tom Parfett, whose suicide has been linked to a now-defunct site run by Law. 

On Friday, the detective who looked into Parfett’s death was scheduled to testify at a coroner’s hearing. His appearance was called off at the last minute since the coroner is still waiting for evidence from police, the coroner’s office said.

A young man with short brown hair wearing a plaid hoodie, sits at a picnic table under partly cloudy skies.
Tom Parfett, 22, was a British university student who enjoyed watching soccer and had a passion for Lego. He was found dead in October 2021 in a London-area hotel. (Submitted by David Parfett)

“Surrey police need to be the subject of an inquiry that looks at why they didn’t stop these deaths sooner than they did,” Parfett’s father, David Parfett, told reporters outside the coroner’s court on Friday.

His son studied philosophy at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland and was an avid soccer fan. His body was found in a London-area hotel room in October 2021 near packaging marked “ImTime Cuisine,” according to an undated police statement seen by CBC News. 

ImTime Cuisine was a website run by Law selling “99.999 per cent pure” sodium nitrite, a compound which can be deadly when consumed in highly concentrated form. 

“Even after [Law] understood that the police were investigating him, he continued to sell the poison,” David Parfett said.

Coroner Darren Stewart demanded Surrey police conclude their investigation by June 2. Stewart is expected to wrap up his inquest on June 23.

Surrey police on Friday declined to comment.

A man and two women walk down the steps of a large brick building. A sign nearby reads "HM Coroner's Court Surrey."
Parfett’s father, David Parfett, is seen with his partner Julie Whetton and Tom’s mother, Julia Gilmore, outside the coroner’s court in Surrey, England, on Friday. (Bogdan Lytvynenko/CBC)

Surrey police Det. Const. Lloyd Ives wrote in a statement that around October 2022, he “emailed ImTimeCuisine… asking for information about the order,” but never heard back.

An archived version of the site suggests it sold packets of sodium nitrite from 2021 until this past March. In April, The Times of London first reported Law had been “sending the substance to vulnerable people around the world.”

Sodium nitrite is considered a reportable poison in Britain, meaning vendors are required to report suspicious sales to authorities. In Canada, sodium nitrite sales are not regulated, since the substance, typically in diluted form, is often used in food preparation.

WATCH | Probe into Law case widens:

Investigation widens into toxic substance sold online

WARNING: This story contains discussion of suicide. Police are looking for more victims in several countries who may have bought a toxic substance online used in a number of suicide deaths. Kenneth Law of Mississauga, Ont., was charged with counselling suicide and made a brief court appearance Wednesday.

In a separate case in 2022, Surrey police appear to have decided against pursuing an investigation into Law because his website didn’t look suspicious.

Another Surrey coroner’s report following the suicide of Neha Raju, 23, was sent to a Mississauga post office box tied to Law. The exact cause of Raju’s death is redacted in the report, but the coroner noted the substance was available online.

In a recent email to CBC News, a Surrey police spokesperson didn’t name Law, but said “officers reviewed the website used for the purchase, which is based abroad, and contacted the seller but at this time there was no evidence items on that site were being advertised or knowingly sold for the purposes of suicide.”

In Ontario, Peel police have said they’re working with law enforcement agencies around the world, in connection with 1,200 packages sent to 40 countries. In late April, Canadian authorities sent their counterparts abroad the names of potential victims through Interpol.

Britain’s National Crime Agency, and authorities in Italy and New Zealand have all confirmed their involvement in the probe.

A closeup of a white plastic package. The label reads in part "Imtime Cuisine... sodium nitrate."
A package is shown from Imtime Cuisine, one of the companies linked to Kenneth Law. (Supplied by Peel Regional Police)

Police in several Canadian cities, including Toronto and Regina, are also reviewing previous sudden death investigations for any ties to Law.

Peel police Const. Sarah Patten told CBC News on Friday an update in the case would be coming soon. “We appreciate the public’s patience and understanding as we continue this investigation,” Patten wrote in an email.

The law firm Henein Hutchison Robitaille, whose lawyers spoke on Law’s behalf in court this week, declined to comment on the investigations abroad.

Law remains in custody pending a bail hearing. He has denied all allegations against him. The charges have not been proven in court. Law is set to appear in a Brampton, Ont., courtroom via video link next Tuesday.

If you have a news tip or important information related to this story, contact CBC News senior reporter Thomas Daigle by email: thomas.daigle@cbc.ca.

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