Salisbury novichok attack victim’s inquest to examine Russian involvement

Failure to look at Kremlin involvement would be ‘misleading investigation’, Baroness Hallett says

Matt Mathers@MattEm90
Wednesday 31 March 2021 10:49
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A coroner examining the death of a woman poisoned with novichok after the Salisbury attacks will look at Kremlin involvement in the case.

Dawn Sturgess died in hospital in July 2018 after coming into contact with the chemical weapon — four months after the substance was used to poison Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia, both of whom later recovered.

Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service say there is sufficient evidence to charge two Russians, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with offences including conspiracy to murder over the attack.

In September 2018, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed the toxic chemical which killed Ms Sturgess was the same nerve agent used to poison the Skripals.

The UK has repeatedly blamed the Kremlin for the Salisbury attacks and alleges Mr Petrov and Mr Boshirov are members of Russia's GRU military intelligence service. The Kremlin and both men deny any involvement.

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Coroner Baroness Hallett told a pre-inquest review at the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday that she will look at Kremlin involvement and examine where the nerve agent came from.

Studying Ms Sturgess's death in isolation could result in an "incomplete and potentially misleading investigation", the coroner said.

She also vowed to pursue a "fair, fearless and thorough" investigation into the 44-year-old's death.

Ms Sturgess collapsed at her partner Charlie Rowley's home in Amesbury, eight miles from Salisbury, on 30 June 2018, when she came into contact with a perfume bottle containing the deadly nerve agent novichok.

She died in hospital on 8 July, while Mr Rowley was left seriously ill but recovered.

Her death followed the attempted killing of Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, who were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury four months earlier.

They were both discharged from hospital before Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley fell ill.

Mr Petrov and Mr Boshirov, who were confirmed to have been in Salisbury at the time of the attack, gave a much-derided interview to state television in which they said they were only in the city for a sightseeing tour of the cathedral.

President Vladimir Putin claimed the pair were merely civilians, not military officers.

Mr O'Connor said the suspects had failed to engage with the inquest process so far, and asked for the investigation to examine wider issues about Russian state involvement.

He said: "Our submission is that the investigation ... should encompass not only the conduct of Mr Petrov and Mr Boshirov but also the source of the Novichok and wider Russian state responsibility.

"Where did the Novichok come from? Who sent those two men to Salisbury and with what instructions? And at what level was that decision approved?"

He said there was "very significant public interest in exposing the full facts of these matters", adding: "This is likely to be the only opportunity to do so, forensically, in a legal forum."

The coroner said a decision on whether or not to convert the inquest into a public inquiry would be made at a later date and the hearing was adjourned until another pre-inquest review in June or July.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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