Kenneth Law, merchant of death?

Marcia Sirota
9 min readDec 21, 2023

WARNING: This article discusses suicide.

David Parfett’s son Tom was 22 years old when he committed suicide in 2021. Tom had been a student at St. Andrew’s University in the UK. He had been struggling for a number of years with his mental health when he finally chose to end his life.

David was devastated by the loss of his son, but then the situation took a darker turn when he learned that his son had died after having purchased a type of poison online from a website run by Kenneth Law — one of several sites that remain active today.

Law lives in Mississauga, Ontario. He allegedly shipped the poison to Tom Parfett, and to nearly 300 other people in the UK. So far, there are 88 known deaths in the UK from packages that Law allegedly sent. In all, it appears that Law has sent more than 1200 packages of this poison across the globe.

When David Parfett approached the police about what he had learned, they were unwilling to take on the case because the substance being sold was legal, although it should be noted that suicide was never its intended purpose.

Parfett then went to his MP, Teresa May, who tried her best to push the case onto the police, but still, there wasn’t any action.

David Parfett would not be deterred. He found a journalist, James Beale, from the Times of London, who was willing to help. Beale impersonated a customer and had a phone conversation with Law that he recorded. In the conversation, Law apparently went into great detail about what the substance he was selling would do and how to use it.

After that, the police got involved. Law was initially charged in Ontario with counselling and aiding suicide. The charges were recently upgraded here to second degree murder.

Law’s methods were simple. He had posted links to his websites on online forums where people were talking about suicide. Many of the vulnerable people on these forums then clicked on the links and were able to access the poison Law allegedly sold.

pink rose

Murderous motivations

Why did Law do it? I can think of at least four reasons:

1: He has a strong conviction about a person’s right to die, if and when they choose. Apparently, his mother had been ill and he felt that she would have benefited from medical assistance in dying. I’m less likely to believe this reason, however, because there’s a big difference between a terminally ill elderly person and a depressed but treatable 22-year-old.

2: He needed money and in the absence of a conscience or a moral compass, there was no deterrent to his actions. This reason seems more plausible. He lost his cooking job during COVID. He figured out a way to make easy money and he pursued it without any thought to the harm he was causing.

According to an interview on the CBC, Law was not well-liked in his job at a hotel kitchen. He was seen as difficult, unpleasant and unresponsive to feedback. Even without the pandemic, he might have struggled to hold down a proper job.

3: He’s a new type of serial killer. He identified a convenient source of potential victims and exploited these individuals to achieve his own murderous goals. He allegedly facilitated the deaths of dozens, if not hundreds, of people who suffered with their mental health. And he did it under the guise of running a business.

4: He’s a cowardly monster. He wanted to cause harm to others but he didn’t have the guts to do it directly. Instead, he was allegedly providing people with the means to hurt themselves and then took satisfaction in the damage done without ever having to lay a hand on his victims. It can be seen as murder done vicariously.

Of course, there could be any number of other reasons for his actions. We may never know the truth.

person standing beside seashore

To Be or Not to Be?

Some people have suicidal thoughts at one or more points in their lives. Fortunately, many of them don’t have the means to hurt themselves when these thoughts are strongest. As a result, they remain alive and they have a chance to find help and get better.

Although the evidence shows that the first year after a suicide attempt is the highest-risk period for repeating the act, there is also anecdotal evidence that many people who survive a suicide attempt are grateful to have failed and happy to still be alive.

Many suicide survivors who I spoke to told me that they regretted their actions as they were in the midst of their suicidal act. Many told me that they had called 911 right after taking an overdose, because they realized that they although they were distraught, they didn’t actually want to die.

Some people told me that they were glad they had no means of committing suicide when they had the impulse to do it because the feeling eventually passed and it never came back. They shuddered to think of what would have happened if they had had the means to act on their impulse at that moment.

The statistics show that more suicide attempts fail than succeed. In an article by Suominen et al. (2004) from the American Journal of Psychiatry, the authors wrote that, “It is often estimated that about 10–15% of people who attempt suicide eventually die by suicide.” The impulsive nature of suicide means that often, the individual hasn’t planned out their act and therefore, it’s unsuccessful.

But, if they are provided with a highly effective means of ending their lives, such as the poison allegedly sold by Kenneth Law, these same people could have a successful attempt. Then, their loved ones — like David Parfett — would be bereft and they wouldn’t have a chance to look back and be relieved to still be alive.

a close up of a key on a table

Lethality of method is key

An article in the New York Times noted a recent study about suicide attempts. It quoted the Mayo clinic psychiatrist who led the study, Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, who said that most suicide attempts are “impulsive acts, and it’s critical to prevent access to tools that make impulsive acts more deadly.

The study mentioned that “the odds of successfully committing suicide are 140 times greater when a gun is used than for any other method.” By allegedly selling the poison, it was as if Law had placed a gun in each one of his victim’s hands and explained to them how to use it..

white and gray brick wall

The system is broken

Many suicidal people broadcast their intentions well in advance. Tom Parfett certainly did. I’m not sure how easily people can access mental health assistance in the UK but it’s not easy at all, here in Canada. People can wait one or two years to speak to a psychiatrist or to see a psychotherapist. Millions don’t even have a GP who could help them with counselling or medication while they await contact with a mental health professional. For that reason, the friends and family members of a person in crisis might be the only ones available to support them during their time of need.

Here in Canada, the government has just instituted a new 9–8–8 phone number for mental health and suicide prevention support. Will it be effective? I guess time will tell.

selective focus photography of woman holding yellow petaled flowers

How can loved ones help?

In the meantime, there are things that we can do. First and foremost, we must never minimize another person’s experience or dismiss their feelings. We must listen without judgment and acknowledge what they’re going through. We have to take their suicidal statements seriously.

While we are waiting for the person to access mental health care, we need to determine if the person is having suicidal thoughts alone or if they have a plan which they intend to act on.

If they have a plan and serious intentions to act on this plan, they need to be seen in the local emergency department immediately and be assessed by a psychiatrist. They might require admission to psychiatry for their own safety. If they have serious thoughts but no plan or intention, they most likely don’t need a hospital visit, but they do need kindness and support.

Perhaps we could consider removing any potentially dangerous items from their home. Like taking out any weapons, ropes, sharp objects, and locking away the medications.

Also, we can find out if there is a particular issue that is making them feel acutely suicidal and see if we can help to resolve the problem for them. This could potentially alleviate their suicidal thoughts.

Maybe they shouldn’t be left alone for a while. Maybe they can temporarily stay with a friend or a family member. They might benefit from starting some medication or counselling from their family doctor while awaiting an appointment with a mental health professional.

person holding four assorted medicine tablets

A warning about starting medication

One thing to be aware of is that sometimes, the first symptoms the antidepressant treats are low energy and low motivation. The person can still be depressed but soon after starting the medication, they might suddenly have enough energy to act on their lingering suicidal thoughts.

The period shortly after starting an antidepressant medication can be the most high-risk, then, and the person struggling with their mental health might need close monitoring until we see how they respond to the treatment.

Other things that we can do: We can tell them that they are loved and would be sorely missed if they were no longer around. We can assure them that we would definitely not be better off without them. Sadly, people with suicidal thoughts often believe the opposite of these things and it’s up to us to convince them otherwise.

I remember being in medical school and learning that it’s really hard to predict when a person might attempt suicide. Over the years since I’ve been in practice, I’ve seen that some people broadcast their intentions and others keep it a secret from everyone. Sometimes it’s tragic but unsurprising that someone has attempted suicide, and sometimes it’s a huge shock.

There’s not much we can do when someone is keeping their suicidal thoughts secret from everyone. But, if someone we love has attempted and failed, or if they’re making concerning statements, we have the opportunity to step up and show them love and care. We can’t take responsibility for rescuing them but we can be present and compassionate with them. And we can make sure that our legal system prevents people like Kenneth Law from preying on the vulnerable.

People like Kenneth Law make things more complicated and deadly when it comes to suicidal ideation. Hopefully, his story can alert the public and the politicians to the need for more and better mental health services right now.

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Marcia Sirota

Writer, speaker, MD, and author of the Short & Sweet Guides to Life book series