Salisbury novichok attack: The most implausible claims made by Russian men accused of attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal

Russians say their visit to Britain 'wasn't a business trip' but they arrived on business visas 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 13 September 2018 22:06 BST
Russian novichok suspects appear on TV to claim they were tourists visiting Salibury Cathedral

Two men accused of attempting to murder a former Russian spy in Salisbury have denied any involvement, insisting they were in the town to visit its “famous” cathedral.

In an interview with the Kremlin-funded RT network, the men said they did not work for Russian military intelligence and denied any knowledge of novichok or their alleged target Sergei Skripal.

A Downing Street spokesman dismissed the interview as “lies and blatant fabrications”, which were an “insult to the public’s intelligence”.

Claims made by the men, who say their real names are Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, have drawn widespread ridicule on social media.

Here are some of them:

‘It wasn’t a business trip’

Petrov said: “We planned to go to London and let loose, so to speak, it wasn't a business trip.”

The claim begs the question as to why the two men, who claim to work selling sport nutrition products, travelled to the UK using business visas.

As Ben Wallace, the security minister, told the House of Commons on 12 September: “On 2 March, two individuals, using the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, flew into Gatwick airport on flight SU2588 from Moscow. They mingled with other passengers, travelling on business visas and genuine Russian passports.

“Police have confirmed that the suspects had travelled to the United Kingdom before.”

‘We planned to go to London and let loose’

A timeline of the suspects’ movements, drawn up by the Metropolitan Police and evidenced with extensive CCTV footage, does not include any meetings, sightseeing or general merry-making in London.

They stayed at the City Stay Hotel in Bow Road, where they arrived on the evening of 2 March. Investigators found traces of novichok in their room, which sits far from the British capital’s famed nightlife districts and historical attractions.

The pair travelled directly to Waterloo station on the morning of 3 March, and there was a maximum gap of less than two hours between their arrival in London from Salisbury and getting back to Bow that evening.

They left London even earlier on 4 March and arrived back at 4.45pm.

By 6.30pm they had collected their luggage and were on the Tube back to Heathrow, where their flight to Moscow departed at 10.30pm.

The average length of holidays by foreign tourists visiting London alone in 2017 was five days.

‘It was impossible to go anywhere, we got wet to the knees’

Investigators say the two men visited Salisbury on a reconnaissance mission on 3 March that lasted for less than two hours, then returned the following day to launch the attack.

Petrov explained the short first visit by saying: “We were there for, we tried to walk around the city, but since the city was covered in snow, we were able to only for a half an hour, we got wet.”

Boshirov added: “No media, no TV channels are showing that on that day, the 3rd, there was a collapse in that city, a snow collapse, it was impossible to go anywhere, we got wet to the knees.”

There was no widespread disruption to television broadcasts or internet connections in London or Salisbury on 3 March.

The UK was experiencing widespread travel disruption caused by snow and cold temperatures, but the pair had no trouble catching trains to and from Salisbury.

CCTV images show them walking with apparent ease on almost completely clear pavements.

Moscow enjoys average daytime temperatures of 2C in March, and -5C at night, bringing plenty of snow and slush.

(Metropolitan Police)

They returned to Salisbury ‘to go to the cathedral’

Boshirov said friends suggested visiting the “wonderful town” because of its “internationally famous” cathedral, known “for its 123m spire”.

“And its clock, which is one of the first ever created and is still working,” he added.

Salisbury’s attractions, including nearby Old Sarum and Stonehenge, are indeed numerous – and well-signposted.

But police said the pair spent only two hours in Salisbury on 4 March, arriving at the railway station at 11.48am and departing at 1.50pm.

Minutes after their arrival they were caught on CCTV near Mr Skripal’s house in Wilton Road, Salisbury, moments before police believe novichok was smeared on the door handle.

Walking from Salisbury station, Mr Skripal’s home sits in the opposite direction to the city centre and cathedral.

The nearest they were caught to the attractions was in Fisherton Street, within minutes of catching a train back to London.

Both suspects on Fisherton Road near Salisbury railway station on 4 March

‘I didn’t know anything about the Skripals before this situation’

Borishov denied knowing where Mr Skripal’s house was or realising he had been close to it, adding: “Maybe we passed by it, maybe we didn't pass by it, I don't know, I hadn't heard. I hadn't heard this surname, I didn't know anything about them before this situation, this nightmare with us started.”

Mr Skripal, a former GRU colonel who turned for MI6, was sentenced to 13 years in prison by a Russian court in 2006 for treason by espionage – in a case that received huge media coverage in the country.

International media coverage was garnered by the 2010 spy swap that saw him handed to British authorities in exchange for Russians.

And the story of his poisoning, the Kremlin’s denial of involvement and conspiracy theories, has been leading Russian national and international news outlets since March.

Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal at a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court in Moscow in 2006

‘We are ordinary entrepreneurs’

If they chose to follow the mantra “no publicity is bad publicity”, Boshirov and Petrov could substantially increase the profits of their supposed sport nutrition business.

But when questioned by RT, the men offered few details other than explaining their extensive travel around Europe was entirely legitimate.

Boshirov said: “Eating right, a healthy lifestyle – we don't want to bring attention to this, to get deeper into these questions, I wouldn't want people among our clients to suffer.”

‘We did not have novichok’

Petrov called the allegation that they smuggled the nerve agent into the UK in a counterfeit perfume bottle “total nonsense”.

Boshirov said it would be “silly” for men to carry women’s perfume.

They did not explain how traces of novichok were found in their hotel room at the City Stay Hotel in Bow Road, east London.

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