“If there are any journalists with integrity and inquisitive minds still living in this country, I would be grateful if they could begin doing their job and research the answers to these sorts of questions by asking the appropriate people and authorities.”
“UK senior civil servants — both in the FCO and Home Office — remain sceptical of the Kremlin guilt in the Skripal case. Indeed, cui bono fuisset?”
Intel Today (April 19 2018)
British journalist Rob Slane has compiled four lists of questions regarding the Salisbury incident. With his kind permission, I repost these questions on this blog. Perhaps, we can pull “a Pompeo”? Just kidding… (In the aftermath of the Khan Shaykhun tragedy, the CIA Director claims that he assembled a ‘crack team’ of 200 experts and solved the case in 24 hours.)
While Theresa May has blamed the Kremlin for the attack, others — including Alex Salmond and Jeremy Corbyn — have called for the UK Government to provide some evidence that Vladimir Putin’s regime is behind the poisoning of the Skripals. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
RELATED POST: Did a “Novichok” programme ever exist?
RELATED POST: Skripal Poison Case Becoming British Hostage Scenario
RELATED POST: OPCW Report on Technical Assistance Requested by the UK
RELATED POST: Sir Mark Sedwill’s Letter On The Skripal Poisoning
There are a lot of issues around the case of Sergei and Yulia Skripal which, at the time of writing, are very unclear and rather odd. There may well be good and innocent explanations for some or even all of them. Then again there may not. This is why it is crucial for questions to be asked where, as yet, there are either no answers or deeply unsatisfactory ones.
Some people will assume that this is conspiracy theory territory. It is not that, for the simple reason that I have no credible theory — conspiracy or otherwise — to explain all the details of the incident in Salisbury from start to finish, and I am not attempting to forward one. I have no idea who was behind this incident, and I continue to keep an open mind to a good many possible explanations.
However, there are a number of oddities in the official narrative, which do demand answers and clarifications. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist or a defender of the Russian state to see this. You just need a healthy scepticism, “of a type developed by all inquiring minds!”
Below are 30 of the most important questions regarding the case and the British Government’s response, which are currently either wholly unanswered, or which require clarification. (The first 30 questions were written on March 20 2018.)
1. Why have there been no updates on the condition of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the public domain since the first week of the investigation?
2. Are they still alive?
3. If so, what is their current condition and what symptoms are they displaying?
4. In a recent letter to The Times, Stephen Davies, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, wrote the following:
“Sir, Further to your report (“Poison exposure leaves almost 40 needing treatment”, Mar 14) may I clarify that no patients have experienced nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning.”
His claim that “no patients have experienced nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury” is remarkably odd, as it appears to flatly contradict the official narrative. Was this a slip of the pen, or was it his intention to communicate precisely this — that no patients have been poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury?
5. It has been said that the Skripals and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey were poisoned by “a military grade nerve agent”. According to some claims, the type referred to could be anywhere between five and eight times more toxic than VX nerve agent. Given that just 10mg of VX is reckoned to be the median lethal dose, it seems likely that the particular type mentioned in the Skripal case should have killed them instantly. Is there an explanation as to how or why this did not happen?
6. Although reports suggested the involvement of some sort of nerve agent fairly soon after the incident, it was almost a week before Public Health England issued advice to those who had visited The Mill pub or the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury on the day that the Skripals fell ill. Why the delay and did this pose a danger to the public?
7. In their advice, Public Health England stated that people who had visited those places, where traces of a military grade nerve agent had apparently been found, should wash their clothes and:
“Wipe personal items such as phones, handbags and other electronic items with cleansing or baby wipes and dispose of the wipes in the bin (ordinary domestic waste disposal).”
Are baby wipes acknowledged to be an effective and safe method of dealing with objects that may potentially have been contaminated with “military grade nerve agent”, especially of a type 5-8 times more deadly than VX?
8. Initial reports suggested that Detective Sergeant Bailey became ill after coming into contact with the substance after attending the Skripals on the bench they were seated on in The Maltings in Salisbury. Subsequent claims, however, first aired by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Ian Blair on 9th March, said that he came into contact with the substance at Sergei Skripal’s house in Christie Miller Road. Reports since then have been highly ambiguous about what should be an easily verifiable fact. Which is the correct account?
9. The government have claimed that the poison used was “a military grade nerve agent of a typedeveloped by Russia”. The phrase “of a type developed by Russia” says nothing whatsoever about whether the substance used in the Salisbury case was produced or manufactured in Russia. Can the government confirm that its scientists at Porton Down have established that the substance that poisoned the Skripals and DS Bailey was actually produced or manufactured in Russia?
10. The former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has claimed that sources within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have told him that scientists at Porton Down would not agree to a statement about the place of origin of the substance, because they were not able to establish this. According to Mr Murray, only under much pressure from the Government did they end up agreeing to the compromise wording, “of a type developed by Russia”, which has subsequently been used in all official statements on the matter. Can the FCO, in plain and unambiguous English, categorically refute Mr Murray’s claims that pressure was put on Porton Down scientists to agree to a form of words and that in the end a much-diluted version was agreed?
11.On the occasion that the FCO did attempt to refute Mr Murray’s claims, the wording they used included a straightforward repetition of the same phrase – “of a type developed by Russia”. Is the FCO willing and able to go beyond this and confirm that the substance was not only “of a type developed by Russia”, but that it was “produced” or “manufactured” in Russia?
12. Why did the British Government issue a 36-hour ultimatum to the Russian Government to come up with an explanation, but then refuse their request to share the evidence that allegedly pointed to their culpability (there could have been no danger of their tampering with it, since Porton Down would have retained their own sample)?
13. How is it possible for a state (or indeed any person or entity) that has been accused of something, to defend themselves against an accusation if they are refused access to evidence that apparently points to their guilt?
14. Is this not a clear case of the reversal of the presumption of innocence and of due process?
15. Furthermore, why did the British Government issue an ultimatum to the Russian Government, in contravention of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) rules governing such matters, to which both Britain and Russia are signatories, and which are clearly set out in Article 9, Paragraph ii of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)?
16. Given that the investigation, which has been described by the man leading it as being “an extremely challenging investigation” and as having “a number of unique and complex issues”, and given that many of the facts of the case are not yet known, such as when, where and how the substance was administered, how is it possible for the British Government to point the finger of blame with such certainty?
17. Furthermore, by doing so, haven’t they both politicised and prejudiced the investigation?
18. Why did the British Government feel the need to come forward with an accusation little more than a week into the investigation, rather than waiting for its completion?
19.On the Andrew Marr Show on 18th March, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, stated the following:
“And I might just say in response to Mr Chizhov’s point about Russian stockpiles of chemical weapons. We actually had evidence within the last ten years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination, but it has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok.”
Where has this intelligence come from and has it been properly verified?
20. If this intelligence was known before 27th September 2017 – the date that the OPCW issued a statement declaring the completion of the destruction of all 39,967 metric tons of chemical weapons possessed by the Russian Federation – why did Britain not inform the OPCW of its own intelligence which apparently contradicts this claim, which they would have had a legal obligation to do?
21. If this intelligence was known after 27th September 2017, why did Britain not inform the OPCW of this “new” information, which it was legally obliged to do, since it allegedly shows that Russia had been lying to the OPCW and had been carrying out a clandestine chemical weapons programme?
22. Also on the Andrew Marr show, Mr Johnson made the following claim after a question of whether he was “absolutely sure” that the substance used to poison the Skripals was a “Novichok”:
“Obviously to the best of our knowledge this is a Russian-made nerve agent that falls within the category Novichok made only by Russia, and just to get back to the point about the international reaction which is so fascinating.”
Is the phrase “to the best of our knowledge” an adequate response to Mr Marr’s request of him being “absolutely sure”?
23. Is this a good enough legal basis from which to accuse another state and to impose punitive measures on it, or is more certainty needed before such an accusation can be made?
24. After hedging his words with the phrase, “to the best of our knowledge”, Mr Johnson then went beyond previous Government claims that the substance was “of a type developed in Russia”, saying that it was “Russian-made”. Have the scientists at Porton Down been able to establish that it was indeed “Russian-made”, or was this a case of Mr Johnson straying off-message?
25. He also went beyond the previous claim that the substance was “of a type developed in Russia” by saying that the substance involved in the Skripal case “falls within the category Novichok made only by Russia”? Firstly, is Mr Johnson able to provide evidence that this category of chemical weapons was ever successfully synthesised in Russia, especially in the light of the OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board stating as recently as 2013, that it has “insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of ‘Novichoks‘“?
26.As Craig Murray has again pointed out, since its 2013 statement, the OPCW has worked (legally) with Iranian scientists who have successfully synthesised these chemical weapons. Was Mr Johnson aware that the category of “Novichok” chemical weapons had been synthesised elsewhere when he stated that this category of chemical weapons is “made only by Russia”?
27. Does the fact that Iranian scientists were able to synthesise this class of chemical weapons suggest that other states have the capabilities to do likewise?
28. Is the British Government aware that the main plant involved in attempts to synthesise Novichoks in the 1970s and 1980s was based not in Russia, but in Nukus in Uzbekistan?
29. Does the fact that the US Department of Defence decontaminated and dismantled the Nukus site, under an agreement with the Government of Uzbekistan, make it at least theoretically possible that substances or secrets held within that plant could have been carried out of the country and even back to the United States?
30. The connection between Sergei Skripal’s MI6 recruiter, Pablo Miller, who also happens to live in Salisbury, and Christopher Steele, the author of the so-called “Trump Dossier”, has been well established, as has the fact that Mr Skripal and Mr Miller regularly met together in the City. Is this connection of any interest to the investigation into the incident in Salisbury?
On March 27, Rob fired another round of 20 Questions
To my knowledge, none of the questions I wrote in my previous piece – 30 questions That Journalists Should be Asking About the Skripal Case – has been answered satisfactorily, at least not in the public domain. Yet despite the fact that these legitimate questions have not yet been answered, and many important facts surrounding the case are still unknown, the case has given rise to a serious international crisis, with the extraordinary expulsion of Russian diplomats across many EU countries and particularly the United States on March 26th.
This is a moment to stop and pause. A man and his daughter were poisoned in the City of Salisbury on 4th March. Yet despite the fact that investigators do not yet appear to know how they were poisoned, when they were poisoned, or where they were poisoned, a number of Western nations have used the incident as a pretext for the co-ordinated expulsion of diplomats on a scale not witnessed even during the height of the Cold War. These are clearly very abnormal and very dangerous times.
I pointed out in my previous piece that it is not my intention to advance some sort of conspiracy theory on this blog. It remains the case that I simply don’t have any holistic theory — “conspiracy” or otherwise — for who carried this out, and I continue to retain an open mind. But since the Government of my country has rushed to judgement without many of the facts of the case being established, and since this has led to the biggest deterioration in relations between nuclear-armed nations since the Cuban Missile Crisis, it seems to me that it is more important than ever to keep asking questions in the hope that answers will come.
And so, for what it’s worth, here are 20 more important questions that I think that journalists ought to be asking regarding this case:
1. Have the police yet identified any suspects in the case?
2. If so, is there any evidence connecting them to the Russian Government?
3. If not, how is it possible to determine culpability, as the British Government has done?
4. In her statement to the House of Commons on 12th March 2018, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May stated the following:
“It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’. Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down” [my emphasis added].
In the judgement at the High Court on 22nd March on whether to allow blood samples to be taken from Sergei and Yulia Skripal for examination by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), evidence submitted by Porton Down to the court (Section 17 i) stated the following:
“Blood samples from Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal were analysed and the findings indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent” [my emphasis added].
So the Prime Minister said that Porton Down had positively identified the substance as a Novichok nerve agent. The statement from Porton Down says that their tests indicated that it was a Novichok agent or closely related agent. Are these two statements saying exactly the same thing?
5. Why were the phrases “related compound” and “closely related agent” added to the statement given by Porton Down, and is this an indication that the scientists were not 100% sure that the substance was a “Novichok” nerve agent?
6. Why were these phrases left out of the Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons?
7. Why did the Prime Minister choose to use the word “Novichok” in her speech, rather than the word Foliant, which is the actual name of the programme initiated by the Soviet Union when attempting to develop a new class of chemical weapons in the 1970s and 1980s?
8. When asked in an interview with Deutsche Welle how scientists at Porton Down had found out so quickly that the nerve agent was of the “Novichok” class of chemical weapons, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, was asked whether Porton Down possesses samples of it. Here is how he replied:
“They do. And they were absolutely categorical and I asked the guy myself, I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said there’s no doubt” [My emphasis].
If Mr Johnson’s statement is correct, and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down has samples of “Novichok” in its possession, where did they come from?
9. Were they produced at Porton Down?
10. How long have they had them?
11. Why has the DSTL not registered possession of these substances with the OPCW, which it is legally obliged to do under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)?
12. Does this admission by Mr Johnson not indicate that “Novichoks” can be made in any advanced chemical weapons facility, as indeed they were under the auspices of the OPCW in Iran in 2016?
13. If so, how can the Government be sure that the substance used to poison Mr Skripal and his daughter was made in or produced by Russia?
14. In her statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday 14th March, the British Prime Minister stated that there were only two plausible explanations for poisoning of Mr Skripal and his daughter:
“Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country. Or conceivably, the Russian government could have lost control of a military-grade nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”
Other than the actual substance used, is there any hard evidence that led the Government to conclude these as being the only two plausible scenarios?
15. On March 26th, a number of countries expelled Russian diplomats in an apparent response to the incident in Salisbury. Yet at this time, the OPCW had not yet investigated the case, nor analysed blood samples. Why was the clearly co-ordinated decision to expel diplomats taken before the OPCW’s investigation had concluded?
16. Has this not put huge pressure on the OPCW to come up with “the right” conclusion?
17. It is reckoned that the OPCW’s investigation into the substance used will take at least three weeks to complete, whereas it took Porton Down less than a week to analyse it. What accounts for this difference?
18. Will the OPCW be using the samples of “Novichok” that Boris Johnson says are held at Porton Down to compare with the blood samples of Mr Skripal and his daughter?
19. If not, on what basis will this comparison be made, since the first known synthesis of a “Novichok” was made by Iran in 2016?
20. If the OPCW discovers that the substance is indeed a “Novichok”, will this be sufficient evidence with which to establish who carried out the attack on the Skripals or — given that other countries clearly have the capability to produce such substances — would more evidence be needed?
20 New Questions That Journalists Might Like to Start Asking — April 17 2018
While the world’s attention has been largely focused on Syria for the past couple of weeks, we must not forget the Skripal case. The reason for this is that the two events appear to be inextricably linked, either because they show that the Russian and Syrian Governments are willing and able to use chemical weapons for their own ends, or because they show that the Governments of the United States, United Kingdom and France in particular are willing to use false accusations for their own ends.
Russia and Syria have been in the dock and apparently found guilty, but as ever the burden of proof lies with those making the accusations to show the certain evidence they have to back up their claims. However, the only thing that can be said with absolute certainty, regardless of which of these versions is correct, is that those who have made the accusations have not shown anything like the evidence needed to substantiate their claims.
Indeed, the biggest connection between the two events is not the “Who Dunnit” aspect, but rather the fact that guilt has been assigned and reprisals taken prior to the results of the investigations, and therefore before facts could be established with any certainty. Legally, morally and logically this is obvious nonsense, and it is a testament to the decline of educational standards in the West, and the triumph of emotional arguments over ones which appeal to facts and logic, that there are many who appear simply unable to grasp these very basic concepts.
Regarding the Skripal case, there are a mountain of unanswered questions and a multitude of inconsistencies. Yet it is not even this which makes the case so odd. Rather, it is the fact that whenever a question is answered – for example, the medical condition of the Skripals – it merely seems to throw up even more questions, inconsistencies and oddities.
So it looks like we shall just have to keep plugging away, asking questions in order to ensure that:
a) This case does not disappear down the Memory Hole and
b) The great and the good are reminded that the narrative they have presented so far is only consistent in so much as it is utterly inconsistent – consistently inconsistent, you might say.
I have already asked 50 questions around this case so far (here and here), and what I want to do is ask 40 or so more which, at the time of writing, urgently need answering. However, rather than bore you with them all at once, I will set out 20 of them in this piece and then – God willing – another 20 or so in the next day or so.
As before, if there are any journalists out there who possess inquisitive minds, and who have a desire for truth, please do feel free to start posing some of these questions to the appropriate persons or authorities.
1. It is known that Sergei Skripal worked for many years for MI6, having been recruited in 1995 by one Pablo Miller. Curiously, Mr Miller also lives in Salisbury and, according to some reports, the two of them met regularly in Cote Brasserie, which is in the centre of the City. Since Mr Skripal and his MI6 “handler” were in regular contact, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Mr Skripal may have still been working for MI6. Can this be categorically refuted by the UK Government?
2. If the answer to the first question is that Mr Skripal was working for MI6, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that he may have had connections with the Porton Down facility, firstly since it has long-standing connections with MI6 and secondly because of its location, less than 10 miles from his Salisbury home. Can Porton Down confirm whether Mr Skripal ever had any connections to the facility, either directly or indirectly?
3. It has been reported that there are plans to demolish Mr Skripal’s house. If this is the case, it would seem to be a rather extreme action. Why is it not possible to decontaminate the house, rather than destroy it?
4. The advice given by Public Health England (PHE) to anyone who may have come into contact with the substance which poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal was as follows:
“Wash the clothing that you were wearing in an ordinary washing machine using your regular detergent at the temperature recommended for the clothing. Wipe personal items such as phones, handbags and other electronic items with cleansing or baby wipes and dispose of the wipes in the bin (ordinary domestic waste disposal)… Other items such as jewellery and spectacles which cannot go in the washing machine or be cleaned with cleansing or baby wipes, should be hand washed with warm water and detergent and then rinsed with clean cold water. Please thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning any items.”
Assuming that the advice given by PHE was referring to the same substance that was apparently found on the door handle of Mr Skripal’s house, why were people who believed they may have got the chemical on their clothes or other items not advised to demolish their homes?
5. Alternatively, why is warm water, detergent and baby wipes deemed insufficient for decontaminating Mr Skripal’s house?
6. These two very different courses of action — the demolition of the house, and the instruction to wash with warm water and soap — would tend to suggest that the substances are of an entirely different nature to one another. Is this the case?
7. If so, what accounts for the difference?
8. Is it possible that there were other chemicals in Mr Skripal’s house, which were more toxic than those that PHE advised could be treated with warm water, soap and baby wipes?
9. The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has claimed that one of the laboratories which analysed environmental and blood samples on behalf of the OPCW – the Spiez laboratory in Switzerland – has stated that it found:
“…traces of the toxic chemical BZ [3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate] and its precursor which are second category chemical weapons.”
The Spiez laboratory has refused to confirm or deny his statement, instead issuing “a non-denial, denial”:
“…the only institution that could confirm what Mr. Lavrov was saying is the OPCW. We cannot confirm or deny anything.”
Since the UK Government has seen the analysis of the original samples, and has seen a copy of the OPCW’s classified report, can a spokesperson – perhaps the Foreign Secretary – go on record to categorically state that Mr Lavrov’s claim is false?
10. Did the analysis at Porton Down identify any traces of BZ in either the blood samples or environmental samples?
11. If Mr Lavrov’s claim about the Swiss laboratory is correct, would this explain the somewhat ambiguous language used by Porton Down in the evidence they submitted to the High Court, in which they stated that:
“Blood samples from Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal were analysed and the findings indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent” [my emphasis added]?
12. Mr Lavrov also claimed that the Spiez laboratory had been surprised to find “the presence of type A-234 [“Novichok”] nerve agent in its virgin state…” [my emphasis]. Their surprise comes from the high volatility of the substance in question, and the relatively long period between the poisoning and the sample-taking. This also appears to accord with the OPCW’s official summary of their findings, which stated that the laboratories that had tested the samples had found that:
“…the toxic chemical was of high purity. The latter is concluded from the almost complete absence of impurities.”
Since A-234 is said to be of high volatility, degrading quickly, can Porton Down offer any explanation as to how the samples collected by the OPCW, weeks after the poisoning, could have contained A-234 of “high purity”?
13. Furthermore, one of the scientists who worked on the development of the A-234 substance in the Soviet Union, Leonid Rink, has stated the following:
“OPCW data saying that a toxic chemical was used proves that it was not Novichok… Novichok is a complex nerve-paralysing substance consisting of a mixture of many different components and additives that decompose in different ways. If a pure substance was found, it could not be Novichok.”
Can the UK Government, or an expert from Porton Down, go on record to state that Mr Rink’s assertions are incorrect?
14. Mr Rink also stated that if “pure Novichok” was indeed present in the substance found on the handle of Mr Skripal’s front door, both Sergei and Yulia Skripal would have died on the spot had they come into contact with it. Can the UK Government or experts at Porton Down comment on how Sergei and Yulia Skripal, along with Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, could have come into contact with A-234 of “high purity”, and still be alive and well?
15. Can the UK Government or experts at Porton Down comment on how Sergei and Yulia Skripal could have come into contact with A-234 of “high purity” at Mr Skripal’s house, and apparently suffer no ill effects for the next 3-4 hours, including driving into the City Centre, going for a drink, and eating a meal?
16. A-234 is reputed to be unstable and vulnerable to water. Indeed, one of the chemists who allegedly worked on its development, Vil Mirzayanov, claimed that, “only an idiot would have used Novichok nerve agent in humid conditions.” Since it was foggy in Salisbury on 4th March, and rained that evening, can a spokesperson for the UK Government tell us why they think the Russian state chose to use such an ineffective method of assassination?
17. The theory that the substance had been placed on the handle of Mr Skripal’s front door first surfaced around 22nd March, more than two weeks after the poisoning and after a number of other theories had been mooted and debunked. During that time, there were not only periods of heavy rain but also heavy snowfall on the weekend of 17th-18th March. Can a spokesperson for the UK Government, or an expert at Porton Down comment on how a substance that disintegrates in water was not only found on the door handle weeks later, but was also apparently in a “pure form”?
18. The symptoms of “Novichok” agents are said to be as follows:
“Acetylcholine concentrations then increase at neuromuscular junctions to cause involuntary contraction of all skeletal muscles. This then leads to respiratory and cardiac arrest (as the victim’s heart and diaphragm muscles no longer function normally) and finally death from heart failure or suffocation as copious fluid secretions fill the victim’s lungs.”
The symptoms for poisoning by 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate (BZ) are as follows:
“BZ toxicity, which might occur by inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption, is an anticholinergic syndrome consisting of a combination of signs and symptoms that might include hallucinations; agitation; mydriasis (dilated pupils); blurred vision; dry, flushed skin; urinary retention; ileus; tachycardia; hypertension; and elevated temperature (>101deg F).”
One of the witnesses in the Maltings on 4th March, Freya Church, described the condition of Mr Skripal and his daughter as follows:
“On the bench there was a couple – an older guy and a younger girl. She was leant in on him. It looked like she’d passed out. He was doing some strange hand movements, looking up to the sky. I felt anxious, like I should step in but they looked so out of it. They looked like they had been taking something quite strong.”
Which description — A-234 or BZ — fits more closely with Ms Church’s statement of the Skripals’ condition on 4th March, and indeed their subsequent recovery?
19.The method for decontaminating BZ is as follows:
“Gentle, but thorough flushing of skin and hair with water or soap and water is required. Bleach is not necessary. Remove clothing.”
As for A-234 (Novichok), according to Gary Aitkenhead, Chief Executive at Porton Down, there is no known antidote.
Which of these most closely fits the advice given by PHE to those who believed they may have become contaminated, to use warm water and detergent and to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water?
20. Can Porton Down confirm that it has not had any samples of BZ in its possession in 2018?
The Lady and the Curiously Absent Suspect — Yet Another 20 Questions on the Skripal Case (April 20 2018)
Most of these are focused on Yulia Skripal, but there are also a number of questions at the end relating to the main character in the case, who so far seems to have been almost entirely forgotten. Let’s just call him or her or them “A. Suspect”, and note that so far he or she or they have been curiously conspicuous by their absence.
1. Both Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were admitted to Salisbury District Hospital (SDH) on 4th March 2018 and were said to have been in a coma in the weeks that followed. During this time, what actions were taken by the Hospital Trust to inform their next of kin of their condition – particularly Mr Skripal’s 90-year-old mother (and of course Yulia’s grandmother) –, and to keep them updated throughout their illness?
2. According to reports on 28th March, both Mr Skripal and his daughter were in a critical condition, and it was even suggested that the likelihood of either of them surviving was so remote that a judgement might be needed to make the “politically-sensitive decision over whether to maintain life support” for them. Yet just eight days later, on 5th April, it emerged that Yulia Skripal had contacted her cousin, Viktoria, by telephone, and that she had repeatedly stressed that “everything is fine” and “everyone is fine”, including her father, who she said was “having a sleep”. This suggests that the two of them had recovered a good while before the phone call. On what dates did the two of them regain consciousness?
3. The telephone conversation, which was recorded by Viktoria and played on Russian television, was the first public information that both Yulia and her father were no longer in a “critical condition”. Why was this information not made public before her phone call was aired?
4. On 22nd March, the High Court in London made a judgement, giving authorisation for specialists from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to take blood samples from Mr Skripal and his daughter, since they were apparently not in a position to agree to this process themselves at that time. When the samples were taken, was this done in accordance with the High Court judgement or had the Skripals emerged from their comas by then?
5. According to Articles 36 and 37 of the 1963 Vienna Convention and Article 35 (1) of the 1965 Consular Convention, as citizens of the Russian Federation, both Mr Skripal (who retains dual nationality) and his daughter are entitled to consular access from the Russian Embassy in London. In the statement released by Scotland Yard on behalf of Yulia Skripal on 11th April, she stated that she was “aware of my specific contacts at the Russian Embassy who have kindly offered me their assistance in any way they can,” but then went on to say that she did not wish “to avail myself of their services”.
However, during the period when both she and her father were in a coma, neither was in a position to either request, or to refuse, consular access. In this case, denial of consular access when their wishes remained unknown could be seen to constitute a breach of their legal rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Can the Government comment on how the decision was arrived at to assume that the Skripals would not want consular access, since this could not have been known whilst they were unconscious?
6. Furthermore, since the decision to deny them consular access whilst they were incapacitated represents a possible breach of their human rights, both Mr Skripal and his daughter were surely in a position where – despite their condition – they were entitled to legal representation. Can the Government confirm whether legal representation was granted to them?
7. Yulia Skripal has now been out of hospital since 10th April and is said to be residing at a secure location. Can the Government confirm that she currently has access to legal representation?
8. What is the name of the law firm that has been representing her interests?
9. In the statement issued on her behalf by Scotland Yard on 11th April, Yulia stated that she had “access to my friends and family.” Can the Government comment on whether she has availed herself of this access and, if so, which family members she has contacted?
10. The telephone conversation between Yulia and her cousin, Viktoria, was odd for a number of reasons. However, the single strangest thing about it was not the conversation itself, but its duration, which was approximately 1:34 minutes. Why is this odd? Because it was Yulia, not Viktoria, who initiated the call. Had it been Viktoria who called, the brevity of the conversation could perhaps be explained away on account of Yulia not wishing to speak to her cousin. However, since it was Yulia who made the call, it is clear that she did want to speak to her. It is therefore somewhat bizarre that having been in a coma for weeks, having been the victim of poisoning from some sort of toxic chemical, and indeed finding herself at the centre of a huge international scandal, after deciding to call her cousin, she then broke it off after little more than a minute and a half. Is there a credible explanation for this very strange occurrence?
11. During the conversation with her cousin, Yulia stated that she was calling on a “temporary telephone.” Can it be confirmed whose telephone this was?
12. Why was she not able to use her personal mobile to make the call?
13. Did she then, and does she now, have access to her own mobile?
14. It is not unreasonable to suppose that most people, finding themselves in the situation which Yulia found herself in, would wish to speak at much greater length to their relative regarding their condition and their circumstances. However, the fact that it was Yulia who initiated the call, but then chose to end it after just 94 seconds, is suggestive that she was not at liberty to speak for any longer. Indeed, it is highly suggestive of one of two possibilities:
- Either that she was given the telephone by someone in the hospital who wanted her to contact her cousin, without the knowledge of the “specially trained officers available to me” (as she put it in her statement released through Scotland Yard)
- Or that she was given the telephone by one of those specially trained officers, who was in the room with her whilst she made the call.
Whilst their may be another explanation, can the Government or the Hospital Trust confirm that when she made the call, she was at liberty to speak to her cousin for as long as she liked?
15. The statement put out on Yulia Skripal’s behalf by Scotland Yard on 11th April, was notable, amongst other things, for its rather precise language and polished turns of phrase. For example:
“I was treated there with obvious clinical expertise…”
“I find myself in a totally different life than the ordinary one I left just over a month ago, and I am seeking to come to terms with my prospects, whilst also recovering from this attack on me.”
“I have specially trained officers available to me, who are helping to take care of me and to explain the investigative processes that are being undertaken.”
“…I have been made aware of my specific contacts at the Russian Embassy…”
“At the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services, but, if I change my mind I know how to contact them.”
These do not automatically look like the sorts of phrases a person who had been through a huge ordeal would use, especially if they were not using their native language. The statement said that the words were being released “on her behalf”, but can it be confirmed whether the statement was:
a) written by Yulia Skripal, and released on her behalf, or
b) written for Yulia Skripal and released on her behalf?
16. On 5th April, Yulia clearly wanted to speak to her cousin, Viktoria, as she made contact with her by telephone. However, on 11th April, the Scotland Yard statement on her behalf noted the following:
“Until that time, I want to stress that no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves. I thank my cousin Viktoria for her concern for us, but ask that she does not visit me or try to contact me for the time being. Her opinions and assertions are not mine and they are not my father’s.”
Taken at face value, she appears to have had a complete change of heart during the days between the telephone call and the statement. This has been put down by many to the fact that Viktoria recorded the conversation, without Yulia’s knowledge, and that it was subsequently played on Russian television.
The problem with this explanation, however, is that this is not the reason Yulia cites. She clearly links not wanting to be contacted by, or visited by, Viktoria with her “opinions and assertions.” However, this is problematic in itself, because Viktoria aired a number of opinions and assertions about the case a long while before the telephone conversation. Was Yulia only made aware of her cousin’s “opinions and assertions” after she made contact with her, and was it upon realising this that she had a change of heart regarding wishing to speak with her?
17. Although there have been a good many oddities and discrepancies in this case so far, by far and away the oddest has been the complete lack of a suspect for the actual poisoning, and the apparent lack of interest in this subject in the media. Indeed, this may well be the first case in investigative history where the motive, the weapon and culpability were apparently established less than a week after the incident, yet over a month-and-a-half later — to my knowledge — there has been absolutely no word from the Government, the Metropolitan Police, or the media about who may have carried out the actual poisoning. Is there a credible explanation for this?
18. Have the Metropolitan Police identified any suspects in the case, or anyone they wish to speak to in connection with the incident?
19. An article in the The Mail on Sunday on 7th April stated that “security sources” had revealed the following:
“Russian agents watched Sergei Skripal for a fortnight and chose to strike on a Sunday morning so no postmen or delivery men would be exposed accidentally to the nerve agent.”
How is it possible that “security sources” apparently possess knowledge of the movements and actions of the Russian agents for the two weeks before 4th March, yet are unable to identify any suspects who may have carried out the poisoning?
20. The same article also made the following claim:
“The nerve agent used to poison former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter was specially designed to take about four hours to kill them so their assassins could flee Britain. Security sources told The Mail on Sunday that to help the agents avoid capture, the Russians developed a less powerful ‘boutique’ Novichok that could be absorbed through the skin. Novichok is normally administered as in gas form and kills its victims within minutes.”
(Note: This report contains an oft repeated but misleading claim that Mr Skripal was a Russian agent. Yes he is Russian, and yes he was an agent, but he was never a “Russian agent”, but rather a “British agent” working for the MI6 and not for the KGB/FSB).
If the information offered by the security sources is correct, and the attackers used a slow-working nerve agent in order to give them time to escape the country, then it ought to be possible to check passenger records for flights out of the UK in the afternoon of 4th March, especially those to Russia, and from this to begin to identify a list of possible suspects. Has this been done and if so, are there any potential suspects that the Metropolitan Police have identified in connection with the poisoning in Salisbury?
Postscript: Just after I posted this piece, I noticed that there has now been an article in The Telegraph on possible suspects in the case. No names are mentioned at this stage. What is particularly interesting about the article is that it states that “Police have also drawn on extensive footage in Salisbury.” This is itself an interesting statement, as one of the curious elements to this story has been the sparse CCTV footage of the Skripals on the day of the poisoning, despite the area around Zizzis, The Market Walk and The Maltings having at least five CCTV cameras that could have recorded them. We shall see how this develops.
Full interview with former UK Ambassador Craig Murray
March 4 2018 — Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are poisoned in Salisbury
March 12 2018 — Prime minister Theresa May told MPs that the government had concluded it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible for the attack. “Either the Russian state was directly responsible for the poisoning or it had allowed the poison, which belonged the Novichok group of nerve agents, to get into the hands of others.”
March 15 2018 — Salisbury attack: Joint statement from the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom
March 15 2018 — Stephen Davies — Consultant in Emergency Medicine, Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust (Letter to the Times) — claims that ” no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve-agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning.”
March 18 2018 — Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says that Russia has been stockpiling “Novichok” over the last decade.
March 18 2018 — Russian Embassy in London tweets: “In absence of evidence, we definitely need Poirot in Salisbury!”
March 19 2018 — Experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrive in the UK to test samples of the chemical
March 20 2018 — Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats. Russia swiftly expelled 23 British diplomats in return.
March 22 2018 — UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the broadcaster ‘Deutsche Welle’ that Porton Down scientists assured him that the ‘novichok’ nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack had been made in Russia. (We now know that Boris Johnson lied.)
March 22 2018 — British Ambassador to Russia Dr Laurie Bristow briefs the international diplomatic community in Moscow on the UK Government response to the Salisbury attack.
March 26 2018 — The U.S. expels 60 Russian diplomats. 16 EU countries announced diplomatic expulsions, with France, Germany and Poland each ejecting four officials. Albania, Canada, Australia and Ukraine also announced expulsions.
March 27 2018 — Swiss lab report suggests that Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned with the nerve agent BZ
March 30 & 31 2018 — On Friday March 30 2018, the Embassy made public a list of 27 questions that Russia had asked Britain in the light of the Salisbury poisoning. Fourteen new questions were issued on Saturday. Several of these new questions focus on France’s involvement in the investigation.
April 1 2048 — Professor Tim Hayward posts a report by Paul McKeigue, Jake Mason and Piers Robinson on the novichok nerve agent. The report is lauded by Dave Collum — Professor of Organic Chemistry at Cornell University — as the most definitive work so far.
April 3 2018 — Gary Aitkenhead — the chief executive of the government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) — said the poison had been identified as a military-grade novichok nerve agent. Aitkenhead made it very clear that it was not possible for scientists to say where the novichok agent had been created.
April 7 2018 — The UK Home Office refuses to grant a visa to Ms Viktoria Skripal to visit her relatives
April 8 2018 — BBC Radio 4 reports that MI6 and the CIA have been discussing the possibility of providing Sergei and Yulia Skripal with new identities and relocating them to the US.
April 11 2018 — The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) transmits to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) the report of the OPCW’s mission to provide requested technical assistance in regard to the Salisbury incident. The results of the analysis by the OPCW designated laboratories of environmental and biomedical samples collected by the OPCW team confirm the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that was used in Salisbury. (The toxic chemical is NOT named.)
April 13 2018 — Sir Mark Sedwill Letter to Nato Secretary-General: “We therefore continue to judge that only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals and that it is highly likely that the Russian state was responsible. There is no plausible alternative explanation.”
April 14 2018 — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reveals the Swiss lab report
April 18 2018 — Marc-Michael Blum, the head of the OPCW laboratory, refutes Lavrov’s claims about the BZ agent
Salisbury Incident — 101 Questions That Journalists Should be Asking About the Skripal Case