By Tom Leonard In New York For The Daily Mail
22:02 10 Sep 2023, updated 22:04 10 Sep 2023
You didn’t need to venture on to the dark web to find the baleful products sold by Canadian chef Kenneth Law. They were accessible to anybody, on mundane-looking websites with names such as Escape Mode and Imtime Cuisine.
But the ‘escape’ they offered was permanent. Although the websites sold apparently innocuous products including gas masks, ‘flow regulators’ and rubber tubing, their most popular item was an inorganic chemical compound.
In very small amounts, it is used as a food additive and preservative. But, in larger quantities, the white powder is deadly. An overdose prevents blood from carrying oxygen to the brain. The effect is similar to carbon monoxide poisoning — the victim is rendered unconscious and quickly dies. Some experts say it can be horrifically painful but euthanasia supporters describe it as ‘relatively peaceful’.
For Law and his troubled customers, that was precisely the point. For it is alleged almost everything he ghoulishly sold on the five websites he operated was designed to help people commit suicide. What couldn’t be used for that purpose was there as window-dressing to put the authorities off the scent.
It didn’t work, and the staggering extent of his death-dealing operation is now emerging. The 57-year-old Canadian and the products he sold have now been linked to 88 deaths in Britain and he may have shipped as many as 1,200 packages to 40 countries, say police.
Last weekend, the National Crime Agency said it was investigating potential crimes committed by Law after identifying 272 purchasers of his so-called ‘suicide kits’ in the UK. Police in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Italy are conducting their own investigations and he faces 14 charges of counselling or aiding suicide over deaths that occurred in his home province of Ontario. Canadian investigators are also looking into the collapse and subsequent death of a colleague at Toronto’s five-star Fairmont Royal York hotel — where Law had been a cook since 2016.
Although Canada controversially allows doctors to assist people in killing themselves, anyone else who ‘counsels or abets’ a person to die by suicide faces a prison sentence of up to 14 years. The offence carries the same punishment in the UK.
Law has denied targeting buyers who wanted to kill themselves. ‘I’m selling a legal product, OK. And what the person does with it, I have no control,’ he said in May.
That may be technically accurate. But the former aerospace engineer, who police say started operating his online business in late 2020 after going bankrupt, reportedly told an undercover reporter that ‘many, many, many, many’ people had died after using products he’d sold them online. Law charged $59 (£47), not including postage, for a packet of the compound — labelled ‘99.999 percent pure’ — used in most of the deaths.
Philip Nitschke, the Australian godfather of the euthanasia movement and former physician who has been dubbed ‘Dr Death’, told the Mail that Law’s arrest had been a serious blow to his controversial ‘right-to-die’ cause.
He said ‘hundreds’ of supporters of Exit International, the organisation he founded and which claims to have a 47,000-strong membership, had bought from Law, although only a minority had actually killed themselves. With an average age of 75, he said, they mostly buy poisons and other suicide aids not to use immediately, but for ‘peace of mind’ that they can end their lives one day ‘if things get bad’.
Dr Nitschke admitted the closure of Law’s operations was a major setback for anyone considering suicide, as the Canadian had been one of the last remaining suppliers of the poisonous compound, which was seen as the best available method to end one’s life.
Armed with Law’s customer database, police around the world including the UK have been making surprise ‘wellness checks’ on Exit International members.
Indeed, when UK members gathered for a seminar recently in central London, the implications of Law’s arrest dominated discussions, Nitschke said. ‘It was a big topic. Everyone is asking, « What do we do now? What do we do now? » But I don’t know what to say because Ken Law was about the last person standing.’
That fewer people may kill themselves now that Law’s in custody may provide some consolation to the heartbroken families who lost relatives after they used his products. They have expressed outrage that he was allowed to keep operating for years.
Although proponents of euthanasia often portray it as a merciful release for the elderly and infirm, Law’s alleged victims in Ontario were pitifully young, ranging in age from just 16 to 36 and very far from terminally ill.
The same pattern was tragically repeated in Britain where those who killed themselves after allegedly buying products from Law include 25-year-old photographer Imogen Nunn — a TikTok star known as ‘Deaf Immy’ — and Home Counties students Neha Raju and Tom Parfett, aged only 23 and 22.
Tom’s father, David, from Maidenhead, Berkshire, said whoever supplied the poison had ‘effectively handed a loaded gun to my son’.
In the U.S., customers were as young as 17-year-old Anthony Jones, who drank a dose of the compound, which is easily soluble in water, then ran to his mother with the heartbreaking cry: ‘I want to live.’ He died shortly afterwards.
Law’s arrest has exposed a chilling industry that allows cynical opportunists to profit from the suicidal thoughts of vulnerable people.
His alleged activities first came to light in October 2022 when a British coroner’s report into the death six months earlier of Ms Raju in Guildford, Surrey, revealed she had bought the substance that killed her from one of his websites.
The Surrey county coroner, Anna Loxton, noted the drug was still available online and said she was concerned that the substance was ‘freely available to be purchased from the internet in lethal quantities for delivery within the UK’. She called on then health secretary Therese Coffey to take action to prevent further deaths.
In April this year, a newspaper investigation finally identified Kenneth Law as the man behind the controversial websites.
It was also revealed that Surrey Police, while investigating Ms Raju’s death, had emailed Law and been reassured that he would stop selling the substance ‘once his stock was depleted’.
The Surrey force said it found ‘no evidence items on that site were being advertised or knowingly sold for the purposes of suicide’, adding of Law: ‘As he was not known to be doing anything illegal, we had no powers to compel him to immediately cease sales.’
And yet one has to wonder how closely the police investigators looked. All five of the websites linked to Law have now been shut down but the Mail this week was able to find many of the pages of both Imtime Cuisine and EscMode (for Escape Mode) because they were routinely captured and stored on a huge internet library system.
And, while they say nothing explicitly about helping people wanting to kill themselves, some of what they contain should have rung alarm bells. Imtime Cuisine billed itself as a cooking-ingredients website (its home page was headed ‘Salty Nourishment — The Art & Craft of the cold kitchen’) but the only five products for sale were two types of table salt, a single brand of barbecue sauce, and two powerful chemical compounds which are both potentially lethal in anything but tiny doses and have both been linked to suicide attempts.
Some of Imtime Cuisine’s pages automatically connected to another website, EscMode, which listed Law as its founder and provided a PO box in Mississauga, a city next to Toronto, as a contact address.
Oddly for a business selling an industrial assortment of breathing masks and ‘medical grade’ gas flow regulators, among EscMode’s list of ‘core values’ was the desire to ‘responsibly honour the wishes of our customers independent of social stigma and without judgement’.
EscMode offered a 15 per cent discount to ‘repeat customers’ and included a selection of customer ‘testimonials’ that seemed to wink slyly at the outfit’s ulterior purpose.
Escape Mode’s ‘premium solutions . . . were a Life-Saver — well you get my drift’, said one. Another grimly called the money spent on equipment ‘probably the last $1,000 I’m going to spend’. However, it appears that Law’s downfall was in large part down to an extra service he offered to customers: a 40-minute ‘phone call consultation’ for $150.
It was during one such chat that he told a Times reporter posing as a suicidal customer that he had been inspired to go into the business after watching his mother suffer terribly after a stroke and boasted that some people told him he was doing ‘God’s work’. Law reportedly outlined on the phone how to take his product lethally and said British buyers were among his biggest customers. He allegedly admitted that he urged buyers to destroy any communication with him before killing themselves.
His personal history remains something of a mystery. At the time of his arrest he was living in a basement flat in Mississauga and was estranged from at least one member of his family. ‘It’s terrible, disgusting and disturbing. I can’t believe he was living next door,’ said a neighbour.
He claimed on his CV to be highly qualified as an engineer and in 2004 spent six months in Coventry working on the Boeing 787 programme team for Dunlop Standard Aerospace.
So how did a hotel chef and former engineer from Canada come to have such terrible power over the lives of so many vulnerable people?
In April 2020, Law filed for bankruptcy with debts of more than £78,000 and just over £2,000 to his name. Just four months later, he registered ImtimeCuisine.com.
Shortly before his arrest in May this year, Law told Canada’s Globe And Mail newspaper: ‘The issue was because of the pandemic: I need a source of income — I hope you can understand that — I need to feed myself.’
He also told the newspaper that he discovered the food preservative through his work in restaurants. Perhaps he was aware that this poison had been discovered as a potential suicide method in 2018 after it was used to cull wild pigs in Australia.
In the same year, Exit International inserted a chapter on the poison in its how-to guide, The Peaceful Pill Handbook.
However, as word spread of its potential on pro-suicide internet chat rooms, police were alerted to the development. They started to close down supplies of the compound they believed were being used for suicides — though the product is still not illegal.
Experts believe that Law must have obtained a large supply of the poison when it was still easily available and cost only $20 (£16) a kilo. (By later charging $59 for a packet, Law would therefore have been selling it for nearly 60 times what he paid).
‘I’m presuming his motives were financial,’ said Dr Nitschke. ‘He obviously wasn’t worried about who he was selling to.’
So much, then, for his sob story to the undercover reporter of being inspired by watching his mother in agony.
Sensing a public-relations disaster for their cause, some right-to-die campaigners have rushed to distance themselves from Law.
Tom Curran, Europe co-ordinator for Exit International, has now condemned suicide kits sold online, saying: ‘The person buying them could be a 12-year-old, they could be anybody.’
He added: ‘It could be [purchased] by a person who is not thinking rationally — they need help, not a substance.’
The group’s head, Dr Nitschke believes Law will be ‘hung out to dry and given a heavy sentence’ to deter others from copying him.
Yet such back-pedalling may come as little comfort to the devastated families of those who’ve already died thanks to Law’s products — the kind promoted by Nitschke’s group.
And, with police still scrambling to track down those who bought Law’s lethal supplies, the full tragic scale of his operation still remains to be seen.
- For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details