James Beal

The Times

James Beal, Social Affairs Editor at The Times, examined the death of a British student - and uncovered a worldwide scandal involving poison seller Kenneth Law. Beal initially looked into the suicide of Tom Parfett, after the 22-year-old’s father, David, contacted him with concerns about the behaviour of his son’s university in the aftermath of his death. But when David mentioned how Tom had taken his own life - using a poison bought online – it began an investigation that would take six months and lead to Canada. Beal discovered that the poison, which is legal to sell, was purchased from a website which, at first glance, offered it for legitimate use. But the website was a front. Research revealed the poison seller, Canadian chef Law, was connected to three other websites which sold different products for suicide. To investigate whether Law was intentionally targeting suicidal people, Beal set up an undercover phone call with him, posing as a potential buyer. One minute into the call, Law told how to take the substance to best ensure death. Law revealed that “many, many, many, many” had died after taking his poison and said he was offering it as an “avenue of escape”. He suggested that most of his ‘customers’ were old, but Beal was able to link him to the deaths of young, vulnerable people, including 17-year-old Anthony Jones. The Times also established that UK police forces had repeatedly contacted Law, but failed to act. Following the undercover call, Beal went to Canada to confront Law. After spending six hours watching a post office, where Law had a PO Box, he turned up carrying an armful of packages. In a showdown, in Law’s car, Beal put to him that what he was doing was ruining lives. Before publication, Beal went to Law’s local police force with his findings and Law’s websites were taken down after he contacted the companies hosting them. Beal’s initial investigation was published on April 25 in 3 main articles – including one on the front page - as well as a podcast series called ‘Poison’. Along with podcast producer Will Roe, he also interviewed other families who had been ripped apart through suicides linked to the poison Law sold. One week after the initial investigation was published, Beal told how Law had been arrested in Canada and charged with aiding suicide. Police revealed Law had sent 1,200 packages to 40 countries. In August, another exclusive story from Beal revealed that the UK’s National Crime Agency was now investigating Law and had linked him to 88 deaths in Britain. Suicides with link’s to Law are also now being probed in the US, Italy, Australia and New Zealand. Beal’s pieces have dealt with the lack of regulation around the poison, police investigations into suicide and an online forum which shepherds vulnerable people towards poison sellers. Last month, the government’s new suicide prevention strategy pledged to target poison suppliers, with mental health minister Maria Caulfield name-checking Beal’s investigation into Law.